Tuesday, March 26, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1243: Aimee Mann

I just had a lovely four-day weekend celebrating 22 years of marriage with my wife and life partner Sheila. While I like to joke that our longevity is due to the immunity she’s developed to my poisons the truth is, I just love being with her. Every day is an adventure whether we’re watching the Ligurian Sea wash in on the beaches of the Cinque Terre in Italy or snuggled under our blankets watching bad television in our living room.

Disc 1243 is… I’m With Stupid
Artist: Aimee Mann

Year of Release: 1995

What’s up with the Cover? Aimee raids a friend’s fridge. I am assuming it isn’t her fridge because I don’t think she has kids and those magnet letters are only on the fridges of people with kids.

Our fridge is festooned with old concert tickets, ribald jokes and commemorative magnets from all the places we’ve traveled. That’s what we get up to while you folks with kids are encouraging your kids to spell with magnets.

What’s the etiquette with those magnets when I’m visiting, anyway? Can I rearrange the letters and spell something new, or will this cause your kids anguish? I know if your kids messed with my concert tickets there would be trouble, so I try to be fair and not touch anything when I’m digging for a beer.

But I digress…

How I Came to Know It: Sheila introduced me to a couple of Aimee Mann’s later albums. I was quickly hooked and began digging through her back catalogue, where I found this album.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 8 Aimee Mann albums and they are all good. That also means that competition is fierce, and “I’m With Stupid” can only manage to land at #6, knocking “Fuck Smilers” down one spot and also beating out “Whatever” by the narrowest of margins. That battle with “Whatever” was close, coming down to the fact that I like Mary Shelley more than Charles Dickens. This will make sense if you keep reading.

Ratings:  3 stars

“I’m With Stupid” is Aimee Mann’s second solo album but it feels like it is the birthplace of the unique blend of folk and pop she would refine and master over the next twenty-plus years.

Her debut record “Whatever” has moments of this sound – smooth and sparse, with a blend of smoky crooning and folksy observation – but on “I’m With Stupid” Mann goes all in. The result is uneven, with some awkwardness, but for the most part it is a solid record that hints at greatness to come.

Mann sings low but with a lot of sweetness. Combined with her heart worn lyrics the effect is a lullaby that manages to soothe through doubt, giving comfort by showing that deep down we’re all a little unsure of what comes next.

On “I’m With Stupid” she is still perfecting her craft, and it has a couple of decisions I wouldn’t have made. “Superball” is a strained and over-extended metaphor that can’t even be saved by well-timed handclaps. “Par for the Course” threatens a similar bad metaphor early (this time, golf and horse racing) but redeems itself, slowly growing in intensity until by the end it becomes one of the record’s stronger tracks.

Mann has a knack for creating catchy minor-key melodies that are front and off-center, making you feel slightly displaced and emotionally secure at the same time. It is a record for coming to terms with injustice. On “Whatever” she bemoaned the lack of commercial success with “Put Me On Top” but on “I’m With Stupid” she sings “It’s Not Safe”, a song that upbraids herself for expecting anything different from the road less traveled:

“All you want to do is something good
So get ready to be ridiculed and misunderstood
'Cause don't you know that you're a fucking freak in this world
In which everybody's willing to choose swine over pearls”

It’s harsh but there’s an acceptance growing, a recognition that it might be aggravating to Mann to not be appreciated but she can take heart that the aggravation doesn’t magically cause someone to lower their standards if they're not built that way.

The album’s highlight is “Frankenstein” a song that talks about how you can only patch an imperfect love for so long before it becomes a monster. Mann expertly blends the cautionary tale of going too far with science, bending the metaphor artfully to relationships. She does it all with a lilting and irresistible melody, tripping over itself as it races from one mistake to the next until – before you know it – you’ve gone too far.

On “Whatever” Mann sang “Jacob Marley’s Chain,” employing it as a metaphor of regret shackling you to your past. Here she does the opposite, turning the ghostly chain of memories long past into a living monster, made flesh and consequence through a series of bad decisions. I told you I’d get back to Dickens and Shelley.

“I’m With Stupid” is a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster: a record with a piece here or there I wouldn’t have included, but once you get to know it, intelligent, intense and brimming with conflicted emotion.

Best tracks: Long Shot, Par for the Course, Frankenstein, It’s Not Safe

1 comment:

Chris said...

Happy Anniversary to you both!

I really need to listen to more Aimee Mann