on September 20, 2012
Aimee Mann once again delivers an album of intelligent lyrics and catchy melodies. A few critics have quibbled that Mann offers nothing new with this release. To an extent, this is true. Many of these tracks would fit comfortably on her last two studio albums, 'Smilers' and 'The Forgotten Arm' and I mean that as a compliment. Both of those releases were excellent. I began to listen to her seriously with the 'Magnolia' soundtrack and 'Bachelor #2' with 'Bachelor' probably being my favorite of her numerous albums. One of the many qualities with Mann's albums is the consistency of her first-rate songwriting. Many of her songs can lyrically convey a convincing short story in under 4 minutes! How many current singer/songwriters can do that and I stress the word "current'. In my humble opinion, many of her songs over the years can be favorably compared to the best of Joni Mitchell's and thats quite an achievement! As for 'Charmer', some favorite cuts are "Labrador", "Crazytown", "Barfly" "Living A Lie" dueting with The Shin's James Mercer, and "Gamma Ray" an actual real rocker! I really hope this release can gain her a larger audience. She is definitely(and unfortunately) one of the more underappreciated recording artist!
on October 15, 2012
Okay I admit I'm a complete Aimee addict so am anything but subjective. So to me having another collection of such superior songwriting and vocals is just more of a very good thing. But specifically, I think that Labrador and Crazy Town are two of Aimee's best ever. Like many songs before, they just keep playing over and over in my head. It irks me that Rolling Stone said "nothing new here" about Charmer. More of Aimee's best, even if admittedly it's somewhat similiar in tone to what's come before, doesn't mean it isn't a worthy achievement and doesn't provide substantial increased enjoyment of a great artist. And how about some recognition for a truly gifted song crafter. The fact that Aimee can continue to pen lyrics that are memorable and unique, after writing such an incredible catalogue already over her career is really remarkable. Aimee's a treasure, and Charmer adds to her luster.
I am so much more pleased with Aimee Mann's new album, 'Charmer'. That is, more pleased than I was with her last album.
Save 3-4 songs on '@#%&*! Smilers', it was, to me, her weakest album. I never said it was a bad album, just not as strong as some of her stellar disks. I know I have gotten push back on that from at least one reader....but I stick by my opinion.
Mann has always been very consistent in her writing, producing and playing. You will see her mix it up with a more acoustic sound, or then go back to a synth vibe for a record, but for the meat of her music, she doesn't stray too too much from what she's always done as a solo artist. At least this time there are a few twists that I haven't seen since maybe the Special Edition of 'Lost in Space'.
"Charmer" is a stellar first cut. The vocal arrangement and phrasing is just great. The second release, "Labrador" might have a fun(ny) video, but a song about your dog fetching sticks - metaphor or not - just didn't do it for me.
I am a big fan of "Gamma Ray". It is one of those twists I mentioned earlier. I like the rockier aspect, which you don't always get to see from her at this level. Ditto with "Crazytown" - maybe not as rock oriented, but somewhere between rock and pop - and liking the almost Arcade Fire-like electric piano opening (seriously, listen to their "We Had to Wait"). "Gumby" is a truly '60's pop confection song - and I don't mean that as a bad thing.
And "Living a Lie" is a very well done duet. Save a song or two with her husband, Mann doesn't do true duets and the blend of her and James Mercer's voice is a good match. Again, the vocal arrangements really work. I don't want a full record of duets from Mann, but she should try it more frequently.
"Red Flag Diver" doesn't start off strong, but hey, it is different than most anything she's done and that's an ok thing. I have total respect for exploration, but the bridge does have a vibe that she already explored on 'The Forgotten Arm'. ...and is it ok to like a song for the background vocal arrangement more than the lead vocal ("Soon Enough")?
Most bonus tracks are usually toss away tunes, but I'm liking "Brother's Keeper".
Yes, Mann falls into all to familiar territory ("Disappeared", "Barfly", "Slip and Roll") - again, not a bad thing, but after seeing glimpses of grander music making, it's a little disappointing.
The cover art, in digital booklet form is annoying. I'm sure in real life it folds or something, but in digital, half of everything is upside down. Nice concept, bad execution.
It is nice to really enjoy an album - and that's hard to say since people don't listen to albums per se anymore. In the world of digital downloads, it's good to be able to go start to finish.
on September 25, 2012
I have been a fan of Aimee's work since the Magnolia Soundtrack and Bachelor No. 2 (the latter of which I owned about four copies). Since then, I've followed her recording career with much anticipation for each and every installment she has made in rock music history. With the exception of just a few tracks from Lost in Space (2002), my opinion of her music has remained extremely high. It just got higher.
Since I received my copy of Charmer in the mail, it hasn't left my side. Well, that's a lie. I carry a burned copy around in my pocket so as not to damage my purchased copy. Next I'm buying the vinyl edition available on her website. Hell, I may even buy a shirt.
