• Soon Enough
• Living A Lie
• Slip & Roll
• Gamma Ray
• Red Flag Diver My, how time flies! It seems like only yesterday that @#%&*! Smilers was released, but in fact it’s taken four whole years – four bloody years! – for Aimee Mann’s ninth album to materialise. Another release on the artist’s own SuperEgo label, Charmer finds Mann in relatively uptempo, if not upbeat, fettle.
Laced with reflections on failed relationships and told in vivid, three-minute vignettes like only Mann can, Charmer is pretty much business as usual. The inveigler of the title track, which also opens the album, is a familiar portrait of a person who can light up a room with their presence and seems to have it all their own way, who can manipulate any situation to their own advantage. But despite all these gifts, the charmer, like everyone else, has struggles and self-doubt (“Secretly, charmers think that they’re frauds”).
It’s not the most original of sentiments, but Mann’s superior lyricism and the chugging guitars with quirky synth ornamentation – a trademark sound perfected over her career – save the song from becoming mundane. The same conjuring trick of turning a pat concept into a thoroughly captivating song is pulled with ‘Labrador’, in which Mann muses on dogged devotion to a mendacious partner who clearly isn’t worth such fidelity (“I’m your labrador / and I’ll run when the gun drops a dove again”). The partner is called Daisy, and there’s mention of a dog called Maisie – the song should stink but it’s utterly wonderful, lodging itself instantly in the earworm cortex.
There are some Mann-album fillers on Charmer. ‘Disappeared’, ‘Crazytown’, ‘Soon Enough’ and ‘Barfly’ quickly become skipped tracks. That’s not to say they are bad – an Aimee Mann filler has always been better than most people can muster – but there are far superior songs to get lost in. Take ‘Gamma Ray’, for instance, a superb, rip-roaring, cruise missile of a song that sees Mann at her rockiest ever. The absolute standout, though, goes to ‘Living A Lie’, a duet with The Shins’ James Mercer. Therein lie some of the most scathing lyrics Mann has ever etched out, delivered with theatrical conviction from the two protagonists. The sense of scorn as Mann sings “There’s too many cooks / but you like how it looks / when they’re bowing and calling you boss” is up there with Alexis Colby bitchiness, if slightly more prosaic.
Charmer is perhaps the feistiest Aimee Mann album since I’m With Stupid, but it doesn’t exactly push the boundaries of her idiom. Perhaps we need another concept album along the lines of The Forgotten Arm for that. Mind you, when she can still come up with such thrilling, novel ways to narrate the intricacies of human relationships, why should Mann strive for anything more? And perhaps we should be grateful she doesn’t.
Tagged aimee mann