Sometime between the collapse of Til Tuesday and the moment she entered her apparently permanent wallow in self-pity at how she has been treated by Stupid Boyfriends and the Big Music Industry, Aimee Mann made Whatever, her most satisfying, if still inconsistent, work. There is bile aplenty here, but it is pop tuneful (Could've Been Anyone), wistful (4th of July), and witty (Stupid Thing). Best of all, these are not songs of a victim; Mann sings angry and strong and -- clearly -- is much better off for being rid of the jerk. Rich, almost orchestral arrangements wrap most of the songs, usually to good effect but occasionally overwhelming some of the weaker cuts, e.g. Say Anything and Put Me on Top. The low point is Jacob Marley's Chain; obviously meant to be a highlight, it just sounds ponderous. On the other hand, the best moments here come when Mann simplifies or steps outside her life and time. Fifty Years After the Fair captures both the quaint faith in progress that surrounded the '36 World's Fair in New York and the disillusion in later decades. Mr. Harris is May/September romance, sweet, longing and mature all at once. I've Had It is goodbye to a band -- maybe Til Tuesday on one of her less bitter days -- that gave its best shot but fell a little short.
Just like this CD falls a little short of five stars. But with half a dozen outstanding songs, two or three more very good ones, it is definitely worth adding to the collection.