Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Record label: Superego
Genre(s): Singer/Songwriter, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Contemporary Pop/Rock
Beatlesque harmonies, Costello-esque bile, really bad romance: Yep, it's an Aimee Mann album. Mann's lyrics strain for cleverness, sagging under the weight of mixed metaphors. ("When you're weak, it's a Holy Grail/You're two-for-one, it's a fire sale.") Her way with a tune pulls her through in "Living a Lie," a duet with the Shins' James Mercer; the New Wave synths add some sonic color.
Our nonchalance is heartily rewarded; Charmer is charming. What distinguishes it from Mann’s more recent work is the energy: the artist is running on all, albeit 51-year-old, cylinders here, and the brightness and propulsion of the work is exciting. (Only one of the 11 songs breaks the four-minute mark.) Technically, the album has a theme to it: the concept of charm and the intentions behind such an affectation.
It was Leonard Cohen who famously wrote, “And you know that she’s half crazy / But that’s why you want to be there” about his title character “Suzanne”. The appeal of crazy women to apparently sane men is a common phenomenon. In fact it is almost a male rite of passage. Now this is not meant to demean mental and emotional illness.
Aimee Mann began to bounce back toward pure pop with @#%&*! Smilers, but that 2008 album retained a lingering hangover from her records with Jon Brion and Joe Henry, albums that were sober-minded in more ways than one. That's not the case with 2012's Charmer. Once again working with producer Paul Bryan, who has every one of her albums since the 2006 seasonal set One More Drifter in the Snow, Mann has brightened her palette considerably, surrounding herself with synthesizers and trebly guitars, keeping the hooks spiky and precise.
The Flyest on the Wall: Aimee Mann, mirror This album is full of horrible, heartbreaking things. Things that happen not just to bad people but good people, too. Of course, by the time a few of Charmer’s songs have passed by, the lines between good and bad become so blurred that the infinite subjective becomes the only rational paradigm. Perhaps perspective really is everything.
Aimee Mann has a gift for crafting instantly catchy tunes. So was she playing a practical joke when she made the chorus of one of her best new songs: “I’m a Labrador”? Try walking down the street with that one in your head. You’ll be getting stranger faces than the girl from “Crazytown”. Charmer is worth the long looks.
I know a lot of fans of independent acts always ask themselves and their likeminded friends why the bands they think are amazing don’t receive the popular praise they rightfully deserve. Pavement is always my first example, Cut Your Hair and Gold Soundz are perfect pop hits that never were as big as they should be. My second example is always Aimee Mann.
PINK “The Truth About Love” (RCA). Big, blatant, halogen-bright pop songs are Pink’s chosen calling. No matter how her tracks begin — with a whisper or a blast — the choruses await arena shout-alongs. But the words she puts in those neat pop packages can be unruly and conflicted..
The arch of Aimee Mann’s oeuvre, like many of her songs, forgoes the idea of a streamlined narrative. Always one to favor contradictions and curveballs, Mann’s breakthrough, Bachelor No. 2, Or The Last Remains Of The Dodo, was followed by the gray atmospherics of 2002’s Lost In Space. Three years later, she returned with the conceptual song cycle The Forgotten Arm, and in 2008 came @#%&*! Smilers, a record that, relative to Mann’s prickly standards, registered as fairly straightforward pop.
The album’s a mere four lines old by the time she’s spotting hidden agendas. By the second verse, self-loathing and self-doubt have crept in. Welcome back, Aimee Mann! But something’s amiss about “Charmer.” The erstwhile Bostonian’s eighth solo release consistently has more zip than she’s had since the ’90s — “Gamma Ray,” “Charmer,” and others run on revved-up electrics and chipper low-tech synth lines that expand on 2008’s “@#%&*! Smilers” — but zip doesn’t necessarily translate to songs.