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What I’m listening to this week: Aimee Mann

June 10, 2009

@#%&*! Smilers – 2008

I want to like Aimee Mann.  I really do.  In 1999, when I saw Magnolia and heard “One” and “Save Me”, I was blown away.  I spent years wanting to buy the soundtrack; I kept forgetting about it and then remembering it again, pining away.  It wasn’t until I did one of those BMG 10-for-1 CD things that I actually got it.  And I was like, “Yes, yes, yes!  This is it!  The moment!”.  When I finally did listen to it, I was somewhat… disappointed?  Perhaps that’s because I had built it up so much and waited so long…or maybe it was that the entirety of the album didn’t quite live up to the hype of the two stellar singles.  This isn’t a review of that album, and it’s not that it isn’t good and without great moments…I was just sort of “eh”.  And that definitely describes my feelings after listening to Smilers; not necessarily negative, not necessarily positive.

In that light, I must confess that I didn’t actually buy Smilers; a copy was given to me as a trade for another album (Raising Sand).  I got it probably close to a year ago and listened to it for the very first time this week.  Like I said, I want to like Aimee Mann.

My first impression of Smilers is that it sounds very much like the Magnolia soundtrack; sort of pop, singer-songwriter tunes, heavy on the lyrics and ornamental musical accompaniment.  There are a few standouts; “Freeway” and “Borrowing Time” are driving alternative tunes, “Looking For Nothing”, “It’s Over”, and “Great Beyond” are introspective and reminiscent.  Other songs, especially “Thirty One Today”, are good examples of my mixed feelings on the album as a whole.  I think Mann’s a good songwriter, but there’s an interesting absence of actual rhyming in the structure and where there is rhyming, it’s too predictable.  And maybe that’s how she plans it.  Regardless, I find myself digging her style a lot of times until I stop and listen too carefully and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

As a whole, there’s a lot of things to enjoy about Smilers.  Of course, there’s Mann’s great, unique voice, and she’s a bold and refreshing change from other female singer-songwriters.  Despite whatever issues I have with the album, she obviously knows herself and has carved out her musical place.  Bottom line – if you love Aimee Mann, you’re going to love this album too.

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