I was digging through some old CDs the other day and happened across a compilation disc I made in the mid-’90s that had the title â€œAimee Mann: My Miserable Life.â€ Donâ€™t get me wrong, I love Aimee Mann, and have been a big fan of her music since the â€˜Til Tuesday days, but thereâ€™s something about the misery and pain of a broken heart that Aimee chronicles so well. Maybe it was her relationship with Jules Shear that went sour and she used that pain to become a minor queen of misery. But whatever the case, she was able to use that failed relationship and mine some lyrical gold for two of â€˜Til Tuesdayâ€™s best albums (Welcome Home and Everythingâ€™s Different Now), and three wonderfully written solo albums. Mann, um, lost her way with Lost in Space and The Forgotten Arm. Then Mannâ€™s Christmas CD came out, and I had pretty much thrown in the towel and said â€œUncle.â€
So it was with great trepidation that I popped @#%&*! Smilers into the CD player. Imagine my surprise when the pop goodness of â€œFreewayâ€ came out of my speakers. Yes, the lyrics are dumb (i.e., â€œYou got a lot of money but you canâ€™t afford the freewayâ€), but damn if that chorus isnâ€™t an earworm. The bouncy vibe of â€œFreewayâ€ gives way to more contemplative pieces like â€œStranger into Starmanâ€ and â€œPhoenixâ€ — with its awkward rhyming of â€œPhoenixâ€ and â€œKleenex.â€ A couple of standout tracks include â€œBorrowing Time,â€ and â€œ31 Today,â€ which, to me, is vintage Mann. The songâ€™s theme of quarter life malaise offers some powerful lyrics of lost youth and impending mid-adulthood: “I thought my life would be different somehow/I thought my life would be better by now/But itâ€™s not and I donâ€™t know where to turn.” In many ways, â€œ31 Today,â€ is the second part to â€œComing Up Closeâ€ Mann penned for â€˜Til Tuesdayâ€™s Welcome Home album, but this time instead of love lost, thereâ€™s an emotional emptiness that is somewhat dulled with alcohol and TV. Like I said, misery and pain are Mannâ€™s forte.
Itâ€™s unfortunate that after â€œ31 Today,â€ the songs on @#%&*! Smilers drift off into a beige haze. Still, given what came before on the track listing, the CD contains a good collection of tracks that demonstrate Mannâ€™s talent of exploring dark themes in the structure of a catchy pop song.