Song of the Day #979: ‘Thirty One Today’ – Aimee Mann

I never expect a favorite artist’s most recent album to be her best. When I count somebody among my favorites, it’s because something he released years ago made a huge impact on me. Maybe a band put out a string of excellent work in the early 90s, enough to cement them as legends, but after their heyday they settle into groove of sustained quality that falls just short of that peak.

I don’t think Elvis Costello will release a new album that I rank higher than the two or three I consider his finest. I’m sure R.E.M.’s best work is behind them, even though I’m excited as hell about their newest release. It’s reasonable to accept that musicians hit a high point and then spend the rest of their careers trying but never quite approaching it again.

Prior to 2008, I would have called Bachelor No. 2 the highpoint of Aimee Mann’s career. Released in 2000, it was her third solo album following several successful releases with ‘Til Tuesday. It came out right around her spike in popularity tied to her work on the Magnolia soundtrack and tapped into the same aching, melancholy mood as that film. Song for song, it is as confident and creative an album as you’ll hear from a modern singer-songwriter. I doubted she could ever top it.

So imagine my surprise when Mann released @#%&*! Smilers with little fanfare in 2008 and it turned out to be her most sublime work yet.

@#%&*! Smilers‘ thirteen tracks tell tales of lonely souls in need of redemption. The album’s title refers to those people who walk around happy all the time for no apparent reason. This record is about everybody else.

‘Thirty One Today’ is about a third-life crisis. I like her premise that turning 30 isn’t such a big deal but turning 31 can stir up some troubling emotions. Thirty marks the end of your twenties. Thirty-one means you’re starting down the path toward 40 (“Someday!” as Meg Ryan’s Sally so memorably put it). And as the narrator of this song puts it, “I thought my life would be different somehow, I thought my life would be better by now… but it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn.”

That’s the existential helplessness that Mann captures so well in so many of her songs, never more elegantly than on this album.

Thirty-one today
What a thing to say
Drinking Guinness in the afternoon
Taking shelter in the black cocoon

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn

Called some guy I knew
Had a drink or two
And we fumbled as the day grew dark
I pretended that I felt a spark

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn
No, it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn

Easter comes and goes
Maybe Jesus knows
So you roll on with the best you can
Getting loaded, watching CNN

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn
No, it’s not, and I don’t know

10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #979: ‘Thirty One Today’ – Aimee Mann

  1. Dana says:

    Interesting theory about artists and their best works. I think there may be some notable exceptions in there, but by and large you are probably right. Paul Simon released Graceland and Saints after a 20 year career containing some previous highlights and after a number of lesser albums. Peter Gabriel’s So also came after a long career with Genesis and solo work. Even the Costello albums you rank so high came after a number great previous works. Still, I get what you mean in that, once the artist sets the bar so high, at whatever point in the career that happens, it is hard to top it. Simon, Gabriel and Costello probably have never topped their best achievements of the 80’s.

    Anyway, I have really liked all I have heard from this album and I share your appreciation for Mann’s sound and her sensibility. Good stuff indeed.

  2. Amy says:

    I guess I can give this song some sort of mark for honesty, but it just makes me want to slap the speaker, figuratively if not literally (though I might be tempted to do that, too, if she were standing next to me). Really? You’re 31, drinking beer, calling some loser guy and feeling sorry for yourself? Why don’t you make a change? The repetition of the chorus – something I dislike in any song – is particulary annoying (and, I guess, effective) here. She certainly is in a pathetic loop – so intent on bemoaning her situation and content to leave it at that.

    I guess because I associate Aimee Mann with this sort of song, regardless of whether this is typical, I bristle whenever I see a SOTD is going to be devoted to her. I just want her to STOP WHINING!!!!

    Not sure if I have more patience with whining male singers? Maybe. Regardless, listening to today’s SOTD made me go in search of this…

    So… I guess we won’t fight over this album; you can take it to your island ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Clay says:

    I suspect you do have more patience for whining male sings, considering your strong affection for the whiniest male singer of all, Adam Duritz. His entire discography (which I love) is dedicated to him bemoaning his situation.

  4. Dana says:

    I’m not defending Amy’s dissing of Mann here, but Duritz is not a good example of a whiny male singer. His music is far brighter in tone (though not always in lyrics) than the likes of Mann, Rufus, Morrissey and the like.

  5. Clay says:

    I’m talking about lyrics, though, which I think Amy was too (at least in this case).

  6. Clay says:

    What’s funny is that I just checked out the other Aimee Mann songs I’ve featured here and Amy said “wonderful song” or “I love this” about more than half of them. Bristling, indeed!

  7. Amy says:


    (and what did I say about the other half? :P)

  8. Amy says:

    I was compelled to go look for myself. I found that I had simply not commented on most of them (because of all that bristling!) and that I would express surprise when I found myself liking one of her songs for a change. So don’t misrepresent me, bucko! I have the same research skills you have!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Here was an early comment I made a few years ago, back in 2008:

    “While Iโ€™ve never understood the depth of your passion for Aimee Mann over some of her predecessors and equally talented contemporaries, I certainly do agree that she captures โ€œachingโ€ better than just about anyone.”

    “Aching”/ whiny – tomato/tomato – let’s call the whole thing off!

  9. Clay says:

    Aching is most certainly not the same as whiny… the former has a much more positive connotation. Don’t hide from your praise!

    Also, one of the songs you didn’t comment on was ‘Red Vines,’ which I chose deliberately because you told me you adored it after hearing it on a compilation CD.

    But I’ll stop arguing… it’s silly for me to try to convince you that you like somebody you say don’t like! But I suspect you would like far more of her music than you think you would.

  10. Amy says:

    ๐Ÿ˜‰ Deal. I’m sure that’s true, as you have been right more often than not when guessing which musical artist I might enjoy adding to my collection.

    It was a long day, at the end of a long week, when I listened to this song, and she pushed all the wrong buttons.

    But I still think you have one hell of a nerve to say that Adam Duritz whines! ๐Ÿ™‚

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