Thursday, June 05, 2008

@#%&*! Smilers

Aimee Mann’s new CD gets off to a sprightly start with the up-tempo “Freeway” (see video below), an engaging pop tune with a wry point of view. It’s grand start to a grand collection.

Mann’s writing is as arch (meant as a compliment not a dig) and as incisive as ever but the overall feel is a frisky, engaging one. The music is buoyed by shimmering pianos, swirling synthesizers, and deftly-strummed acoustic guitars…all in the very capable service of Mann’s rich, expressive voice (which sounds similar to Chrissie Hynde’s often…again, not a dig, I think they’re both amazing singers.) The wonderful vocal on the rueful “Thirty-One Today” and the ruminative “Little Tornado” (highlighted with a cool whistling solo) are almost worth the price of admission by themselves.

From ballads like the spare “Stranger to Starman”, floating on a lush cushion of strings, to the jauntier numbers like “Looking for Nothing”, Mann is (as always) in extremely fine voice with her words evoking interesting images and familiar feelings and reactions.

Strings inform the lovely, bittersweet “Phoenix” and the soaring, compelling “It’s Over” while a great synthesizer figure, a rock solid backbeat, and a clarion horn section bring sweet life to the wistfully hopeful “Borrowing Time”.

The CD is warmly accessible and yet still challenging at the same time; Mann and her musical cohorts draw the listener in and make them want to pay attention, make them want to linger and luxuriate in the clever wordplay, the beautiful playing, and her wondrously expressive voice. By the time you’ve reached the jaunty “Ballantines”, a duet with Sean Hayes, you’ll just need to go back the beginning and experience this great CD all over again. It’s a cool experience indeed.

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