Aimee Mann “Mental Illness” (Superego Records, 2017)

The work of Aimee Mann has decorated the pages of this site almost from our inception. Mann is one of our touchstones, a yardstick for other female performers. Her work is rarely less than exceptional, and this effort is no different. It is softer and gentler, more acoustic, but the barbs and the songwriting are as strong as ever. If you had to characterise her work in one word, I’d go for melancholy and here You Never Loved Me is melancholy in a nutshell, quiet, elegant with a simmering ache of strings and velvety violent percussion, nailing those feelings; hangs, draws and quarters them.

There’s mellowness to the songs – the sparks are still there, they are just wrapped in velvet. The protagonists of these songs suffer: love is a mental illness that affects us all. The soothing balm of strings that cuddle around Simple Fix are like a skim of polyfilla over where you’ve punched a hole in the wall – if you didn’t listen closely you’d miss the quiet desperation. Poor Judge is a heart-breaking exploration of how we make choices that we know are the wrong ones, how we can be led by our emotions, calling me back to make the same mistake again.

Given the sometimes harrowing nature of the songs, the fact that they are wrapped in such beautiful packaging helps to make them easy to unwrap; the swelling strings that make the chorus of Lies of Summer are so beautiful they belie the subjects who end up separated by a plexiglass screen. There’s always a barrier between the protagonists in the songs – if we are connected then it’s tenuous and as on Knock It Off it needs to be severed. These are powerful songs from a writer who has the narrative power of Alice Munro, her ferocity is undimmed, it’s just couched differently, listening to these songs is like being kissed and punched at the same time, you feel the pleasure and some pain at the same time.

These are powerful songs from a writer who has the narrative power of Alice Munro – her ferocity is undimmed, it’s just couched differently. Listening to these songs is like being kissed and punched at the same time – you feel the pleasure and some pain, all at once.

 

 

Author: David Cowling

Punk rock, Go-Betweens, REM, Replacments, Husker Du, Minutemen, Will Oldham, Smog, Whiskeytown, Ass Ponys but probably most of all Howe Gelb, led me on this journey.

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