Aimee Mann first burst on the scene in 1985 as leader

of the Boston band, til’ tuesday.  Their unique and ubiquitous

single,  “Voices Carry” was a huge hit on Top 40 radio and the video

played endlessly on MTV. Standing out on the midst of fluffy 80s

pop, the song was an unflinching look at domestic violence.

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Although til’ Tuesday broke up after three albums,

Mann carried on as a critically acclaimed solo artist.  Her solo

debut, Whatever (1993) and the follow up, I’m With Stupid

(1996), met with modest commercial success. Unfortunately she

was plagued with Record label woes.

By the late 90s, Mann married fellow musician Michael Penn

and created a  soundtrack for the film “Magnolia.” One song from

the movie,  “Save Me ,” received  an Academy Award nomination for

Best Song.  Despite the fact that she lost to Phil Collins’ drippy

“You’ll Be In My Heart,” (from the Disney film “Tarzan”) the

recognition allowed Mann to  terminate her contract with Geffen

Records and start her own label, Superego.

Her newest effort, Charmer, is Mann’s seventh release

through Superego.  The album opens with the beguiling title track.

Powered by a swirling mellotron and a martial beat, the lyrics reveal

that even most  cynical manipulators  face devastating insecurities:

“When You’re a charmer, the world applauds/ They don’t know that

secretly charmers  feel like frauds.”

Mann’s forte as a songwriter is her attention to detail.

She consistently combines vivid storytelling with pure pop melodies.

Despite the loping groove, “Soon Enough” burrows deep

into a failed romance.  Deflecting the pain, Mann offers up the

rhetorical question, “What’s more fun than other people’s hell?”

“Barfly” weds a slithering guitar and soulful vocals to

a withering indictment of addiction. The slow and mournful

“Slip and Roll” employs a boxing metaphor to detail the inexorable

slide into an emotional abyss.

The best songs on Charmer are “Living A Lie” and

“Gamma Ray.” The former is a duet with Shins and Broken Bells

front man James Mercer.  The mellow melody belies this stinging

war of words. Mann and Mercer trade corrosive verses, Mercer

blasts the first sarcastic salvo:  “You can see yourself in the side mirror,

tossing your hair/If no one is there, why do you care?” Mann lobs her

own verbal grenade,  “No one bears a grudge like a boy genius just past

his prime/Gilding his cage one bar at a time.”

It seems Pat Benatar was right, Love IS a Battlefield!

On the latter, twitchy guitar riffs and other-worldly synths

collide giving the song an 80s patina. The Sci-Fi lyrics serve as an

allegory for an imploding romance.

Other stand out tracks include the piano-driven

“Labrador.” This introspective tune draws a fine line between

loyalty and gullibility.

Hushed harmonies and a breezy melody camouflage

the emotional torment within “Gumby.” Finally, “Crazytown”

is not a tribute to the crap-tastic Rap-Rock band. Instead it’s a

brisk and propulsive rocker, with a plot straight out of Hitchcock

Noir.

Charmer closes with “Red Flag Diver.” Here Mann

abandons her almost journalistic yarn-spinning for a jaunty bit

of jabber-wocky. It’s a refreshing finish. Like a sorbet after an

expansive seven course meal.

In the tradition of Lennon & McCartney, Elvis Costello

and Difford & Tilbrook from Squeeze, Aimee Mann  crafts

songs that are impossibly catchy, literate  and immensely satisfying.

Pithy and concise, Charmer is a worthy addition to Aimee Mann’s

considerable body of work.

 

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