Wirecutter Picks the Best Aimee Mann Album
4 min read

Wirecutter Picks the Best Aimee Mann Album

I claim fair use on the grounds of parody

Whatever your attitude towards divorce — contemplating it, filing for it, recovering from it, or justifying your refusal to get close to other people by the mere possibility of it — you’re going to need an Aimee Mann album. Mann has been making divorce albums since 1982, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. Not all, however, are the right fit for everybody.

We’ve chosen the best Aimee Mann albums for most people, testing them over 20-plus years. We looked for albums offering the best combination of lability, force, softness, durability — and how they stood up through a brief car ride, a long road trip, and a session of private weeping in the parking lot of a Target. We dropped them from a great height to see if it would break us. We also listened to them with our lovers, and again later, after they left. We’re confident in our picks, and we think they’ll make you feel both drained and thrilled.

Why you should trust me:

I am fifty feet tall and made of sustainably sourced New Zealand sheepskin. I reach out my hand to you. It is five feet long. I reach it slowly, slowly, so that you don’t run away. Will you step onto it? Five feet is a perfect length for a hand: large enough to feel stable, but small enough not to overwhelm. The slightly cupped palm provides a comfy seat.

Our Pick: Lost in Space

The best Aimee Mann album for most people

Lost in Space is a big, roomy album. It impressed us out of the box with its size, its heavy drape, and the sheer amount of depression in it — before we ran it through the washer, despair covered our hands like a thick black lotion whenever we touched it. Even after the wash, we had to take care with it on lighter-hued couches. One tester found this off-putting, but most agreed that the abundant fluid makes the album feel luxe, especially for its relatively low emotional cost.

Where Lost in Space really shone, though, was in the breakup test. We tried it with straight, gay, bi, and lesbian testers — all agreed that the album reminded them of their ex, whether that ex was an emotionally withholding butch, a deadbeat with a cruel streak, or a charismatic artist who took all of the testers’ friends. It’s this shapeshifter quality, this mutability, that put it above the rest and mark it as an album that will last for years.

Upgrade Pick: Mental Illness

More effort, more punch

Mental Illness is a hefty emotional investment — twice the cost of Lost in Space, in fact, which features bangers like “Pavlov’s Bell” and doesn’t require the listener to work over the lyrics in quite the same way. It’s a smaller, quieter album, but subtler as well. Testers found that it had a rich, layered taste on the tongue, along with an astonishingly complex aftertaste that even Lost in Space couldn’t match.

The reasons it’s not a top pick are, one, the price; two, the density. Not everyone needs this level of divorce energy, which is exceptional even for Mann’s oeuvre. If you’re really going through it over custody of the dog, though, you’ll find that nothing else can touch it for emotional resonance.

Flaws but not dealbreakers:

Some testers found that Mental Illness’ humor is so dry that it causes an unpleasant static charge. We couldn’t replicate this when we tested it in the office, but if you find yourself feeling a little zinged, a dryer sheet or one of our humidifier picks should solve the problem.

Also Great: The Forgotten Arm

An album for those who love concepts

This record, a romantic tragedy about an alcoholic boxer, is set in the 1970s. Its design is a hybrid approach. The cover is made of French terry with a pleasantly rough nap, but the stuffing is made of fine, unprocessed American trauma. All testers agreed that this seeming contradiction made for a perfect day under the covers or pressed against the back of the couch.

This album was also the no-contest winner of our weeping test. Several of the tracks caused surreptitious sniffles, and one (“Video”) sent a tester to a bathroom stall for half an hour, but it was the closing track that caused the entire Wirecutter office to dissolve into open weeping. If you plan to listen to “Beautiful” with the entire album behind it rather than on shuffle, make sure you’re armed with tissues, or, failing that, with a soft and sturdy toilet paper (like our pick, Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care).

Budget Pick: Welcome Home

A classic with a bit less polish

This album, from Mann’s earlier band ‘Til Tuesday, requires almost no emotional investment. The tracks are catchy 1980s pop, from the swoon of “No One is Watching You Now” to the shimmer of “Angels Never Call.”  Despite the low cost and its dated detailing (and the fact that it only comes in black and beige), we’ve found that Welcome Home is nearly as resonant as our top picks. If you can look past the surface, you’ll find a timeless design.

Notable Competition:

Bachelor No. 2 or, The Last Remains of the Dodo. A former pick, Bachelor No. 2 continues to impress us with its witty lyrics, but Mann’s later models are all just a little bit more refined. Long-term testing also found that the album consistently lost fuzz around the seams — especially after a run through the dryer, no matter how many tennis balls we threw in with it.

@#%&*! Smilers and Charmer: Testers found these two late records to be of consistently high quality, but that the materials and finishes were lacking compared to our top picks. They are also very similar to each other (when we opened them up, in fact, we found that their workings are identical and only the casing is different). These albums are sophisticated and beautiful. They may suit you if you don’t want, or need, to weep.


We're testing Queens of the Summer Hotel and will have an update soon.