Aimee Mann – @#%&! Smilers
What do you do when the one of the greatest, yet probably the most overlooked, songwriters in the music business puts out a new album? You buy it, of course! And you shouldn’t need to read my review of the record to run out and get it either, but seeing as money is tight these days and some of you might not have the bread to buy the gas to get to the record store to actually buy the album, I will gladly critique it for you.
But first, some background on this fantastic artist in case you are just now crawling out from under that rock or have been asleep for the past three decades or so.
During the ’80’s, Mann was the leader and frontperson for the new wave band ‘Til Tuesday, who scored several hits during the decade. By the dawn of the ’90’s though, hits for the band had dried up and Mann was itching for a solo career. So, she disbanded the band shortly after the release of their third album, which had stalled on the charts fairly quickly. In 1993, Mann released her first solo record, Whatever, a decidedly more folky/singer-songwriter-type album than anything ‘Til Tuesday had ever released. While the album was warmly received by critics, the publics reception was less than stellar. Still, despite rather disappointing sales from an artist who had scored a handful of hits with her old band, the album was a baby step towards a solo career and the overwhelmingly positive critical reception of the album gave her the resolve to carry on with her solo career.
Her next album was even more eagerly awaited due to a small hit she had with a song featured on the soundtrack CD of the television show Melrose Place. Unfortunately, the release of her second solo album was delayed by the bankruptcy and subsequent shuttering of her record label. Reprise Records stepped up to the plate and offered to release the album but lawsuits kept Mann’s disc shelved. Eventually, Reprise grew tired of waiting and when Mann wrested herself away from her former label, DGC signed her and released her, by now, long-awaited follow-up I’m With Stupid. By this time, however, memories of her minor hit had faded and the album was met with positive reviews but sales were again disappointing. Mann re-emerged in 2000 with the soundtrack to the film Magnolia and has been recording steadily ever since, releasing everything on her own label to prevent any of the previous pitfalls slowing her career from happening again.
For her new record, Mann sticks to what she knows: pain, hurt, love and loss. All good songwriters know these simple touchstones and plot devices, yet, as many songs as I have heard by more songwriters than I’d care to think about, few are able to utilize them as craftily and as heartfelt as Mann. While it may seem chauvinistic of me to admit, I am not the biggest fan of female vocalists and singers. Not that I hate them, it’s just that being a guy, I feel more in common with male singers and artists. But a few are simply too good to ignore and Mann is definitely one of them. Whenever she releases an album, I am there, waiting to hear it.
Fans of Mann will no doubt love this disc. Like much of her work, the album features Mann’s signature pithy wit and exemplary songwriting not to mention her beautiful voice.