album list
Aimee Mann, 'Whatever'

Whatever  (1993,  52.50)  ****½/TTT½

I Should've Known
Fifty Years After the Fair
4th of July
Could've Been Anyone
Put Me on Top
Stupid Thing
Say Anything
Jacob Marley's Chain
Mr. Harris
I Could Hurt You Now
I Know There's a Word
I've Had it
Way Back When
Aimee Mann, 'I Should've Known' CDS  (1993)  ****/TT

I Should've Known
Take it Back

Baby Blue
Aimee Mann, 'That's Just What You Are' CDS  (1994)  ****/TT

That's Just What You Are
Stupid Thing (alternate version)
Jimmy Hoffa Jokes
Aimee Mann, 'I'm With Stupid'

I'm With Stupid  (1995,  56.23)  ****/T½

Long Shot
Choice in the Matter
You Could Make a Killing
All Over Now
Par for the Course
You're With Stupid Now
That's Just What You Are
It's Not Safe
(unlisted track)
Aimee Mann, 'You Could Make a Killing' CDS  (1996)  ****/T

You Could Make a Killing
Choice in the Matter (live)
Aimee Mann, 'Magnolia'

Magnolia: Songs From the Motion Picture  (1999,  47.16)  ****/TT

Build That Wall
Driving Sideways
You Do
Nothing is Good Enough
Wise Up
Save Me
Goodbye Stranger [by Supertramp]
Logical Song [by Supertramp]
Magnolia [by Jon Brion]
Aimee Mann, 'Bachelor No.2'

Bachelor No.2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo  (1999,  53.42)  ****/TTTT

How am I Different
Nothing is Good Enough
Red Vines

The Fall of the World's Own Optimist
Ghost World
Calling it Quits
It Takes All Kinds
Save Me
Just Like Anyone
You Do
Aimee Mann, 'Lost in Space'

Lost in Space  (2002,  43.05/82.07)  ****/TTT½

Humpty Dumpty
High on Sunday 51
Lost in Space
This is How it Goes
Guys Like Me
Pavlov's Bell

Real Bad News
Invisible Ink
Today's the Day
The Moth

It's Not
['Special Edition' adds:
Real Bad News (live)
The Moth (live)
This is How it Goes (live)

The Scientist (live)
Invisible Ink (live)
Nightmare Girl
Fighting the Stall

It's Not (BBC session)]

Aimee Mann, 'The Forgotten Arm'

The Forgotten Arm  (2005,  47.13)  ****/T½

Dear John
King of the Jailhouse
Goodbye Caroline
Going Through the Motions
I Can't Get My Head Around it
She Really Wants You
Little Bombs
That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart
I Can't Help You Anymore
I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas
Aimee Mann, 'One More Drifter in the Snow' Aimee Mann, 'One More Drifter in the Snow'

One More Drifter in the Snow  (2006,  37.08)  ****/TT

Whatever Happened to Christmas
Christmas Song
I'll be Home for Christmas
You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Winter Wonderland
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
White Christmas
Calling on Mary
['New edition' adds:
Aimee Mann, 'Charmer'

Charmer  (2012,  38.03/42.08)  ****/TTT

Soon Enough
Living a Lie

Slip and Roll
Gamma Ray
Red Flag Diver
[Bonus track:
Brother's Keeper]
V/A, 'Jerry Maguire: Music From the Motion Picture'

Jerry Maguire: Music From the Motion Picture  (1996)  **½/T

[Aimee contributes]
Wise Up
V/A, 'Viva Noel: A Q Division Christmas'

Viva Noel: A Q Division Christmas  (1999)  ***/T

[Aimee contributes]
The Christmas Song

Current availability:

Mellotron/Chamberlins used:

Aimee Mann (these days married to Michael Penn, who operates in the same field) had been around seemingly forever, principally with her '80s outfit, 'Til Tuesday, by the time she released Whatever. My personal introduction to her was her guest vocal on Rush's Time Stand Still, from '87's Hold Your Fire, but this doesn't seem to get mentioned too much these days (n.b. it's on her website). However, like a fine wine, Whatever was worth the wait; her take on vaguely '60s-influenced pop-rock bears much repeated listening, with songs of the quality of I Should've Known and the rather wonderful Jacob Marley's Chain, and I think it's fair to say that there are no clunkers on this album, which isn't something you can say too often. There are various musical nods to Mann's forbears, including Roger McGuinn's sly 12-string quote from Mr Tambourine Man on Could've Been Anyone, but her music is far more than the sum of its influences, and she comes across as an original voice in an overcrowded field.

