On her
latest album, the beloved chanteuse retains her lyrical allure while
significantly ramping up her sonic smarts. Oh, and about that ‘Til Tuesday



     Try loading up Aimee Mann’s seven non-Christmas solo albums
into your iPod or equivalent device and hit shuffle. Unless you’re an obsessive
fan – and Mann has her share of those who have listened to each album hundreds
of times – it’s not going to be easy to guess which songs fit on which record.
Oh, some production sounds might give away songs from Whatever or I’m With Stupid,
her two early ‘90s major label strive-for-radio records. Mann’s essential
approach, however, emerged fully formed from her stint in the ‘80s with ‘Til
Tuesday. She writes consistently strong songs, filled with rounded characters
placed in emotionally fraught situations, and dominated by her distinctive
melodic tics and incandescent pop hooks.


There is no narrative arc in Aimee Mann’s solo career. She
left the major labels, started her own Superego imprint, and has shifted the
emphasis in her music from guitars to keyboards. But her voice, both in its
elegant sound and its eloquent musical design, has remained front and center
for 20 years. Lacking a way to distinguish growth or reduction from album to
album, we are left to say the same things we can always say about her records.
Aimee Mann is just plain good.


So, Charmer wins
its way into our hearts just the same way Bachelor
No. 2
, Lost in Space, The Forgotten Arm, and  @%&*! Smilers did. The mid-tempo, intoxicating tuneful
songs, filled with keyboard flourishes, George Harrisonesque guitar solos, and
layers of overdubbed vocal harmonies and counterpoint, are as irresistible as
ever. Mann sings of the lure of the charmer who, it turns out, is as insecure
as everybody else, without quite revealing that she knows how charming she is


Producers have come and gone from
Mann’s life, but even distinctive stylists like Jon Brion and Joe Henry never
overwhelmed her essential tunefulness and charm. This is actually Paul Bryan’s
third time working with Mann, starting with her One More Drifter in the Snow holiday release in 2006. It sounds as
though he’s just pointing the microphones in the right direction and letting
these songs breathe on their own.


is the first single. It’s the tale of a relationship with one person willing to
forgive any slight as long as the other keeps offering enough incentive, built
of course on the metaphor of a dog and its owner. But more, it’s got an
infectious chorus, followed by a skittering electric piano line that might as
well be the sound of the hunting dog chasing after the dropped duck described
in the song. (The video for this one is well worth watching. It has Jon Hamm
playing a sleaze-ball director who recreates shot for shot the video to ‘Til
Tuesday’s “Voices Carry.”)






Otherwise, picking favorite songs
on this one is akin to spinning a wheel (which, if you buy the LP, you can do
with the cover art). “Gumby” is a standout with its bold introductory hook and
intriguing setup of “Gumby, you should call your daughter again.” “Gamma Ray”
benefits from a galloping synthesizer fallout after the crunching guitars
under her three note vocal hook. “Living a Lie” is co-written and sung with
James Mercer of the Shins. It, too, sounds like a typically delightful Aimee
Mann song.


So once again, we have a very good
recording from a very talented singer, songwriter, and performer.  All the songs from Charmer fit snugly into the shuffle of her
Aimee Mann’s career.



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