Review: Aimee Mann’s ‘Queens of the Summer Hotel’

Queens of the Summer Hotel | Superego | 4 out of 5 Stars

What began as a commission to create a soundtrack for the stage adaptation of the cinematic masterpiece Girl Interrupted evolved into Aimee Mann’s striking stand-alone album, Queens of the Summer Hotel, and in fact, one of the most emotive efforts of her career. Mann, whose notoriety began with the ‘80s band Til Tuesday (best known for their hit “Voices Carry”), has never been shy about sharing emotions that are often tumultuous, but this time around, she’s offered the opportunity to delve into the push and pull of mental illness and the residual effects that can leave a lingering imprint on one’s psyche.

 

Surprisingly then, Queens of the Summer Hotel is sweetly sublime, a series of delicately orchestrated arrangements that come courtesy of longtime collaborator Paul Bryan. Songs such as “You Fall,” “You Don’t Have the Room,” “Home By Now,” “At the Frick Museum,” “Burn It Out,” and the album’s initial single, the tellingly titled “Suicide Is Murder,” suggest an elegiac intent. However, there are ample hints of Mann’s penchant for pop, especially as evidenced on “You Could Have Been a Roosevelt,” a wistful and whimsical retreat from the cerebral sounds that dominate the album overall.  

Mann’s no stranger to scoring soundtracks. Her contributions to the film Magnolia earned her both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Likewise, her last release, Mental Illness, made it clear that she had no qualms about sharing her own issues both candidly and creatively. Nevertheless, the new album is different in that regard, not only in that it relies on a different personality perspective but also in that the strings offer an easy embrace that belies any darker designs. Songs such as “In Mexico,” “Give Me Fifteen” and “I See You” coast along with a supple sway, suggesting a more sedate scenario than the original screenplay otherwise implies. Consequently, it ranks with the best albums of Mann’s nearly 40-year career. Expressive and emotive, it’s a work that finds delicacy and diligence operating on equal footing. 

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