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|7. 31 Today|
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@#%&! Smilers is Aimee Mann's 7th solo release to date. The album is a return to form after the artistic detours of 2005's concept album The Forgotten Arm and 2006's Christmas CD One More Drifter in the Snow. Featuring thirteen new original songs, producer Paul Bryan describes the record as "deceptively powerful...very rich and grand-sounding." The songs range from the stripped-down-to-basics of "Columbus Avenue," to the almost Cars-esque synth-pop of "Freeway," alongside the classic Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell-era "Phoenix," and the hushed creepiness of "Little Tornado." The final song "Ballantines" is a duet with Sean Hayes complete with barroom piano and trombone section. All songs were penned by Mann with the exception of "True Believer" which was co-written with fellow singer-songwriter Grant Lee Phillips.
Top Customer Reviews
"Smilers", her sixth complete solo album (not counting the brilliant "Magnolias" soundtrack) continues her tradition of biting, sharp and introspective pop songs with everything you'd expect from her, all the while avoiding complacency. From the engaging and catchy opener ("Freeway", also the debut single) right to the lilting finale ("Ballantines"), the thirteen songs included here form a perfectly segued collection of songs. Of particular interest are the aforementioned tracks, plus the showstopping "31 today" (the closest thing she's come to a pop hit since "Voices carry"), the achingly beautiful "Phoenix" and "It's over", the uptempo "Borrowing time", the irrepressible "Medicine wheel", the haunting "The great beyond" and the pensive "Columbus avenue". The album's unlikely highlight may arguably be "Little tornado", a quiet but powerful song whose understated arrangments and minimalistic production prove yet again that less is more; the hook is so subtle that you probably won't notice it at first, but you'll keep humming it for the rest of the day - which might be the perfect way of describing Aimee Mann's music.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"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.
All that having been said, her new album is yet another treasure. You cannot but be wowed by the understated beauty of, let's say, "31 Today" or the stuck-in-your-head-and-you-don't-care quality of "Freeway." Buy without hesitation. The whole thing is terrific.
And then there's the irresistible HOOKS, detailed production, and the pure, refined, intelligent and clever lyric, all patronizing boiled away from the bone.
I think of Aimee Mann's best songs as being on a par with the introspective Sinatra at his peak, or Billie Holliday. Indestructible ART, Desert Island Music, Voyager LP nominations! Transformative!
Did I mention that this disc is GREAT already? BUY--it'll only hurt for a moment, and then the healing begins...