It took chateuse Aimee Mann three years to find a contract for her first solo
album, Whatever (Imago, 1993 - Geffen, 1995).
Guitarist Jon Brion helped her out with most of the music and steered her
style towards 1960s pop singers
(I've Had It, 4th of July).
I'm With Stupid (Geffen, 1995) enhanced that program with
a rebellious stance borrowed from Liz Phair.
That's Just What You Are and Long Shot succeeded wonderfully
in delivering very personal matters within a very catchy tune.
A star was reborn with tunes such as Par for the Course.
Next, Mann stumbled into the usual major label blues. Her new album was deemed
too uncommercial and shelved. Some of the songs ended up on the soundtrack to
the film "Magnolia" and, lo and behold, gave them the biggest commercial
recognition of her career.
The piano and strings lullaby Wise Up and especially
Save Me rank among her best.
Bachelor No 2 (Superego, 2000) is a bitter collection
that speculates quite a bit on the "martyr" persona but boasts the same
"bold lyrics to sparse pop" concept
How Am I Different, Deathly).
Her most personal number is the
chamber pop of Just Like Anyone, so Aimee Mann-ish that only
Jeff Buckley could possibly imitate it. It turns out it is dedicated to
the late songwriter.
Calling It Quits is equally austere and innovative.
Lost in Space (Superego, 2002) is her mature statement
Mann's world is a world of losers. Redemption is rare and painful.
Luckily, the way Mann tells her stories is, on the contrary, serene and
almost joyful. The contrast is eerie, but also magic. The album, like its
predecessor, feels like one continuous sing-along, a long melodic fantasia
that happens to touch on the devastating torments of
It's Not, This Is How It Goes, Invisible Ink,
High on Sunday 51, etc.
Her pristine voice and the plain refrains indulge in the guilty
(and almost surreal) pleasures of Humpty Dumpty and Pavlov's Bell,
two of her catchiest tunes ever.
Lost In Space Special Edition (Super Ego, 2003) is a double-cd set that also contains live recordings, previously unreleased material and a video.
The songs on Aimee Mann's The Forgotten Arm (Superego, 2005), a sort
of narrative concept album,
are a bit too elaborate and convoluted. Instead of going for the heart,
Mann goes for the brain, an area for which she is not as talented.
The travelogue is highlighted by honest panels such as
King of the Jailhouse, Going Through the Motions, Video,
but rarely exhibits the spark that would push it above the emotional
threshold of real tragedy.
One More Drifter In The Snow (Super Ego, 2006) is an album of Christmas songs.
@#%&*! Smilers (Superego, 2008) is lightweight compared with
The Forgotten Arm, but still included
True Believer (co-written with Grant Lee Phillips)
and especially Phoenix.
Charmer (2012) is heavily arranged, but the songs mostly exist for the
lyrics. If you don't care for the lyrics, there is little in the arrangement
that can lift songs that are fundamentally bland.
"Labrador", "Disappeared" and "Barfly"
The Both (2014) was a collaboration with Ted Leo that yielded power-pop
ditties like Volunteers of America.
Mann was worth a lot better than these poppy albums and she proved it on
the depressed, Mental Illness (SuperEgo, 2017), with drum-less intellectual meditations a` la Joni Mitchell (Snow Goose Cone and You Never Loved Me) and few concessions to melody and rhythm (Lies of Summer).