Chamberlin (and, I believe, Mellotron) throughout are played by the redoubtable Jon Brion, who also produces, as well as Ms Mann herself. As usual with Harry Chamberlin's marvellous creation, the instrument's irritating habit of sitting back in the mix means that it isn't always particularly obvious, but some upfront string parts on Put Me On Top and Jacob Marley's Chain more than make up for the 'is it or isn't it?'-ness of, for example, I Should've Known. As always with Mr Brion, its use is supremely tasteful, with immaculate arrangements and superb playing. You might've realised by now that I think this album's absolutely superb, and I find it incomprehensible that Ms Mann isn't better-known than she is, although it seems that her star is finally on the rise. All things come to those who wait?

Finding accurate information on Aimee's single releases from the period is nigh-on impossible, as every source I've seen (her site's discography included) seems to disagree with every other in various respects. What I do know is that three b-sides from Whatever turn up on various releases; the two listed here handily gather together all three relevant tracks, although you may very well find them in different combinations. Take It Back, an I Should've Known b-side, is a decent enough song with a brief string part, with a fab pitchbend at the end, while the harmonium-driven Jimmy Hoffa Jokes is a beautiful song (why was this not on the album?), with a lovely Chamby flute part. The alternate version of Stupid Thing has some strings towards the end that are so quiet they only really show up in the dying seconds of the song, but is still well worth hearing. Jimmy Hoffa Jokes and Take It Back are available on Ultimate Collection, released in 2000, which is doubtless an easier way to find them than tracking down long out of print singles, and can also be found on the Attack of the Killer B-Sides and Return of the Killer B-Sides (ho ho) bootleg compilations of odd Aimee tracks.

By the time I'm With Stupid (remember the '70s novelty t-shirt slogan? No?) came out two years later, Aimee was already suffering label hassles, being dropped by Geffen soon after. The album's opening line is "You fucked it up", just in case anyone was thinking of accusing Aimee of wussing out. Fat chance... While the songs are still excellent, there are fewer stick-in-your-head efforts here, docking the album half a star from its predecessor, although in a saner world, Superball would've been a major worldwide hit. Less (presumably) Chamberlin this time round, with only four obvious tracks on display (track-by-track credits, but no keyboard specifics). Amateur's flutes and strings fit the underlaid vinyl crackle and sort-of '50s vibe rather well, while Par For The Course features Aimee on every instrument, with a little burst of Chamby strings towards the end. There may be some brass on Frankenstein (not that one), along with the flutes and just a tiny smattering of flute on It's Not Safe, but the last bit of tape-replay on the album is a muckabout unlisted track stuck on the end (thankfully without the obligatory 13-minute gap...). As an addendum, You Could Make A Killing was released as a single, backed with Frankenstein and a live version of Choice In The Matter, complete with Warren's Chamby faint flute (and choir?) parts towards the end, in the days when he still used it live.

The soundtrack to '99's Magnolia, a film featuring many of Aimee's songs (some of which reappeared on Bachelor No.2), appears to be largely responsible for her current higher public profile, so hats off to director Paul Thomas Anderson for giving her a much-needed (and much-deserved) break. I've no idea how the songs fit into the film, but they work pretty well on disc, being the by-now usual run of dissertations on people, and why they do. Or don't. Three tracks have Chamberlin specifically credited, but it sounds to me like it might be on some of the other tracks, too, specifically Save Me, which has to be Chamberlin (Patrick Warren this time). Of the credited tracks, You Do features Warren on Chamby strings to reasonable effect, Benmont Tench plays it on Nothing Is Good Enough and Jon Brion gets to have a go on Wise Up. The soundtrack's filled out with a Jon Brion orchestral piece and two well-known (and well-worn) Supertramp songs. At least they didn't use the awful Breakfast In America...

Bachelor No.2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo carries on in the grand tradition of Aimee Mann songwriting, but confuses the issue by slightly crossing-over with Magnolia, although one of the four common tracks is a different version anyway... Nothing Is Good Enough is dramatically improved by vocals (the original version was instrumental), although the Chamberlin on Red Vines, despite being played by two of the usual suspects, is largely inaudible. A few tracks have Chamberlin specifically credited, but I can hear it on several others; How Am I Different and Satellite have strings from Patrick Warren, and Deathly doesn't even have keyboards credited, despite the fairly obvious string part. Ghost World, Susan... the list just goes on of excellent Chamby parts draped around killer songs; Backfire is a particularly good example of both. Another effortlessly great album, with stacks of Chamberlin to boot.

