Monday, December 11, 2006

Songwriting genius

Like a lot of people, the first time I heard of Aimee Mann was the Magnolia Soundtrack. And also like a lot of people, that led me to go out and pick up Bachelor No. 2 and I'm With Stupid. It's great that she got the recognition she completely deserves. She's even got a Christmas album out this year.

But you rarely hear anyone mention her debut Whatever. It's so underappreciated that I found it in the clearance bin recently and bought it for under $10. And that is a steal, because this album is great. When you think what else was going on musically in 1993, from the grunge of Pearl Jam and Nirvana to the hardcore of Tool and Sepultura to the angry-girl eclecticism of PJ Harvey and Bjork, Aimee Mann sounds like she came from another planet.

What was most interesting to me, though, was how well-formed her songwriting was even on this debut. She is one of the best modern songwriters out there for the simple reason that where every other songwriter strives to master the art of the simple and old-fashioned rhyming couplet, Aimee Mann writes lyrics that read as prose poems, complex and insightful. Prose poems are incredibly difficult to fit into a musical line. And yet she does, every time. And these aren't inaccesible songs. The melodies are catchy, the verses get stuck in your head for days. But reading the lyrics to my favorite song on the album, "I've Had It," you'd never be able to label them strictly as lyrics. This is prose poetry. This is art.

I've Had It
by Aimee Mann

We made it down to New York, with everything intact. But as for getting back it was Boo who made the joke: they don't give you any hope but they'll leave you plenty of rope. And Dan came in from Jersey. He went to get the drums, and if Buddy ever comes, we can get it off the ground. I hope someone's coming down, else I can't see hanging around. Oh experience is cheap if that's the company you keep. And a chance is all I need. And I've had it. I've had it. So we all just started playing and then something strange occurred. Not a person stirred. Oh, it started out one way, but it turned out to be okay and I felt somebody should say, "Oh, experience is cheap if that's the company you keep. And before you know that it's free, you've had it. You've had it." Like most amazing things, it's easy to miss and easy to mistake. For when things are really great it just means everything's in its place. When everything was over, and we loaded up the van, I turned and said to Dan, "Dan I guess this is our prime, like they tell us all the time. Were expecting some other kind?" Oh, experience is cheap if that's the company you keep. And I'll never get that disease because I've had it. I've had it. I guess I've had it.

Lovely, no?

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