On Sunday, Pitchfork revisited Aimee Mann's third solo album, which she recorded 20 years ago:
The best song on the album, and the one that most thoroughly embodies its wary, bruised point of view, is “Deathly.” Warmed up by whispered backing vocals from [Jon] Brion and Juliana Hatfield, it’s a preemptive rejection from someone who’s been hurt too many times to risk heartbreak again. “Don’t pick on me/When one act of kindness could be deathly,” Mann pleads, her emphatic down-strums and simple rhyme scheme inviting a cathartic sing-along. She repeats the brief but evocative title so many times, it finally morphs into a word that’s even more devastating by virtue of its finality: “definitely.” Because she chooses her maximalist moments carefully on Bachelor No. 2, the song’s stratospheric, almost overblown minute-long instrumental outro lends an epic scale to what amounts to Mann’s refusal to keep experiencing emotions.
It was “Deathly” that inspired Anderson to complete the circle of inspiration, making Mann’s music the centerpiece of his 1999 film Magnolia. It makes up the bulk of the soundtrack, alongside a score from Brion (whose history with Anderson dated back to the director’s 1996 debut Hard Eight, on which he collaborated with Mann’s husband, composer Michael Penn). Unfolding over a night punctuated by violent L.A. rain—and culminating in a biblical cloudburst of bullfrogs—Magnolia follows an intersecting cast of lonely, angry, wounded and regretful characters.
In one scene, an abuse survivor and addict named Claudia (Melora Walters) abruptly ends what looked to be a promising first date with a kind, embattled police officer (John C. Reilly) by speaking the opening salvo of “Deathly”: “Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing each other again?” (“I heard that line and wrote backwards,” Anderson recalled in an introduction to the shooting script. “This ‘original’ screenplay could, for all intents and purposes, be called an adaption of Aimee Mann songs.”)
I think I'll have to put the album on after my conference call.