Review: Charmer - Aimee Mann

by David Spencer

Perhaps most famous for the powerful sequence in the film Magnolia, when all the characters sing along to her track One, Aimee Mann has been producing solidly entertaining records since the early 1990s. Gifted with a lazy American drawl, her singing style is not the most commercial but she has a distinctive feel, allied with a gift for cutting and acute observation.

This is her eighth studio album and first since 2008’s Smilers and Mann says the sound is influenced by what she calls the super-pop of the 70s and 80s. In the main though, it does not steer wildly away from her recent albums, with the smooth country rock of the likes of Soon Enough and Gammy Ray. There is also an impressive turn from The Shins’ James Mercer on the excellent Living A Lie.

The happy tones of the opening and title track are where Mann’s wry lyrical observations shine through. Mann says the idea of people being charming fascinates her, as she often feels someone being charming just has an ulterior motive or as she puts it, charm could be just another word for manipulation; “When you’re a charmer, people respond, they can’t see the hidden agenda” she sings.

Crazytown is inspired by female friends that just go out and have fun, but Mann says it could also be about a friendship, or about a guy taking care of his alcoholic mother, explaining that her songs are open to personal interpretation. Easier to understand is the cutting relationship observation of Labrador, where Mann explores what it might be like to be with someone who has obviously worked their ‘charm’, describing herself as like a dog, for coming back for more punishment; “When we first met, I was glad to be your pet….but fetching sticks, was the best I had for tricks.”

Charmer will please existing fans, but probably won’t attract a new following, which is a shame because amongst the wealth of female talent out there, Mann stands out as having far more interesting things to say.

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