Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Aimee Mann - Charmer


It's a shame that credible artists like Aimee Mann struggle to find a record label, when utterly useless artists like this.. sign big. Now Aimee Mann may not wear leopard skin trousers with a see through slutty top.. But she does know how to write songs. 1999's Magnolia gave birth to Aimee Mann as a 'popular' artist. Her songwriting abilities captured the emotion and varied subjects of that great movie. Her few albums released in the years following Magnolia were rich in songwriting, however lacked the hits and killer 'seller' instinct which failed to capture a deal with Interscope. Tracks like 'Red Vines' and 'The Moth' brought a brighter, youthful and more appreciative audience to her feet. Radio personalities began playing her songs during prime time, with Radio 6 comedic writer genius Stephen Merchant consistently playing Aimee Mann during his shows.

Mann's eighth album features James Mercer of The Shins. Yeah, that's pretty much it. Mann was never about guests, she's consistently been average throughout her career as a solo artist. The past decade has been secluded in a way that Mann is only catering for her audience. The Magnolia audience. It would be a hard job spreading her wings and crossing genre's this late in her career. Charmer doesn't have the firepower to draw any outside listeners to her work, it's the same music as Mann's career in the 80's and 90's. She does however have more of an electronic sound which is welcomed amongst her heavily acoustic and sometimes lacklustre music. Mann's music is rather simple and it's always been that way. Country music and modern concepts have been focal points in her musical work. The upbeat instrumentals are completely different to her usual downbeat lyrics.

Titular track 'Charmer' begins with a synthesizer loop and a rather straightforward drum pattern. Compare it to Passion Pit's Gossamer opener, 'Take A Walk'.. And it becomes clear how simplistic and 'easy' Aimee Mann is. I've never found her music exciting, except the piano ballad 'Wise Up' and a few tracks here and there. She's always been about the lyrics and Charmer continues that trend. 'Disappeared' has another synth loop with some interesting sparks of percussion. The guitar is rather basic, as is the structure and progression. Mann delivers a multi-layered vocal, making it hard to understand the lyrics as her vocal rises for the chorus and lowers for the verse.

This material is nothing like the Magnolia soundtrack or the two albums either side of Magnolia. Mann's attempt at writing 'pop' tracks are faulted by her enigmatic history of being a sadcore-esque songwriter. 'Labrador' offers nothing new to the table. A piano riff parallels the vocal and the bass.. With no variations whatsoever. It's not fresh, it's old and rotten. 'Crazytown' does add a little bit of psychedelia to the mix with her sweet vocal that sticks out with the light synth riff and fast piano playing. This track reminds me of 'Spiteful Intervention' from Of Montreal's latest album. Contemporary music can sometimes be refreshingly enjoyable, so far Charmer is almost the opposite.

Aimee Mann can't hit the high notes. This isn't frustrating, it just becomes quite clear her vocal isn't as strong as other female vocalists. 'Strong Enough' highlights her inability to sing alluringly. The instrumental is arguably the best on the album, with a charming melody and admirable guitar solo towards the end. The lyrics are much darker than the previous few tracks, with Mann emphasizing this with a simple and understanding final lyric, "Everyone has got their differences." Mann's sadness theme continues on the next track 'Living A Lie'. James Mercer opens up the track, with Mann adding to his vocal on the chorus. In typical Shins fashion, the instrumental is quite simplistic and easy flowing.. Catchy. The synth doesn't stand out on this track, it's all about the vocals and the song structure with a huge emphasis on the chorus.

It's not hard to see where Mann is going wrong. The Magnolia soundtrack was special because of Mann's almost incredible emotion in tracks such as Wise Up and Save Me. The story lines flowed with these tracks, with the instrumentals becoming brilliant ballads. When she has a full band backing her, it's not quite as special. She goes from Aimee Mann when it's her with guitar / piano, to Shania Twain when she's backed up. 'Slip and Roll' and 'Grumpy' are both saddening tracks with depressing story lines. The lyrics are not great, with the instrumentals sounding flat. I'm not impressed with Mann's eighth album as of yet. It's not as if these tracks will grow, because once you've heard them, that's it.. You're not going to have a life-changing experience whilst listening to this. 

Mann is no Joni Mitchell, that's as clear as A B C. 'Gamma Ray' has a weak chorus with the refrain of the track title. I'm not taking anything from this track other than a weakened Aimee Mann singing second half album tracks. The synthesizer riff towards the end starts well, but has no character. 'Barfly' is basic and slow. I like the reverberated guitar and the chorus, however the verse brings Barfly down. The percussion is just too stark in comparison to other folk/singer-songwriters. These last few tracks, along with 'Red Flag Diver', prove that Aimee Mann is heading nowhere. Adult contemporary music such as this is heading nowhere. 

Charmer is generally a poor album. The little moments of excitement are clouded by 35 minutes of simple instrumentals and easy predictable song structures. Better yet, I could write better songs than this and I'm ****. The years of Red Vines and Save Me are truly over. Mann's solo career has hit a new low, not that this wasn't expected. There's no variations, no real interesting features and no magical songwriting, which is what Mann is all about. 
~Eddie

3.5

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