Aimee Mann embraces the sadness of her music on her ninth album, Mental Illness.SuperEgo Records, 2017
7.8 / 10
For her ninth album, Mental Illness, Aimee Mann embraces her conception as the quintessential somber folk musician. After all, her songs can be sad. But as Mann told the Los Angeles Times, “Emotional honesty is uplifting.” Think about that for a moment. It’s true. Many people feel a great relief when they’re able to talk about the things troubling them. Sometimes admitting the things that make us sad can help us find peace or even happiness once again. Mental Illness isn’t an entirely confessional record. Mann is an expert storyteller and continues to craft intriguing narratives. Real people inspire some songs while others may just be fictional. However, the emotion is true.
Mental Illness opens with a sobering reflection about loneliness. This song, “Goose Snow Cone”, takes inspiration from an Instagram picture of a cat named Goose1. In this picture, Mann thought the cat looked like a snowball. This feeling of joy from seeing a funny picture immediately triggered one of being homesick for Mann. It’s funny how songs can come from the most simple things sometimes. And without learning the meaning behind this song, I would have thought a goose snow cone to be an actual dessert.
“Goose Snow Cone” also establishes the instrumentation of Mental Illness. The songs all develop from acoustic guitar; picking up percussion, piano, and stirring strings along the way. Producer Paul Bryan is to credit for the strings, which help these songs land with more emotional wallop. On “Simple Fix”, they give the song a sense of somber discontent. The song highlights how a relationship’s demise never brings out the best behavior in anyone. Mann sings, “We’re babies passing for adults/ Who’ve loaded up the catapults/ And can’t believe the end results.”
Relationships play a part on Mental Illness but don’t dominate it. “Patient Zero” tells the story of a person chasing Hollywood fame but never finding it. Mann alludes to the impending disappointment, “Life is good/ You look around and think/ I’m in the right neighborhood/ But, honey, you just moved in.” Actual mental illness fuels the story behind “Lies of Summer”. Mann wrote the song about a man she knew, who was bi-polar. He also exhibited sociopathic behavior. Some of his questionable actions made more sense after finding out the truth.
Another one of the album’s more interesting songs is “Knock It Off”. In the song, a guy can’t accept his relationship is over. Usually this type of song comes from the male’s perspective where he paints himself as a wounded hero. Think back to many of your favorite indie heartbreak songs. Here, Mann paints a clearer reality where he is desperate. Even somewhat of a stalker when she sings, “Oh baby knock it off/ You can’t just stand there on her front lawn.” The truth isn’t always pretty. And pain can be hard to accept. However, as Mann says, “Emotional honesty is uplifting.” It allows us to move on.
1. Goose appears in the song’s official music video.