Release Date: Apr 15, 2014
Record label: Superego
Before I get to the debut from Aimee Mann and Ted Leo’s new band, I should explain Milwaukeeans’ fraught relationship with TV sitcoms. Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley remain the Cream City’s most indelible pop culture touchstones for the American public, but there’s far from unanimous local love for Garry Marshall’s favorite sons and daughters. And why should there be? These are Hollywood relics of four decades ago (six if you go by era depicted), and lazy touring acts still can’t resist making boring Ralph Malph references.
The Both's first album represents the results of a well-conceived collaboration between two artists who've built up considerable goodwill with their long careers of first-rate songcraft. While both Aimee Mann and Ted Leo are perfectly capable of making records that are full of brainy, emotionally charged, and melodically rich songs, together they come together in a way that adds up to something greater than their solo work. Most of all, their vocals sound great together whether singing in harmony or trading off parts.
It’s odd to think that this far into their individual careers Ted Leo and Aimee Mann have put out an album that might gain them some more mainstream recognition. While both artists have some renown — Mann particularly, who has found some moderately successful chart positions as well as Grammy and Oscar noms to her name — they’ve stayed at the same level for quite some time, garnering steady fan bases and considerable praise in the music press. They don’t have mobs of beliebers or little monsters swarming their concerts, but they don’t have a whole lot of people who despise them either.
Whenever a musical collaboration gets announced, fingers should be crossed. Like your best friends announcing they’ve decided to date each other, there is a quiet, unspoken awareness this could well be a cacophonous disaster before it’s a resounding success. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.
The Both are a singer-songwriter collaboration that sound precisely like you'd hope. New Wave heartthrob and master songcrafter Aimee Mann gets welcome vocal and guitar snarl from Ted Leo, a post-punk heartthrob in his own right whose unfussy attack benefi ts from Mann's melodic and harmonic touch. Anyone following their aesthetic courtship on Twitter could've predicted the lyrical sparks.
At the tops of their respective games, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo provide such a study in contrasts that a partnership between the two is as intriguing as it is unlikely. Mann, whose “Voices Carry” turns 30 next year, is so wry and reserved that she can crack a joke that you won’t get until a verse or two later. Writing with an acerbic precision, she hides her world-weariness in that shirk of a voice, simultaneously jaded yet still vulnerable.
The announcement that Aimee Mann and Ted Leo would be releasing an album together under the name The Both surprised some people, but it really shouldn’t have. While Mann and Leo come from different musical worlds—she’s the former lead singer of the new-wave one-hit wonder ’Til Tuesday with a successful alt-rock solo career, and he’s the hardcore vet who now makes smart, timeless pop-punk in Ted Leo And The Pharmacists—they have one big thing in common. They’re both adaptable.
When artists collaborate, they sometimes use the opportunity to explore different sonic personas. For the Both, critically adored singer-songwriters Aimee Mann and Ted Leo choose to give themselves makeovers, gussying up each other’s sounds with complementary colors. The duo’s self-titled debut’s greatest strength is the pair’s hand-in-glove harmonies.
Incompatible on paper, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo once again accomplish that which they've spent respective careers proving: everyone wrong. A New Wave survivor via Boston's 'Til Tuesday ("Voices Carry"), Mann, 53, carried rock over into a Nineties solo career whose wistfulness engendered critical and popular appeal. Leo, 43, went the hardcore NYC route during that same period, but not without a lyrical and melodic streak (Hearts of Oak).
Joan Osborne“Love and Hate” (eOne Records)4 stars “It’s a thin line between love and hate,” sang the Persuaders in their undying 1971 hit. More than 40 years later, Joan Osborne blurs that line completely. She treats love and hate not as distinct forces but as evil allies, conspiring against hapless humans. “Love and hate/their turns they wait,” she sings on her new album.