In the sprit of all proficient reviewers - I first should declare an interest. Aimee Mann has been an important part of my life for the best part of twenty years or more accurately, her music has.
Like many, I discovered Aimee Mann through her, ‘4th of July’ single and the accompanying album, ‘Whatever’. The music from this and the follow up album, ‘I’m with Stupid’ was essentially a key part of the sound track to my twenties. I have lost count of the number of people I introduced to these two works, explaining that they were quite simply the work of the best female singer song writer around.
Most folk agreed. Occasionally, someone didn’t, which meant they didn’t have enough taste to remain a good friend.
Mann’s early work had a quality that’s almost impossible to describe, a balance of melody and energy combined with a poignancy of lyrics, delivered with a lightness of touch that allows instant accessibility but with an impact that gets deeper, more fascinating and more captivating the more you listen. Others achieve this, Bernard Butler, Van Morrison, Mike Scott and of course, Lennon & McCartney but 99 % of artists don’t. Or at least don’t consistently.
The albums that followed, Bachelor No2 & Lost in space continued this brilliant evolution, delivering songs that stand the test of time and still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, even after the 1000th listen. If you want to fill yourself with energy listen to ‘Longshot’, if you want to make yourself smile listen to ‘Ghost World’ or ‘Stupid Thing’ and if you want to take a moment to dwell on the raw reality of human relationships listen to ‘Par for the course’ or ‘Wise up’
‘I’ve Had It’ is my permanent sound track for New York. I have never travelled in from JFK without this piping from my phone to my headphones or back in the day, ….my Walkman.
Lately though, Aimee and I have grown apart a little. Her two most recent works prior to ‘Charmer’, ‘Smilers’ and ‘The forgotten Arm’ just did not have the same impact. They are both proficient works and ones you should have in your collection but there were two things that kept them off my frequent play list; The style of the melody moved a little from California pop to a more country feel and the songs themselves became a little too heavy or bleak in their lyrical content. I can admire a story about a drug addict loser, with dissipating health and a tendency to beat his wife but I don’t enjoy listening to it every day in my daily commute.
So, it was with more than a little apprehension that I pressed play on ‘Charmer’, Mann’s latest release. I’d seen the fantastic video release of ‘Labrador’ and dared to hope that this album could be a return to her brilliant best. It’s better than that. It filled my heart with joy at the thought of the pleasure most of the simple tracks of ‘Charmer’ will bring in years to come.
There are some instant dazzlers in addition to ‘Labrador’. ‘Disappeared’ has a chorus that falls right in with Mann’s best work and a retro synth line that’s mesmerizing and ‘Crazy Town’ is another of her super pop works that would crack a smile on the face of the coolest hipster. It’s worth getting the iTunes version for the bonus track, ‘Brothers’ Keeper’ which is delivered in the vaudeville style of the best of the 90’s work.
The standard of musicianship on all of Mann’s work has always been incredibly high and 'Charmer’ is no exception. What makes it so enchanting is that it’s delivered with a tone of understatement - you just never feel anyone has to try - and it’s all the better for it.
It isn’t perfect, ‘Slip and Roll’ recalls some of the issues I described about ‘Forgotten Arm’ and ‘Gumby’ is a little one paced but this is all relative. ‘Charmer’ will easily be one of the best albums you could buy this year.
If you are familiar with Mann’s work and maybe have just drifted away from it. Buy Charmer, it will remind you why she is one of the most important song writers around.
If you are not familiar with Mann’s work then I envy you. You must buy “Whatever’, ‘I’m with Stupid’ and ‘Charmer’ at once. Today. You’ll open a window into music that will change the quality of your life. Trust me, it will.