961 - Aimee Mann 'Whatever' (1993)

My Rating: 3.23 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die:
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection:

Chart Peak (UK/US): 39/--

Favourite Tracks: Say Anything, 4th Of July, Could've Been Anyone
Least-Favourite Tracks: Jacob Marley's Chain [but only because the melody reminds me of Nik Kershaw's 'The Riddle'..]

I never judge a book by its cover. Well that's what I sanctimoniously think about myself but the truth is I must do precisely the opposite because otherwise I'd have heard this record a long time ago. I blame the album title; you see I didn't read it as Whatever - I took one look at the cover, saw a young blonde American woman & it became (cue Californian accent) 'Whateverrrrrrrrrrr'. Like most opinions forged from flimsy prejudices that one stuck so I really wasn't looking forward to hearing this album. But before the opening track was over I could feel my face stretching into something of a donkey head as I realised I'd got it all wrong; this was not the frivolous, piece of froth that I'd presumed - it's an accomplished rock record. Four minutes in & it already had more hooks & harmonies than you find in 40 minutes of most albums.

First surprise is that it's such a full-on production. I was expecting an oh-so earnest singer-songwriter backed solely with an acoustic guitar, but that's partly thanks to Allmusic who describe this album (here) as 'folk-tinged'. (Long afternoon down the pub was it lads? 'Folk-tinged', my arse) No, from the start this has a bold & confident feel; the production is excellent & is tailored to fit the mood of each song. That means we get an incredible variety of arrangements & instruments, from electronic samples & drum machines to strings & full orchestration; you get the impression that they just raided the studio stockroom & grabbed every single musical instrument they could lay their hands on.

What about Aimee Mann herself? As a singer she sounded a little like a cross between Chrissie Hynde & Alison Statton of the Young Marble Giants (remember them?). I wouldn't describe her voice as commanding & yet she has a remarkable ability to scythe through a wall of guitar noise. And even better, she sounds like she means every word she sings which is quite a rare commodity these days.

As a songwriter she also does an admirable job; everytime I thought a track was getting a little predictable, it'd suddenly spear off into an unexpected bridge, middle-8 or instrumental break. And it's a tuneful album; the vocal melodies & backing harmonies are always pleasing & the lyrics are intelligent & thought-provoking (especially when you read between the lines of songs such as I Could Hurt You Now).

And that's the best thing about doing this daft project; every so often you discover some good music that you never knew existed.


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