Aimee Mann has always had an interesting approach to making music. With a mix of guitar pop anthems and rousing acoustic ballads, her lyrical prowess and dry wit has always kept her on top of her game; probably the reason she is still going strong after nine albums and twenty-five years. And that’s merely her solo projects. Her debut ‘Whatever’ still sounds as fresh as the day it was released, and the thrill and excitement just to be making music seems to have showed no signs of slowing. It’s been five years since the last solo album, the more pop-flavoured flavoured, ‘Charmer’. So what could follow that? Well she’s gone the full circle and produced an essentially acoustic collection of songs. The tempo has slowed all the way to chilled, but her punchy way of telling stories is still just as strong.
The two tracks to come out before the album were ‘Patient Zero,’ and ‘Goose Snow Cone,’ and let us know what to expect from the rest of the album. Ms. Mann has always been more than well equipped at putting out ballads, with the likes of ‘Stupid Thing’, ‘4th of July’ and You Could Make a Killing’ being career high points. But ‘Mental Illness’ is the first time she has produced so many stripped back ballads in one place. There are eleven tracks on the new record, and each is a masterclass on how to shape beautiful, well thought out ballads. ‘Goose Snow Cone’ starts proceeding off with a gentle sigh. The song which was originally written about a picture of a friend’s cat she saw online, encapsulates a real feel of loneliness. It’s that melancholy that Mann has used and captured in her music so well over the years.
Whilst the strings were only meant to be used on a couple of tracks on the inception of the album, they have taken on a life of their own, and run like a central line through the album, making a beautifully cohesive collection of songs. Never-more-so than on album closer ‘Poor Judge.’ This is Aimee Mann at her rawest, most emotive, and gives the string arrangements leading roll. Not since Tori Amos’ ‘Jackie’s Strength’ has an orchestral arrangement been used so effectively. ‘You Never Loved Me’ is a tale of lost/never-had love that tells a tale of heartbreak like few others can.
Aimee herself describes ‘Mental Illness as her ‘saddest, slowest, most acoustic, if-they’re-all-waltzes-so-be-it-record.’ In a way that’s the perfect way to describe it. But ‘Mental Illness’ is so much more than that. Its use of acoustic guitars, pianos and strings tie in perfectly with her distinctive vocals making an album right up there with her finest work.