My favorite 100 albums of all time: #18 ("Whatever")
A word of caution before listening to Aimee Mann's Whatever – it may very well cause you to recalibrate your standards for songwriting. If you're setting your standards by this album, it's almost unfair to most other bands. Almost.
Released in 1993, Whatever was Mann's first solo album – but certainly not her first time to take a hand at songwriting. Mann recorded three studio LPs with 'Til Tuesday, and an EP with her first band The Young Snakes.
Whatever is a damned fine work, with 13 songs that are all a-side material. (Technically, it's a 14-track album if you count a nine-second piece of fluff at the end.)
"I Should've Known" rings in the album, with everything coming together almost like a soundcheck at the beginning of the song. After a few seconds it congeals into a fairly robust pop/rock piece with an infectious as fuck chorus.
The next cut, "Fifty Years After the Fair" is an incredible cut. Love the harmonies on this one, the guitar work, just everything about it. Again, the hook for this song is just undeniable. It's easy for me to get carried along with this one and paint a mental picture of the world Mann is painting with the song.
If you think the harmonies are particularly good on this one, and the guitar work sounds a little like The Byrds? That's because Roger McGuin is providing 12-string guitar and background vocals.
I shouldn't like to wish heartache on anybody, but damned if Mann doesn't channel it into something amazing. Or perhaps she's really good at writing songs about lousy relationships, but her personal life is entirely perfect. Whatever. Bitter Aimee is the best Aimee when she's writing songs. You need look no further than "Could've Been Anyone," to see this in action. To be fair, Mann had a little extra juice on this one courtesy of co-writers Jules Shear and Marty Wilson-Piper of The Church.
Mann also dips into the bad relationship well with "I Could Hurt You Now," "Say Anything," and "Stupid Thing" in particular.
But it's not all crash and burn romance here. There are a few astonishingly good ballads on this album. "4th of July" is one of them.
"Mr. Harris," may be my favorite track on the album, but don't hold me to that because it changes frequently. It is definitely a touching little number though, about a May/December romance. Mann sings about a love for an older man who "looks like Jimmy Stewart in his younger days."
"You've waited so long, and I've waited long enough for you." Call this the anti-Elanor Rigby, with our protagonist and the older man finding happiness even if he only has "ten years, or twenty, left." (It even has a touch of French horn for added effect.)
From start to finish, Mann and friends put together a fantastic album with incredible songs. This is a great place to start with Aimee Mann if you're new to her.