American singer-songwriter Aimee Mann is perhaps best known for her 1999 hit Save Me, taken from the soundtrack of the hit movie Magnolia. Having been active in the music industry across four decades, Aimee has a surprisingly varied catalogue of music under her belt but you’d be hard pressed to find many people that would tell you she’s anything other than a mopey singer-songwriter (which by the way is far from the truth). Due to being pigeonholed as such, Aimee has answered back to her critics directly with new album Mental Illness, which she herself has described as the saddest music she’s ever committed to record.
The album opens with Goose Snow Cone, a song that explores the feeling of being homesick. Musically it sounds a lot more cheerful than it actually is but it serves to ease you into the record. There’s no denying that Mental Illness is a collection of downtempo songs and it may be a little bleak for some listeners. Across the 11 songs Aimee showcases her ability as an observational songwriter taking stories of everyday people and creating beautiful songs from them.
For the most part the album is built around acoustic guitar rhythms, sparse beats and strings. It has a feeling of being intimate and stripped-back while still sounding polished and produced. Aimee’s voice takes you back to the glory days of the 90s female singer-songwriter boom when Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Fiona Apple and Paula Cole were ruling the airwaves.
Rollercoasters is a fragile ditty about a thrill-seeker, Patient Zero dispels the romanticism associated with the bright lights of Hollywood, and Knock It Off finds Aimee telling someone to let go of a relationship that’s clearly run its course to everyone apart from the one person clinging on. One of the highlights on the record is the seemingly jovial Philly Sinks, which actually tells the story of a man that turns to drinks to solve his problems.
Mental Illness won’t be to everyone’s taste. It doesn’t switch gears at any point and at times the songs start to sound a little homogenous. There’s no doubt that Aimee is a gifted storyteller but the overall bleakness of Mental Illness makes it a little difficult to listen to all in one go. The album reveals more to you the more you listen to it but it takes a little perseverance, that some fans may simply not have, to uncover its magic.
Track List: 1. Goose Snow Cone 2. Stuck in the Past 3. You Never Loved Me 4. Rollercoasters 5. Lies of Summer 6. Patient Zero 7. Good For Me 8. Knock It Off 9. Philly Sinks 10. Simple Fix 11. Poor Judge Record Label: Super Ego Records Release Date: 31st March 2017