Aimee Mann released her ninth solo album, “Mental Illness,” on Friday, March 31, five years after her previous effort, “Charmer” (2012). True to its title it’s a downbeat collection from an artist already known for the despondent characters in many of her songs — her music even inspired Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Magnolia” (1999), and she earned an Oscar nomination for penning a new song for that film, “Save Me.”
But just because it’s blue doesn’t mean you should pass it up — quite the opposite according to critics. As of this writing it has a score of 86 on MetaCritic, her highest rating on the review aggregator since “Bachelor No. 2” back in 2000. There may be “intractable despair” on the record, but it’s “exquisite.” She’s a “master songwriter” who also demonstrates her strengths as a “storyteller.” And despite its darkness, it’s “funny and often beautiful.”
Mann won a Grammy in 2006 for Best Recording Package for her album “The Forgotten Arm,” but she hasn’t yet won a Grammy for music. She has flown under the recording academy’s radar, but with some of the best reviews of her career can she make an impact at next year’s awards? Check out some of those reviews below, and discuss this and more with your fellow music fans in our forums.
Jon Pareles (New York Times): “Ms. Mann sounds perfectly at home amid the music’s pleasant structures and deliberate constraints. But within them is an intractable despair, something that can’t be alleviated by a neatly placed vocal harmony or a poised chorus. ‘Mental Illness’ wallows in its troubles, and it’s an exquisite wallow.”
Craig Dorfman (Paste): “But to dismiss ‘Mental Illness,’ or Mann’s work more broadly, as merely a club of sad sacks is far too glib. Rather, Mann writes musical snapshots, documenting the smallest details to convey rich inner worlds … Mann has earned her reputation as a master songwriter on the coherence of her artistic choices.”
Josh Hurst (Slant): “Whether that qualifies the album as depressing is subjective, yes, but I’m doubtful given how funny and often beautiful this album is … The wait since 2012’s ‘Charmer’ was entirely worth it, as the songs here feel expertly honed, boiled down to their essence both lyrically and melodically.”
Ryan Bray (Consequence of Sound): “‘Mental Illness’ lays its hurt and sadness out so effectively that it’s hard to completely accept it as pure fiction. But even if we’re to take Mann’s word for it that these songs were created with some personal distance, it’s still no less powerful of a record. It shows not only her strengths as a songwriter, but also as a storyteller.”