I have a theory. For the singer-songwriter thatâ€™s wrestling with pain, the last thing they want is an angry pool of broken glass to jump into. Instead, they long for a large, soft, luxurious pillow to cry in. Or, to paraphrase Bleeding Gums Murphy, they donâ€™t make â€˜em to feel better, they make â€˜em to make others feel worse.
Aimee Mann has taken a very bad, and unwarranted, rap over the years for purportedly fixating on mopey, sad-sack tunes of love gone sour and lovers gone to parts unknown. That may be true, but how sheâ€™s cast these tales has always been above reproach. Credit her darkly wry sensibilities, her crisp wordplay, and the fact that few in modern music have as innate a grasp of the chamber pop aesthetic as Mann does.
It all comes into focus on Mental Illness, Mannâ€™s latest. Having taken a jaunty left turn with Ted Leo previous to this as part of The Both, the new record is a singular accomplishment on her part in that it sounds exactly the way you expect her latter career records to sound, and still this is never a problem. It is never a repetition of old highlights. And there is an appealing lattice in the particular shroud of these songs.
Another thing Mann exceeds in is choosing her co-conspirators. Having Jonathan Coulton on board to harmonize with and underpin her voice lends a sweetness to even the songs that, in lesser hands, would tip into overkill, pun intended. Leo and bassist Paul Bryan also lend their voices to stunning effect.
Itâ€™s hard to throw a dart to indicate the best track here. Once youâ€™ve been lulled into a state of melancholy with the opening â€œGoose Snow Cone,â€ youâ€™re pretty much held captive for the rest of the ride. I will say that the plaintive piano plod of â€œGood For Meâ€ has stuck around more than any other track. I donâ€™t mean plod as a pejorative term, by the wayâ€¦more as a descriptor. If I was to say â€œBeatlesqueâ€ youâ€™d have a far different takeaway in your head â€“ something brighter and sunnier. But neither Lennon nor McCartney were prodigies on the 88s, and it never harmed them one iota. I daresay Jamie Edwards is probably underplaying here, possibly aiming for Beatles territory on purpose, but it does its dusky magic trick.
I will add one thing, and Iâ€™m not joking or exaggerating here. If you are currently in a compromised state emotionally, I would not suggest the album at this moment. Each of the eleven tracks is gorgeous, but none of them are particularly â€œfeel good,â€ and if youâ€™re trying to spackle together a broken heart or a broken head, this might not be the proper glue for the job. But for those who can take in the album with the right frame of mind, Aimee Mannâ€™s Mental Illness is a warm, plush comforter to crawl into when the self-pity stops working.