Her first release since 2008, Charmer is Aimee Mann's eighth studio album, her third record with producer Paul Bryan and sixth out on SuperEgo, who she turned to in 2000 when Geffen didn't think Bachelor No. 2 or Last Remains Of The Dodo could pull its weight (looks like the joke was on them.) If you're not familiar with Aimee Mann now might be the time to tell you that her songwriting isn't all sunshine and flowers. Known for her honesty and ability to find the darker side of your imagination, Mann is atypical and sure of herself. She is proud and consistent in her records, and in addition to being an Oscar Nominated songwriter – her song "Save Me" was essentially the theme of Paul Thomas Anderson's 1999 film, Magnolia - she has the distinction of having an entire episode of Portlandia dedicated to her and her music.
One listen to Charmer and it’s clear that Mann’s knack for songwriting has barely faded through the years. She knows how to write an unusual hook (see the track "Labrador") and as the title track demonstrates, she knows how to get it stuck in your head. Her use of long pauses and extended syllables all but guarantee you'll find yourself humming the song at the grocery store, cooking or simply walking down the street. Those "Oo-ee-Oooh's" WILL get you every time.
"Living A Lie" features James Mercer of The Shins (who also put out a terrific record this year, Port Of Morrow). He opens the track solo, is later joined by Aimee, until eventually they find a balance as a duet. For two singers who usually fly solo, it's a bit strange to hear them together - Mercer and Mann both have incredibly distinct voices that you couldn't mistake for anyone else - regardless, their alto and bass heavy voices complement each other and make for some beautiful musical moments
Since 2002's Lost In Space, Mann has slowly been applying a more synth-guitar approach to her songwriting, and on Charmer those synths are back and more prominent than ever. The song "Living A Lie" entirely built around a synthesizer themed hook, and on the track "Gamma Ray", the synths are so integral that they serve to mimics what one would imagine an actual gamma ray might sound like. And while you might find yourself missing the strong guitar riffs from "Susan" and the piano work off "Satellite" - both from Bachelor No. 2 - it’s clear that even Aimee has moved on from those days and neither would really find a place on Charmer.
Even though we hear more cliché story lines in her writing and more than enough rhyming, this record will leave you wanting to hear it again. And then probably again later. Mann herself is unique and few singer-songwriters can claim the track record that she has. Certainly the leader of her pack, Aimee Mann is something special. And while Charmer isn't as strong as her past dense catalog, it is full of beauty and, well, charm.