Aimee Mann @#%&*! Smilers Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Like all her best work it will continue to unfold and grow with repetition.

Chris Jones 2008

Aimee Mann's seventh album sees her return to the (seemingly) simple format of finely-crafted songs. Produced by her bass player, Paul Bryan, the overall sound takes us fans back to the heyday of her work with Jon Brion on albums like Batchelor No.2. What makes Mann such a treasure is the fact that at the heart of her work is a darker, bleaker world view than you'd expect from the tastefully Beatlesque arrangements and melodies that cocoon it. Like Neil Finn, with whom she shares a certain, pop-for-grown-ups sound, there's little fancier here than piano acoustic and drums (with the occasional strings). Yet whereas Finn's songs concern themselves with temptation and loss, Mann's oeuvre revolves around the black heart of her native California.

The characters that inhabit songs like 31 Today or first single, Freeway, are always marginal souls, struggling with isolation, obsession and addiction. Indeed, a theme that seems to recur is alcohol and its aftermath. There's the bar room 'jollity' of Ballantines where she's joined by ambient folk guru, Sean Hayes, while on It's Over she says: '' Everything's beautiful, every day's a holiday, the day you live without it''. Meanwhile on 31 Today she's drinking to alleviate the disappointment of her fourth decade (in reality she's actually in her fifth).

The other typically 'Mannian' theme is the nature of relationships that border on abusive. On Phoenix her lover loves her like: "a dollar bill. You roll me up and trade me in," while on I Did The Right Thing she returns to the kind of righteous payback that she's always been so good at. In other words, Aimee Mann knows it's a deeply flawed universe we inhabit. Remember this is the woman whose work inspired Paul Thomas Anderson's film, Magnolia. And there are few less flattering representations of humanity.

Still, despite the ornery cussedness of the album's title, what we come away with is something undeniably beautiful and subtle. Like all her best work it will continue to unfold and grow with repetition. And that's the sign of true artistry, and something to smile about.

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