Forgotten Albums: Aimee Mann, Whatever

Last week I saw that we’d reached the twentieth anniversary of the release of one of my all-time favorite albums, Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2. Martha was close to the four-months-point of her pregnancy with Ben when I picked it up; I know I had it already on play in the car when we went to a shower thrown by her soon-to-be former colleagues at Midway early that summer. Songs such as “Red Vines,” “Satellite,” “Ghost World,” and (especially) “Calling It Quits” are all brilliant–I recommend going out and finding it if it’s not familiar.

But that’s not my agenda today. Instead, I’m taking a closer look at Mann’s first solo record, Whatever. It came out in May of 1993, twenty-seven years ago this week, and more than four years after ‘Til Tuesday’s third and final album, Everything’s Different Now. Whatever is very close to Bachelor‘s equal, and signaled that the growth and potential Aimee showed in songs like “Coming Up Close” and “Rip in Heaven” (from ‘TT’s second and third albums, respectively) had fully matured/been realized. Even without much commercial success, Mann was here to stay. Here are a half-dozen cuts from it.

The opening track and lead single, “I Should Have Known,” had a more muscular sound than anything Mann had done before, and could be considered an announcement of her arrival. Somehow I’d never seen this video before.

The fourth track, “Could’ve Been Anyone,” is a strong contender for my Mann Top 10. I can’t say now if I put the line from the bridge, “It isn’t description so much as disguise” on the label for one of the tapes I made for James, but it’s perhaps the standout lyric on the whole album.

Mann is a master of the rhyming triple. She’d already begun the practice while still in ‘Til Tuesday, but it flourished over the course of her solo career. This song, about what the narrator believes is a premature end to a promising relationship, treats us to “departed/outsmarted/started” in the chorus.

I swear I didn’t choose to write this album up because Mann included a song called “Mr. Harris.” However, I’ve always found this tune, about the desire for a June-October relationship, deeply moving. The oboe/brass interplay in the musical interlude doesn’t hurt, either.

Another highlight is “I’ve Had It,” a poignant exploration of the frustrations and inevitable disappointments of being in the music biz.

The album wraps up with the rollicking “Way Back When,” another song I know I put on a tape somewhere along the way. I love to sing along. Also: many more triples!

I’ve skipped over several good ones: “Fifty Years After the Fair,” “Fourth of July,” and “I Could Hurt You Now,” among others. It’s a delight from start to finish. As I said in one of my earliest posts, I would have been surprised if you’d told me in 1985 (as much as I liked “Voices Carry”) that Mann would be the one artist from the 80s whose work I tracked consistently over the following thirty years. Without Whatever, that might not have happened.

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