Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has been a force on the music scene since her initial debut in 1982 with the band ’Til Tuesday, and the release of her first solo album, Whatever, in 1993. Mann has just recently released her ninth studio album, Mental Illness, ending a five-year hiatus from the industry.
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Mann states that Mental Illness is “the saddest, slowest, most acoustic” album she has written to date. Over the years, Mann has garnered a reputation for releasing, almost exclusively, depressing songs. In the interview, Mann commented about her reputation and how it affected her songwriting process for Mental Illness.
“If [my fans] thought that my songs were very down-tempo, very depressing, very sad and very acoustic, I thought I’d just give myself permission to write the saddest, slowest, most acoustic, if-they’re-all-waltzes-so-be-it record I could,” Mann said, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The style of Mental Illness is certainly more raw, intimate and unplugged compared to Mann’s signature rock roots. Here, she channels similar vibes to those present in the soundtrack to the Oscar nominated movie Magnolia, for which she received the nomination for best original song.
None of Mann’s previous work, however, matches Mental Illness—at least in terms of melancholia. Throughout the album, Mann delves into concepts of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses through the means of characters dealing with a variety of situations varying from heartache to daily life.
The idea of mental illness continues to be an extremely controversial concept, as its credibility is constantly questioned by society. Many people even deny its existence altogether.
Mann takes this controversy on by taking common situations that everyone goes through and comparing them to the struggles of mental illness, illustrating just how unbearable the latter can be. The album achieves Mann’s goal of being her most “depressing” work to date, exceeding all previous albums for miles. Mental Illness captures the essence of human struggle with such perfection and beauty.
The album’s introductory song is also its first single, “Goose Snow Cone.” This track deals with the concept of loneliness and feeling homesick—concepts that can resonate with almost anyone. Mann croons about that pit of loneliness that persists, even when in the presence of friends, as well as feelings of insecurity when outside one’s own home.
“I saw a picture on Instagram of a cat I know named Goose. Her fluffy white face was looking up at the camera in a very plaintive way, like a little snowball, and I started singing a little song about her that turned into a song about loneliness,” Mann said about writing “Goose Snow Cone.”
“I intended to change the lyrics [of “Goose Snow Cone”], but could never find a phrase to replace the one I started with,” she added.
This perfectly demonstrates the authentic and intimate quality to Mental Illness.
The powerful imagery and emotion continues in the track “Philly Sinks.” Mann uses this song as the epitome of her album’s concept, giving her listeners an even more stripped down, bare and personal song.
In “Philly Sinks,” Mann focuses on thoughts of suicide and how easily one can slip down such a path, birthing the actual potential to commit the act and how suicide affects those left behind. Additionally, Mann comments on the death of innocence in our society, alluding to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, as she possibly sees this loss as a cause for increased suicide rates.
Mann promised to produce an album that would exceed her previous works, which were already believed to be rather gloomy. She has certainly established herself as a dominant presence in the indie music scene, especially when it comes to sorrowful pieces.
There’s no doubt that with Mental Illness, Mann has delivered. No track on this album will leave you with dry eyes.