Charmer is Aimee Mann's best work to date. I'd name off my favorite tracks one by one, but the entire track listing is already posted above. There's not a bad apple in the bunch. Whether considered in it's entirety or simply, track for track, the experience is beautiful. Every song is completely justified both musically and lyrically so the album doesn't sag in places - at all. The production, is enough to leave any audiophile writing in ecstasy. Vocally, Mann is an artist at her height of her career. Her delivery is dead-on. It's obvious that she's raised the bar even higher for this album with respect to her impressive use of sarcasm and sad humor to write believable lyrics themed around topics you don't usually hear used in songs - and with sincerity. So sincere in fact, it's difficult to not listen. I find myself trying to get things done through my day while I replay this album and I end up accomplishing nothing. I'm continually lured back to the stereo and the printed lyrics and it doesn't take long before I've completely forgotten what I was doing. I guess that's the point. If "charm" - as Mann explains - is sometimes used as a form of manipulation, I'm fine with it. As long as it sounds like this.
on September 18, 2012
Once again, Aimee Mann delivers an album full of incredible lyrics woven perfectly into infectious melodies. Mann's voice remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful anywhere, and while a few tracks may not make you hit the Repeat button instantly, many will. The album is easy to embrace, a treat to experience, and another reminder of how good music is truly crafted. New Mann listeners: start with Charmer, Labrador, and Crazy Town.
on January 21, 2013
I've pretty much loved everything Aimee Mann has done since launching her solo career, starting with 1993's captivating WHATEVER and continuing through 2008's strong @#%&$! SMILERS. (2005's brilliant concept album, THE FORGOTTEN ARM, was particularly impressive).
However, after SMILERS, there was no denying that a ....sameness....had started to creep into Mann's music. That's why it was cool to hear that she was going to shake things up on her next release, revisiting the 80's pop energy and sheen of, among others, The Cars.
Was she successful? Well, yes...and no. This certainly is the most Til Tuesday-esque album Mann has made since...well, Til Tuesday!...but I wish that she had taken it even further. There are so many strong moments here that could have been built upon and expanded on.....good ~ very good! ~ but I expect great from Aimee Mann!
Things start strong with the lilting title track. Mann's knowing lead vocal is expertly anchored by the spirited arrangement, allowing the classic Mann lyrics to just jump out at you. Whether light ("When you're a charmer/The apples fall/And you're quite the little collector/You got 'em all") or dark ("When you're a charmer/People respond/They can't see the hidden agenda/You got going on"), this is what Mann is all about! A great way to kick things off.
Equally strong is the mesmerizing "Disappeared." A hypnotic lead vocal wraps around the crushing lyrics ("But now I join the queue/Of people dead to you/The one-time chosen few"), resulting in a performance that is both wistful and chilling. Add the contrast of a muted, almost light and airy, arrangement and you have a track where everything just comes together in spot-on perfection.
"Labrador" bounds along like it's titular pup, goofy and gangly, but masking a much darker undercurrent. A knowing nod to a friend and/or lover who has begun to see someone as less than an equal ~ or even human ~ Mann acknowledges the fact that we often choose to put ourselves in this position ("'Cause I came back for more"). Few artists can make pain sound so sweet.
Up next is my favorite cut off of CHARMER, a slice of pop perfection entitled "Crazytown." A shimmering arrangement, cushioned by pristine instrumentation, brilliantly backs Mann's seductive lead vocal. However, once again, it's the lyrics that are the true stars here: "A girl who lives in crazytown/Where craziness gets handed down/Who? Whoever's gonna volunteer/Will only end up living here." An absolute gem.
The stunning blend of light and dark continues with "Soon Enough." The soaring arrangement, complete with some blistering guitar riffs (courtesy of Jamie Edwards), is an odd, yet seductive, contrast to the withering lyrics ("'Cause what's more fun/Than other people's hell"). But, as with 99.9% of Mann's output, it works. Yet another winner!
The winning streak continues with "Living A Lie." Mann very rarely duets with anyone, but her pairing here with James Mercer of The Shins is lovely. If you didn't know better, you would swear this was a cover of classic by, oh, I don't know, Badfinger or Squeeze. I just wish it had gone a little bit longer, building in intensity. (But I do love "Creating for you a persona or two/Or an out-and-out mythology"). Very nice.
Up next is another favorite, "Slip And Roll." I don't know if this gorgeous cut was left over from the FORGOTTEN ARM sessions or newly written for the (aborted) musical version that Mann had been working on, but it's all good....the lyrics are sheer poetry, the arrangement is haunting and the lead vocal is warm and enticing. However, much like with "Living A Lie", it ends WAY too soon....this song should have gone on for at least another 60 to 90 seconds.
It's at this point that things start to slump just a bit, resulting in a four star album that could have been a fiver. "Gumby" is a nice enough cut ~ good melody, smooth vocal ~ but it's nothing that we haven't heard before, both here and on previous albums, and to better effect. Mann is too talented to be filling in space by repeating herself. A rare miss.
"Gamma Ray" is the disc's edgiest cut, but there's a rushed quality to the track that ultimately sinks it. It's as if Mann is forcing herself to wrap things up in under three minutes. Also, I would have liked to have heard more anger and bite in the vocal...when you're singing "You build bombs/You're familiar with explosions", light and sweet just doesn't always work. Good...could have been great.
"Barfly" may have also been an outtake from THE FORGOTTEN ARM, but it doesn't work nearly as well here as "Slip And Roll." The instrumentation is tight, with some particularly nice guitar from Chris Bruse, but the arrangement boarders on plodding, while Mann's vocal is lazy and uninspired. Another rare miss.
Things wrap up with "Red Flag Diver." If there had been a little more meat on this song's bones, or if it had followed a stronger cut, this one would have been a winner. As is, it's just...O.K.
And "O.K." from Aimee Mann just ISN'T O.K....she's too talented for that! (On another note...the artwork. In the past, Mann has hit it out of the park with her packaging, but CHARMER's is so busy and distracting that it actually detracts from the overall vibe vs. adds to it. I would have MUCH prefered the "red dress" promo shot as the cover....now THAT would have been a charmer!).
So, c'mon, Aimee...continue to step out of the box....longer songs, a little bit more edge, continued quirk...in other words, we want to be charmed even more! (As with all my reviews, I'm giving the disc an extra half a star for including the lyrics).