Couldn't disagree more with the couple of folks who say this is "more of the same" from Aimee Mann, and who have given the album 3 stars (and sounds like, from their reviews, they're just bitter over a few extra tracks used to promote the album on I-Tunes).
"More of the same" (Whatever, IWS, Bachelor #2, Lost In Space, The Forgotten Arm) would be enviable by any other singer/songwriter. Mann's been nominated for Grammy's, Golden Globe, Academy Award (Mr. Oscar), and has literally been on most year end top ten album lists with each of the releases already mentioned. I'll take more of the same from Mann any day of the week.
Smilers is indeed "more of the same" in terms of quality songwriting. There's not a throwaway track on Smilers (which consists of 13 tracks). The folks moaning about Itunes having 2 extra live tracks and 1 bonus studio track? If the rest of the album was so disappointing, then it's unusual that one would clamor for live versions of 2 songs they already have, and 1 "more of the same" studio track. Aimee's self-described bitter album was I'm With Stupid......maybe these fans are stuck in that period of her work <grin>.
Smilers opens with Freeway, a song that has a sound not unlike something the Cars (the band) would have written in the 70s. I can't recall another Aimee Mann solo album with anything that sounds remotely like the Cars - but there's a coupla tracks on Smilers, due to the use of moog synths as a replacement for the electric guitar (another first on an Aimee release, even counting til tuesday).
Smilers also marks the first time I can recall that Aimee has used a brass section, which she uses on a number of the songs here to great effect. If she's used brass in the past, none of the songs on Smilers brings any of her past songs to mind. Momentum (the b-side to That's Just What You Are and also on the Magnolia soundtrack) has a playfulness that I suppose one could compare, but still sounds nothing like these new songs.
There's also the use of strings on songs like Phoenix (a personal favorite) as well as It's Over (another favorite). Phoenix is another hallmark Mann composition that really captures the essence of what the character in the song is feeling. This is accomplished without an ounce of melodrama. Her vocals are equal parts regret, resignation, and relief. Listening to this track is like being in the back seat of the character's car and empathizing as if you're right there.
I could go over every song on the album but I won't. It's an excellent album.
I've been a fan of Mann's since I was 16 (1986) with the release of Welcome Home. For me, most of her albums alternate between surprising me with how much she's grown from, say, the previous release, OR, strike me as strong continuations/explorations of the types of songs she's known for - but they never feel like repeats. For me, Smilers is another jump forward and is easily a "five star" album.