Give two critics THREE months to listen to one album, and of course we will wait ‘Til Tuesday to publish our reviews. Which in this case is quite appropriate.
Up first, the new kid on the block…
It boggles the mind that 27 years have washed by since Aimee Mann first stood up from her MTV theater seats to shout “He said shut up! He said shut up! Oh why can’t you keep it down?” Clearly you can’t keep a good girl down. As her solo career enters its 20th year, Mann is back with her eighth studio album, Charmer. Clearly she knew THIS one is extra special. She released it to the media in June and I’ve had it on steady rotation all summer long.
Now I’ll fully admit, I might be a bit biased. When I saw ‘Til Tuesday in concert in 1986 (outside Tampa, FL), I had a broken foot. Mann saw me struggling to keep from falling over and moved her mic stand forward so I could hang onto something. She gave me a guitar pick afterward. I never did fall over, but I did fall in love that night.
In my lovelorn, completely biased opinion, Charmer is Mann’s best record since ‘Til Tuesday’s three-peat of perfect pop albums. Some hardcore MannHands may disagree, citing decades of treasure buried on solo albums I’ve unwisely ignored in lieu of Britney Spears and Girls Aloud benders. Even the fringe fan who only owns the Magnolia soundtrack might doth protest a bit much while pointing at stacks of Oscar, Grammy, AMA and Independent Spirit nods that album likely earned. But those people think with their heads and their hearts; like Stephen Colbert, I think with my gut. For the past decade, my gut has been bored.
While my Mann love has never faded, my interest in her solo music waned after early albums like Whatever and I’m With Stupid were just a little too wry and dry for my tastes — heck, on the Whatever cover, she couldn’t even bother to stand up. If only I could lend her MY mic stand. Maybe it was her move to LA, where it’s sunny every day and celebrities are mobbed with fake plastic wannabes hoping she’ll invite them behind the velvet rope. I kept wishing she would move back East — the chill (from the people and the wind) would do her good. There are no @#%&*! Smilers in New York.
I always checked in with every new Aimee Mann album — and was always rooting for them to succeed — but after a few spins, I promptly forgot about each one. Once in a while, a great song like “Backfire” from Lost in Space Deluxe Edition or “Little Bombs” from The Forgotten Arm would pique my interest, but when I needed an entire album of Mann Candy, I turned back to the original three from double ‘T.
The title track from Charmer sets the stage for things to come. For the first time since I can remember, Mann appears to be in a very good mood. Her hilarious turn on Portlandia and huge following on twitter have surely added wind to her sails. Check out Charmer’s surprise-filled video:
Throughout the album, her lyrics are as sharp as ever. The big difference is hooks. There’s lots of them. Every track is memorable, hummable and a pure joy to listen to. Just like Duran Duran’s recent album All You Need Is Now sounds modern yet effortlessly bridges the gap from 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger; Charmer sounds fresh yet is an effortless follow-up to 1988’s ‘Til Tuesday mellow, melodic and urgent swan song Everything’s Different Now.
She says the album was inspired by the power pop of the 70’s and 80’s, which only means one thing: Aimee Mann reads POPDOSE every day. It also means this album shakes off the shrugs and brings on the hugs. I love every song. If you love ‘Til Tuesday, I’m pretty sure you will too.
On “Labrador,” Mann compares her relationship patterns to Mann’s best friend: “But I came back for more, and you laughed at my face and you rubbed it in, cuz’ I’m a Labrador.” Traditional piano and buoyant electric keyboards warm up the mix, it’s glorious.
“Crazytown” laments her friend who can’t seem to get out of a relationship with “a girl who lives in Crazytown, where craziness is handed down.” James Mercer of the Shins shows up on “Living a Lie” — a winning pop duet that would be a country #1 if they threw in some slide guitar.
I could go on, but that would just ruin the fun for you. Need to play some quick catch-up before you dive in? Aimee posted a very generous sampling of her past 5 albums, including the Charmer single, on NoiseTrade for Free. — Keith Creighton
And now, the excellent and adventurous B-side written by the Ted to my Bill:
Back in 2008, I wrote a review for Aimee Mann’s album, @#%&*! Smilers that had some kind things to say about the record. Mostly, I was in love with the song “31 Today” because it reminded me of the songs Mann wrote when she fronted ‘Til Tuesday. But that song was a bright spot in an otherwise collection of dirges on the album.
Since Mann’s solo career started in 1993, it seemed that with each CD release after Bachelor No. 2 or The Last Remains of the Dodo, she slid further into musical depression. Gone were the bouncy melodies that accompanied the rather somber lyrics she penned for ‘Til Tuesday and her first three solo albums. Instead, she got mired in depressing sounding songs that she continued to produce for years. But, you can only ride the misery train for so long before realizing you’re the only one in the compartment.
And so it was with some trepidation (and later, great relief) that I started listening to Aimee Mann’s eighth solo album, Charmer. At first I was pleased with the fact music was so…upbeat. And then I was elated that the wan and blonde mistress of misery had come back from Bummerville and reconnected with her pop music muse to create an album that almost makes me forget that she wrote so many sleepers since 2002.
Even a slower song like “Slip and Roll” (that initially made me experience a kind of PTSD from The Forgotten Arm era) was an effective counterpoint to tunes like the title track, “Crazytown” and “Living a Lie.” Overall, though, what I love about Charmer is the exploration of individuals who are initially vivacious and fun to be around, only to reveal their “other” side that, to be frank, is crazy. But even the Charmer knows their magic over people is duplicitous: When you’re a charmer/The world applauds/They don’t know that secretly charmers/Feel like they’re frauds.
One can only guess (and it would be a pretty good one) that the character sketches Mann creates in song after song are drawn from the same pool so many songwriters have fished in for years: Los Angeles. The city attracts its fair share of charmers because of the entertainment industry, and although the fakery and misery of L.A. people have been documented by other musicians, Mann’s chronicle of the charmers she’s encountered since moving to La La Land in the ’90s has been a constant source of material. Sometimes the trials and tribulations of shallow or broken people can be too much to take when listening to Mann’s records, but with Charmer, she has found the right balance between effective pop hooks and the dark clouds that often pervade in her lyrics. — Ted Asregadoo
Charmer is on sale at local record stores everywhere and digitally at Amazon.