Although arguably still better known as the singer and bassist for 'Til Tuesday, the 80's group that had a major MTV hit with "Voices Carry," Aimee Mann has managed to have a very durable solo career. Mann has endured several misadventures with the recording industry along the way. Her first two solo albums, Whatever and the excellent I'm with Stupid, wound up being released over a year after they were recorded, on different labels than the ones they were originally intended for. However, she managed to secure a sizable audience for herself with the songs she contributed to the movie Magnolia in 1999, and has maintained a steady output since.
Mann's latest album is called @#%&*! Smilers. Most of the record was performed by a quartet consisting of Mann on vocals and acoustic guitar, producer Paul Bryan on bass, Jay Bellerose on drums, and Jamie Edwards on keyboards. A string quartet and a horn section appear on a couple of songs apiece. The album's most dynamic moments revolve around Edwards' creative keyboard playing, especially on the livelier numbers where he evokes The Cars with his retro style. This is especially true on "Freeway," the album's opening track and single.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album isn't as much fun. Mann continues to be a keen lyricist, but he music on her recent albums lacks the bite to do her lyrics justice. I feel like she tries a bit too hard to be folksy, when she's always struck me as being more in her element plugged in. @#%&*! Smilers has a couple of good songs and is pleasant enough on the whole, Mann is capable of making records that are more than that.
Overall grade: B-
reviewed by Scott