Sometimes an artist just needs 12 more songs to summarize their career. Case in point...
For a good number of years in the late '90s and early '00s Aimee Mann was one of my favorite musical artists. But circa 2008 I started to lose interest in her new work, and stopped paying attention. It's been fun to catch up on what I missed. Well, maybe "fun" isn't the right word to describe delving into Mann's often pain-centered worldview.
Take a look at the 12 by Aimee Mann list to revisit the first part of her career.
1. "Freeway" (from @#%&*! Smilers, 2008)
There are few who do "fuck you" songs quite as effectively as Mann. "You got a lot of money, but you cannot keep your bills paid."
2. "Thirty One Today" (from @#%&*! Smilers, 2008)
True story, this album was released two days before my 31st birthday. "Thirty One Today" is about a person taking stock of their life and their choices, and despairing at what they've found. While I loved this song immediately, I was (and still am) grateful that I couldn't personally identify with it.
3. "Ballantines" (from @#%&*! Smilers, 2008)
This drinking song duet with Sean Hayes (not the Will and Grace actor!) has a pleasantly old-timey feel.
4. "Charmer" (from Charmer, 2012)
A charming throwback to the fuzzy power pop of Mann's early solo records.
5. "Labrador" (from Charmer, 2012)
Mann excels at character studies, and even moreso when her narrator's commentary on a person ends up shedding light on both psyches.
6. "Gamma Ray" (from Charmer, 2012)
I don't know if it was intentional, but this rocker always makes me think of the Incredible Hulk. I love the line: "And one thing leads to another, and none of it's good."
7. "Milwaukee" (from The Both, 2014)
The Both was a side-project that teamed Mann up with punky singer-songwriter Ted Leo, and the result was a unique marriage of styles. This one has spiky guitar solos but also a soaring, poppy, hand-clapping chorus.
8. "Bedtime Stories" (from The Both, 2014)
If you told me it was a lost 'Til Tuesday track I wouldn't have a hard time believing you.
9. "Rollercoasters" (from Mental Illness, 2017)
Like most of the songs on this album, it's acoustic and minimal, with some fantastic harmonies. Lyrically, it's a rare reversal of one of Mann's favorite tricks; it sounds sad but is actually somewhat hopeful.
10. "Patient Zero" (from Mental Illness, 2017)
Layered with strings and harmonies, this is the richest sounding song on Mental Illness. It's also, in my opinion, the best song on the album, detailing on the dashed hopes of a young actor trying to make his way in Hollywood.
11. "Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath" (from Queens of the Summer Hotel, 2021)
Mann was commissioned to create songs for a stage adaptation of Susanna Kashen's memoir Girl, Interrupted. The book (which also became a 1999 movie with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie) was about her stay at a psychiatric center, Mclean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. The project stalled, but Mann turned her work into an album. This particular song examines the fact that both of these acclaimed poets stayed at Mclean, which leads Mann's narrator to compare herself to them, and wonder about her own fate.
12. "I See You" (from Queens of the Summer Hotel, 2021)
Aimee Mann taking on Girl, Interrupted really is a perfect pairing of artist and subject matter, as evidenced by the Bachrachian "I See You," which takes turns looking at each girl's problems, and assuring them that they're not invisible.