Aimee Mann: Whatever

ON THIS DATE (19 YEARS AGO)
May 11, 1993 – Aimee Mann: Whatever is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# allmusic 4.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Whatever is the first solo album by the American singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, released in 1993. The album also featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Whatever received mostly positive reviews from the critics. Most praised her sense of melody and the wordplay of her lyrics, exemplified by Entertainment Weekly in “hooky songs” and “evocative lyrics”. The Los Angeles Times reflected this by saying she “mixes words like a master, catching lifetimes of ache and Angst” in her songs while the Chicago Tribune compared her to Elvis Costello. And, Rolling Stone cited her music as “sunny, surreal melodies” with “razor-sharp lyrics”. On the other hand, Robert Christgau only cited “Mr. Harris” as a choice cut finding nothing else to say about it.
“I’ve Had It” is one of the songs featured in Nick Hornby’s book 31 Songs. The album with special note for the song “4th of July” was included by Elvis Costello in his “Costello’s 500” list for Vanity Fair.
Originally slated for release in 1992 on the Imago label, Aimee Mann’s solo debut remained caught in contractual limbo until a year later. Already a 10-year veteran with a music-industry Purple Heart (see Til Tuesday), Mann used her brainy, pointed songcraft to hit new heights on Whatever, while also articulating more mature levels of disillusionment and disappointment.
Featuring classy production by Jon Brion, Whatever begins with “I Should’ve Known,” a Lennon/McCartney-esque tune of romantic betrayal that became a minor hit months before the record’s release via its inclusion on TV’s Melrose Place. On other tracks, Mann expresses the desire for success (“Put Me on Top”), sepia-tinged nostalgia (“Fifty Years After the Fair,” with Roger McGuinn), and an affair with a much older man (“Mr. Harris”). The highlight of the album, however, is the gorgeously refined “4th of July,” which stands as one of her loveliest compositions. Fans of Mann’s previous work will be impressed with her ever-advancing lyrical skills, and any doubtful ’80s pop aficionados who ever considered her a “one-hit wonder” will find their new heroine right here.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Former ‘Til Tuesday front-woman Aimee Mann has always created a lyrical refuge for the romantically stomped upon. As MTV poster child for abusive relationships in the 1985 video for “Voices Carry” – battling off an arrogant beau with her bass and pigtail – Mann was obsessed by the patterns of love and vengeance through three eloquent albums with ‘Til Tuesday before the band officially dissolved in 1992.
With her striking solo debut, Whatever, she returns to familiar territory. As patron saint of smart women making foolish choices, Mann sticks out her chin for another heartfelt slug – but she hits back with a songwriter’s savviness and flair for having the final word. Sugarcoating “fuck you” lyrics with sunny, surreal melodies – like Chrissie Hynde merged with Spanky and Our Gang – Mann marries her tales of betrayal and disappointment with vibrant music.
Mann and producer Jon Brion take such agonizing therapy sessions as “I Should’ve Known” and “Say Anything” and adorn them with glittering arrangements, dipping into ’60s pop styles without becoming too retro-reverent. The standout “Could’ve Been Anyone” – which partially credits Mann’s very exboyfriend “J is for Jules” Shear – joyfully counters its accusatory lyrics with glockenspiels, lush vocal overlays and Roger McGuinn’s shimmering guitar licks.
Yet it’s Mann’s razor-sharp lyrics that most effectively shield her soul. Her breathtaking ballad “4th of July” throws off confessions like fireworks in a summer sky: “Oh, baby, I wonder if when you are older/Someday/You’ll wake up/And say, ‘My God, I should have told her/What would it take?'” Mann sings with the weary wisdom that can accompany heartbreak.
And subtlety is usually tossed out the window. “Stupid Thing” aptly targets a disappointing lover from the perspective of his “dear departed” (“Claiming I stepped out of line/Which forced you to leave me/As if the idea was mine/Oh, you stupid thing”). “Put Me on Top” illustrates a pretty straightforward request, but Mann avoids slipping into a pouty pay-attention-to-me plea by smiling at her own “doormat serenade.” Whatever is hardly a series of weepy regrets: Mann’s aggravated angst is more like an emotional boot camp. She prefers verbal combat to self-pity.
Rendered by a weirdly graceful voice that hovers on the brink of being offkey, Mann’s eccentric formulas can wobble – her slower songs are sometimes laggard and predictable. But when this accomplished musician and gutsy writer grabs her baggage and indulges in reckless pop fancy, Whatever truly flies. Like an acrobat inching along an emotional high wire, Aimee Mann works best without a net. (RS 662)
~ KARA MANNING (August 5, 1993)
TRACKS:
All songs by Aimee Mann, unless otherwise noted.
“I Should’ve Known” – 4:53
“Fifty Years After the Fair” – 3:46
“4th of July” – 3:21
“Could’ve Been Anyone” (Mann, Jules Shear, Marty Willson-Piper)
“Put Me on Top” – 3:28
“Stupid Thing” (Mann, Jon Brion) – 4:27
“Say Anything” (Mann, Jon Brion) – 4:57
“Jacob Marley’s Chain” – 3:01
“Mr. Harris” – 4:05
“I Could Hurt You Now” – 4:17
“I Know There’s a Word” (Mann, Jon Brion) – 3:16
“I’ve Had It” – 4:42
“Way Back When” – 4:05
“Nothing” – 0:09
In 1994 BMG Records in Germany released a limited edition Whatever — An Exclusive Collection. This featured a second CD containing previously released B-sides. The cover of the CD was unchanged, there just being a sticker announcing the bonus material. It appears that Aimee was unaware of this release until it was mentioned in the message forum at her website in 2004, her management calling it a bootleg before it being confirmed as an official release.
“Jimmy Hoffa Jokes”
“4th of July” (live for Virgin 1215)
“Say Anything” (acoustic)
“Baby Blue”
“Truth on My Side” (demo, 1989)
“Fifty Years After the Fair” (demo, 1989)
“Put On Some Speed” (demo, 1989)
“Stupid Thing” (live)
“The Other End (Of the Telescope)” (live)
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