Lost in Space's faux-'50s booklet graphics seem to suit the music's gentle melancholy and timeless analogue sound perfectly; inspired design choice, Ms Mann. The music's as good as ever although, as with most of her material, it takes several listens to fully appreciate the artistry involved. It's actually quite difficult to pick out highlights, but the title track, Guys Like Me and It's Not are all good starting points. Once again, Chamberlin pretty much throughout, played by Michael Lockwood, Jebin Bruni and the inimitable Patrick Warren, and two of the three Chamby-less tracks have orchestral arrangements anyway. It's odd how Aimee's albums can sound both sparse and lush at the same time, but given the quality of her collaborators, I really shouldn't be surprised at the professionalism of her sound. Superlative. A year after its initial release, a 'special edition' version of the album appeared, with a 40-minute bonus disc of live stuff, b-sides etc. Is it worth having? Of course, although most of the tracks are available elsewhere in their original versions. Chamberlin on two studio tracks, with flutes, strings and brass on Backfire from Jon Brion, and strings on Fighting The Stall from Patrick Warren. There's a fair bit of 'Chamby' on several other tracks, but given that they're live or radio sessions, and aren't specifically credited in the booklet, I suspect they're all samples.

After 2004's Live at St. Anne's Warehouse, featuring Chamby samples, 2005 brought The Forgotten Arm, a concept album of sorts; the title is a boxing reference, which explains the sleeve. As on its predecessor, beautiful artwork, though in a completely different, pulp novel style; in fact the whole CD booklet is designed to look like an old paperback, right down to the fake 'back of the title page' and the lyrics presented as chapters. So, can this woman do no wrong? Another set of great songs, lovingly recorded, in Aimee's standard 'timeless' style (by which I mean, 'not contemporary', I suppose), with no specific highlights (at least initially), but her usual overall warmth and charm. Am I a fan? Well, am I? For the first time, no specific track-by-track credits, although Jebin Bruni is the only credited keyboard player. It takes a while for any tape-replay (presumably Chamberlin) to kick in, with a gorgeous string part on Going Through The Motions, with cellos and more strings on That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart although, oddly, that appears to be it, with Bruni playing more piano and Hammond than anything, making this Aimee's lowest-rated Chamby album yet.

I'm not sure what's driven Aimee to make a Christmas record, but 2006's One More Drifter in the Snow is, as you can imagine, better than most of the competition, simply because it's by Aimee. Arrangements are tasteful throughout and even if you're not keen on the concept, it's difficult to run such a nicely put-together record down. Patrick Warren's on Chamberlin, but as so often, it's extremely difficult to tell what he's actually using it for. There are strings on all the highlighted tracks, with none credited, so are they all Chamby? And for that matter, are those vibes on White Christmas real or Chamby? I'll leave the highlights on until/if I find out otherwise, I think.

I don't believe there's any tape-replay on 2008's @#%&*! Smilers (pronounced Fucking Smilers), although Patrick Warren arranged the strings, but it's back on 2012's Charmer. It's another breezy pop/rock album, stylistically not unlike Whatever or I'm With Stupid, highlights including the opening title track, Labrador, Living A Lie and the ripping powerpop of Gamma Ray, but, as so often, no disappointments. Aimee's bassist Paul Bryan plays his new M4000, with strings and cellos (and vibes?) on Labrador, strings on Crazytown, brass on Soon Enough, occasional echoed strings on Living A Lie, cellos and high strings on Gumby, strings on Barfly and distant strings on download edition bonus Brother's Keeper.

Anyway, all these albums are more than worthy of your attention, if you like great songwriting, so the Mellotron/Chamberlin stuff's really quite secondary, although it often enhances what's already there. Buy.


Live at St. Anne's Warehouse  (2004,  58.20)  ****

Although I believe Aimee used real Chamberlin live for some years, by 2004's Live at St. Anne's Warehouse, Jebin Bruni is using (admittedly very good) samples, a MIDI mother keyboard clearly visible on the accompanying DVD. Despite several "Here's another one from the Magnolia soundtrack" credits, her set actually covers her entire career, averaging three tracks per album, highlights including Stupid Thing, 4th Of July and a cataclysmic Long Shot, complete with ripping Neil-esque guitar solo.

Bruni adds those samples to around half the set, with strings on The Moth, Wise Up, Save Me, That's Just What You Are, Pavlov's Bell and deathly and flutes on 4th Of July, all sounding surprisingly authentic, actually. Personally, I'd be very happy to hear a live album from earlier in Aimee's career, but if this is all we're going to get, it still beats a great many similar singer-songwriter efforts. Well worth hearing.


Official site

See: The Both | Michael Penn | Jerry Maguire | Viva Noel

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