Aimee Mann - Charmer
It's a tad ironic that prolific singer songwriter Aimee Mann begins this, her eighth studio album, with a song that paints charmers as manipulators who use their skill to woo people. It's ironic because Aimee Mann herself is one of the most charming musicians I've encountered; from debut solo album Whatever in 1993 to her breakthrough work on the Magnolia soundtrack right through to 2008's pop-infused Fucking Smilers, Mann has never been lacking in charm. She's one of those rare acts who consistently delivers a strong set of songs with every release, and I'm happy to report that Charmer's wiley ways ensure her track record is not broken.
The title track is proof from the get-go that Mann's allure is intact as ever, drawing us into the record with its chugging guitar, power-pop sheen and Mann's trademark droll drawl. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's catchy as hell, an attribute that runs through the album and makes this one of Mann's most immediately accessible albums. 'Charmer' is perhaps the biggest blast of sunshine, but tracks like 'Crazytown' and 'Gamma Ray', which rides an irresistible slide guitar like a wave, are perfect radio rockers in waiting.
Mann teams up with James Mercer on centrepiece duet 'Living a Lie', which is an example of how a shared sensibility - in this case, damn fine songwriting - can result in something special. It also shows Mann's ability to turn a phrase is intact ("For every open arm, there's a cold shoulder waiting to turn"), her fine lyrics helping to infuse mid-tempo, emotionally direct ballads like 'Disappeared' and 'Slip and Roll' with wit and character. Her storytelling instincts are as effective as ever too: see 'Gumby', the tale of an obsessive hoarder who neglects his daughter in favour of collecting meaningless stuff.
For the uninitiated, 'Charmer' is a great introduction to Mann. Although she's hardly a chameleon when it comes to her sound (indeed, the record is produced by long-term collaborator Paul Bryan and features friends and touring band members), Mann never rests on her laurels and she really sounds like she's having a blast. After a few listens, these songs will be like old friends and you'll be having fun too. In short, you'll be more than happy to let charmer Mann twist you round her little finger.