Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Aimee Mann – Fucking Smilers

[Editor’s note: we’re scrambling to play catchup here. With our end-of-the-year best-of lists coming out next week, it wouldn’t make sense to have anything on the list that we hadn’t found worthy of a full review. Right? Therefore, this one, a bit, umm, behind the eightball…]

If you’ve ever visited the “about” section here (above), you’ll remember that Lucid Culture isn’t supposed to be the place to look for the latest news on Aimee Mann (plenty of other sites offer all that and more: we like it better deep in the shadows, under the radar). So this is old news about Aimee Mann written for all three of you who don’t already have this cd. In two words: get it. The cd cover says @#$% Smilers, no doubt a concession to the Walmarts of the world. Probably the best guess as to what the Sad Eyed Lady of La-La Land really means is “Fucking Smilers” – “Fuck Smilers” is too punk rock, it doesn’t fit with her trademark sotto-voce exasperation. Musically, this is pretty much the same as what she’s been doing for the past fifteen years or so, a mix of beautifully melodic, lyrically-driven, slightly Beatlesque ballads, mostly slow to midtempo. What’s new is the mix of vintage 70s synthesizers and electric piano here, much in the same vein as on REM’s big 1999 comeback cd, Reveal. You’ll recognize the settings from a lot of cheesy 70s AM radio hits, but in the capable, purist hands of bassist/producer Paul Bryan they don’t sound cheesy at all. Mann’s chords still shift ominously from major to minor; her voice has grown even darker, taking on an even greater wariness and subtlety. It may have taken her more than a decade, but she’s become one of the alltime great song stylists.

 

But the rage hasn’t subsided one iota. The cd’s opening track Freeway is a typically cynical swipe at La La Land yuppies, with an outro that goes on far too long. Borrowing Time is Mann at her offhandedly savage best, a cautionary tale about the worst kind of golddigger, the kind who’ll leave you with a child support bill, vintage 70s synth filtering in over a bouncy Penny Lane beat. The stark, 6/8 It’s Over, the slow piano ballad Medicine Wheel, the ragtimish duet Ballantines and the subtly gorgeous Columbus Avenue all share a quietly gloating schadenfreude, watching irresponsible men pay the price of their selfcenteredness (one of them puts his kid on amphetamines). Little Tornado is a stark, death-obsessed acoustic song, wishing the little twister would pick up speed and wreak some real damage. Mann also reverts to familiar territory with a couple of urgent, somewhat desperate “get the hell out before it’s too late” anthems, 31 Today and The Great Beyond, echoes of Ghost World from Bachelor No. 2. What else is there to say about this: add this to the pantheon along with Magnolia and Lost in Space and the rest of Mann’s consistently brilliant output.

December 17, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , ,

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