Aimee Mann
Queens of the Summer Hotel


3.5
great

Review

by Divaman USER (166 Reviews)
January 26th, 2022 | 11 replies


Release Date: 2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: This album needs context.

On the whole, this album seems to not have been as well received as Aimee Mann's previous release, 2017's Mental Illness. And I get it. At first listen, it seems kind of plain, and the songs maybe a little simplistic. Even the instrumentation doesn't reach out and grab you. There's a lot of quiet piano and strings, and the style seems slightly dated. Frankly, when I first heard it, I was somewhat disappointed, as Mann has long been one of my favorite artists. So how did Queens of the Summer Hotel become one of my Top Ten Albums of 2021? It's a matter of context.

To really get what's going on here, you have to go back to the early 2010's. At that time, Mann and her sometimes collaborator Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists) were playing around with the idea of trying to turn her 2005 LP The Forgotten Arm into a Broadway musical. That album told the story of John, a down-on-his luck boxer riddled with addictions, and his relationship with a young drifter named Caroline. The potential project even drew some interest from a veteran Broadway producer. Unfortunately, in 2014, Rocky the Musical, a stage version of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky movie hit the Great White Way, and Mann and Leo immediately realized that Broadway probably didn't have room for two boxing musicals. (It didn't help that the Rocky production was something of a flop.)

Nevertheless, Mann was clearly intrigued by the idea of dipping her toe into musical theater. (Maybe the interest was there all along. Let's not forget that her career as a solo artist received a major boost thanks to her contributions to the 1999 film Magnolia.)

In any event, while I'm not 100% sure of the timeline, somewhere along the way, Mann managed to get a commission to write songs for a stage adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's 1993 memoir, Girl, Interrupted. This is the tale of the eighteen months Kaysen spent in a mental hospital in the late 1960's in a ward made up of mostly troubled young women from wealthy families. Hollywood released a film adaption of the book in 1999, directed by James Mangold and starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. The film is a bit more sensational than the memoir, though, and the songs on Mann's album are based on Kaysen's original account of her story.

This structure gave Mann the chance to explore the theme of mental illness, one she is clearly fascinated by. (Mental Illness, after all, is the title of her previous LP, and Mann herself entered a rehab facility in 2002 to deal with a variety emotional ailments.)

Once I learned this, and read up a bit on Kaysen's story, the album took off for me. What we really have here is a series of musical character studies of the people comprising the author's recollections. There's Kaysen herself, an 18-year-old who gets talked into checking herself into the hospital for depression after a suicide attempt, supposedly for a "few weeks," but is held there for 18 months; Lisa, who is diagnosed as a sociopath (which may or may not be accurate); Daisy, who has an unhealthy and somewhat creepy relationship with her father (and whose eventual suicide impacts all of the other patients); the drug-addicted Torrey; and Polly, a young woman diagnosed with schizophrenia, whose body is disfigured by the scars she received from setting herself on fire.

Mann's version of the story is peppered with references to artists who suffered from mental conditions themselves, such as Robert Lowell and Syvia Plath. Even the title of the LP, Queens of the Summer Hotel, is taken from the title of a poem by Ann Sexton, a poet who struggled with bipolar disorder.

Many of the songs refer back to Kaysen and her feelings of disassociation and not being whole. Others are sung from the viewpoint of other characters, such as "Home By Now", where Daisy describes her father's special "love" for her; "In Mexico," told from the viewpoint of Torrey, whose parents check her out of the hospital against her will and bring her to Mexico, where her addiction once again overcomes her; and "Burn It Out", where Polly expresses her belief in the healing power of fire.

One of the emotional highlights of the album is "Suicide Is Murder", which describes the impact of a suicide on the people left behind: "But beware cause anyone who knew you/Will be cursed, and part of them will also die." She goes on to describe the act as "a heartless killing spree." The song is a real gut punch.

Mann brings it all together on the final track, "I See You", where she sings about each of the damaged souls from Kaysen's tale with compassion and understanding. Her descriptions reveal each girl, even the seemingly cold-hearted Lisa, as a full person and not just as a collection of symptoms and psychoses. They're just trying to make lives for themselves, even as they each struggle with their individual pain and confusion.

Queens of the Summer Hotel left me hungry to go back and read Susanna Kaysen's memoir. It's a beautiful album, and one full of heart and humanity.



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user ratings (11)
3.1
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
Divaman
January 26th 2022


16120 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I might even go back and give the film a watch. I think it was the one that really shot Jolie into stardom.

Egarran
January 26th 2022


34588 Comments


Well that was a pretty fantastic review.

Divaman
January 26th 2022


16120 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thank you sir.

parksungjoon
January 27th 2022


47234 Comments



1.0 awful ajcollins15 | November 9th 21

Not even sure why I picked this to review?sometimes chamber pop can sway me no matter what, so here we are. This new album from Aimee is a continuation of why she will always be one of the most one-dimensional singer/songwriters out there. Everything from the instruments to the production is one-dimensional. Not to mention the vocals are as lifeless as some of the most recent Lana Del Rey records. So overall I don?t find this album good in any way and there is really nothing listenable about it.

Egarran
January 27th 2022


34588 Comments


why

Divaman
January 27th 2022


16120 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah, I saw that park. To each their own. Obviously I completely disagree.

Pheromone
January 31st 2022


21493 Comments


Her descriptions reveal each girl, even the seemingly cold-hearted Lisa, as a full person and not just as a collection of symptoms and psychoses. They're just trying to make lives for themselves, even as they each struggle with their individual pain and confusion.

Gorgeous. I am going to check this out when I get the chance, did you get a chance to read Girl, Interrupted?

Review is a stunner!

Divaman
January 31st 2022


16120 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I actually just ordered a paperback copy on Amazon. Sounds like good reading when I'm the ship next month.



Thanks for the pos.

Egarran
January 31st 2022


34588 Comments


"Look at me Phero
I am the ship"

Batareziz
May 25th 2022


314 Comments


Need to check it out. Great review, Diva.

Divaman
May 25th 2022


16120 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks Bat.



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