Aimee Mann
Mental Illness


3.5
great

Review

by Divaman USER (97 Reviews)
April 19th, 2017 | 132 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: If Joni Mitchell somehow made a bouquet of her folk legacy, and tossed it over her shoulder to a row of her would-be successors, Mann wouldn't be the tallest or the fastest competitor in the crowd. But she's the one who'd make the catch.

Aimee Mann is known by most music fans for two things. The first is as the lead singer of the '80s band 'Til Tuesday, where her feathered, platinum blonde hairstyle graced the screens of MTV video fans practically 24/7 with her band's best-known song, "Voices Carry". The second, known by fewer fans than the first, is as the solo artist who contributed 9 strong songs to the soundtrack of the beloved chick flick Magnolia. Mann, however, has actually carved a solid career for herself beyond 'Til Tuesday and Magnolia, as perhaps the premier progeny of the great folk singers of the '60s and '70s such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. She's not political like Joan, and she doesn't do the vocal acrobatics of Joni. What she offers instead is a rich, refined singing voice and songwriting skills that combine unexpected chord progressions with understated but intense lyrics.

Mental Illness is Mann's ninth studio solo album, or her tenth if you count the Magnolia soundtrack album, which I do. It differs from her two most recent projects, her 2012 solo album Charmer and the 2014 self-titled LP by her two-person band (with Ted Leo) The Both, in that both of those are brighter sounding projects. In contrast, Mental Illness is quieter, more stark, described by Mann herself as the "saddest, slowest and most acoustic" album she's ever released. Oh, and one other thing -- it's beautiful.

There are 11 songs on the album, and they tell 11 sad stories, painted mostly with acoustic guitar, piano, strings and Mann's own expressive voice. The topics vary from homesickness to empty love relationships to poor life choices. There's even a song about the actor Andrew Garfield, who Mann met at the onset of his stardom, before The Amazing Spider-Man franchise came crashing down around his ears ("Patient Zero"). The tone throughout is almost as hopeless as that of a Stephin Merritt album. The only thing that keeps it from being out-and-out bleak is Mann's gentle and often self-deprecating sense of humor; e.g., in the LP's closing number, "Poor Judgment", she explains to her lover that falling for him was like "a dream of a car with the brake lines cut," and muses that he stays with her because "The hammer's nothing without the nail." Ouch.

The most compelling song on Mental Illness (and the first single) is the album's opening track, "Goose Snow Cone". Told with lightly finger-picked guitar, soft strings and a tambourine that sounds like sleigh bells, it's a simple song about feelings of loneliness and isolation written after receiving a photo of a friend's cat while Mann was on tour far from home. "I just wanted a place but I ended up gone," she admits.

If there's a weakness to the album, it's this -- as much as I like "Goose Snow Cone", I'm not sure it's a standout. While Mental Illness is amazingly consistent throughout, it doesn't have that one unforgettable "Voices Carry" moment that will keep people coming back to it for years to come to rediscover the LP's other many subtle charms.

Still, it's an album of delicate artistry, cathartic in its sorrow and vaguely ennobling as we watch its characters endure in painful and/or impossible situations. It's the mature work of an artist at the height of her powers. When I look at other current singer/songwriters working in a similar genre, I find that while Mann might not be as clever as Regina Spektor, for example, or as serene as Julie Byrne, her music surpasses all of the others in both writing craftsmanship and depth of emotion. If Joni Mitchell somehow made a bouquet of her folk legacy, and tossed it over her shoulder to a row of her would-be successors, Mann wouldn't be the tallest or the fastest competitor in the crowd. But she's the one who'd make the catch.

There's certainly nothing flashy about Mental Illness. It doesn't rock, it doesn't roll, it doesn't bowl you over with amazing instrumentals and feats of vocal derring do. So far, though, it's the best new album I've come across in 2017.



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user ratings (40)
Chart.
3.5
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Sabrutin
April 19th 2017


4960 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Cool choice for a review (haven't read though!), I loved Goose Snow Cone but I don't remember the rest clearly

Divaman
April 19th 2017


1815 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Mann definitely needs some Sput-love. The only one of her albums to have a review on here so far, before this one, is the "Magnolia" soundtrack.

Digging: MGMT - Little Dark Age

SowingSeason
Moderator
April 19th 2017


25613 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This was a good album, nothing really amazing for me personally but enjoyable through and through. Really good write up as well Diva, one of the most nicely-flowing ones I've read from you. Keep up the solid work!

Digging: Endless Heights - Vicious Pleasure

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
April 19th 2017


6895 Comments


another artist I glaringly have not listened to at all.. as ever, your lovely write-ups are pushing me into trying new(old) things.. damn you! pos..

Digging: The Necks - Silverwater

Hurricanslash
April 19th 2017


1828 Comments


Lost In Space is one of the best singer-songwriter albums i ever listened to, so I really gotta give this a shot. Great review.

Divaman
April 19th 2017


1815 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks much for the comments, guys.



I found that this one is a grower, Sowing. Because it's quiet, it took me awhile to get the full effect.



You've been doing the same to me, bb. You've been writing about a lot of interesting sounding artists I haven't been previously familiar with.



Hurricane, if you liked "Lost in Space", you'll probably like this too.

literallyzach
April 19th 2017


474 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

pos+ i didnt like this album much at all but maybe i'll try it again

Digging: BoA - ONE SHOT, TWO SHOT - The 1st Mini Album

TwigTW
April 20th 2017


2969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Didn't think too much of this on first listen. Like you said, it's a very even album--and that works against it at first. When I gave it a second chance (because it's Aimee) it clicked.

Digging: S. Carey - Hundred Acres

Divaman
April 20th 2017


1815 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I find a lot of her music to be like that, Twig. I've also see her live a couple of times, and sometimes a song that doesn't really sink in for me sounds totally different after I see her perform it live, also.

zakalwe
May 13th 2017


24409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Bloody love this.

zakalwe
July 3rd 2017


24409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

same

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
July 7th 2017


17720 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is, like, really really good

Digging: Cat Power - Moon Pix

danielcardoso
Contributing Reviewer
July 7th 2017


11680 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I should check this.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
July 7th 2017


17720 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Check it Dan, this is the first thing in my shopping cart for next month

theBoneyKing
July 7th 2017


13648 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I heard this was boring :-/



Then again many people found the new Laura Marling boring and I loved that

Digging: Iron And Wine - In The Reins (feat. Calexico)

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
July 7th 2017


17720 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Boney - I'm scared of rec'ing you stuff like this because you are much more of an authority on country/folk female singers than I am.



I like how this sounds very agreeable/old school pop toned but dig below and it's actually bleak as anything.

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
July 7th 2017


6895 Comments


it's a lovely album.. I think what holds it from being more than that to me is that her voice, beautiful as it is, is very ordinary.. but this is my first experience with her..

theBoneyKing
July 7th 2017


13648 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Don't sell yourself short Doof, you probably know about as many female folk/country singers as I do. I'll try to give this a spin at some point, if anything your stamp of approval on this sort of release probably means more than mine.

TwigTW
July 9th 2017


2969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm a big fan of Aimee from the beginning. I always thought she had a classic album in her, but she never quite made it. She seems to be perpetually teetering on the edge between greatness and obscurity.

zakalwe
July 10th 2017


24409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

As a result of having this right up there with the best albums of the last few years I'm checking her other stuff. I really dig smilers. This bird is the definition of underrated.



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