album reviews

Aimee Mann
@#%& *! Smilers
SuperEgo Records (2008)

Aimee Mann's dry voice always sounds a bit cynical, which reflects the dejection she captures in many songs on her latest, "@#%&*! Smilers." (Even its title implies that there isn't much genuine happiness here.) The album is full of stories about people in search of better times: leaving a lover behind on "Phoenix" ("I don't want to abandon you/but baby, I've had my fill"), the realities of growing older on "31 Today" ("I thought my life would be better by now/but it's not") and being haunted by images from the past on "True Believer" ("It's uncanny how you hover in the air/over wreckage that you left behind").

What Mann's music lacks in cheerfulness, it makes up for with its innate catchiness; the opening track, "Freeway," is one of the most instantly memorable tunes of Mann's career. Even more captivating is the impeccable orchestration of these songs: the trio of horns that pops up throughout the album; the splashes of Moog on "Borrowing Time"; and Dave Eggers's eerie whistling in response to Mann's hushed, lilting voice on "Little Tornado." Mann has proved her songwriting skills countless times over her 25-year career, so a superb new album isn't much of a surprise. But "Smilers" is more immediately accessible than some of her other releases and is a striking collection of her trademark cynical pop songs.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 1 August 2008, Page WE08
.: @#%& *! Smilers on