Aimee Mann’s unique voice and brilliant storytelling skills have always made her music an enjoyable listen. Although for me not much has been able to live up to the Jon Brion-produced Bachelor No. 2 in 2000 and the songs she did around the same time for Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia; one of my favourite movies, in which Mann’s music is itself one of the characters – especially the wonderful Wise Up. So on her eighth record (and first in four years), has she been able to reach those high points once again?
Mann has said Charmer was inspired by the “super pop” of the 70s and 80s, which is certainly noticeable, and not a bad thing at all as big, catchy melodies abound. The fantastic title track opens the album and does what it says on the tin as Mann muses on – you guessed it – charmers, as she tells us that secretly they ‘feel like frauds’, and that ‘when you’re a charmer you hate yourself’. It’s an interesting delve deeper into a certain personality type – whereas others might not think to look beneath the surface of such a character, Mann is keen as ever to analyse and see things from all angles. Indeed, she’s always been an excellent observer of people and of picking up on much more than what’s on the surface, and this album certainly highlights her skills in that area.
The rest of the record spins on the same theme as the title track – especially on Labrador, which depicts what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a relationship with a player, as she blames herself for being charmed and fooled; once more giving a different take on a familiar theme. Some of the tracks are more electronic than Mann’s previous work, and this is especially noticeable on the brilliant, synth-laced Disappeared as well as beguiling tale Crazytown. Elsewhere, Mann duets with James Mercer of The Shins on Living A Lie and it’s very good indeed; their voices blending together beautifully. Meanwhile, the captivating Soon Enough is the best track on the album hands down, and also worth a mention is Gamma Ray (which gets stuck in your head very easily) and Red Flag Diver – a lovely, mellow closer.
Charmer a great record in which Aimee Mann once more captivates us with interesting stories and memorable tunes in what is arguably her best work in a decade. However there’s nothing too original to be found here; while it’s an enjoyable listen and won’t disappoint her fans, it also doesn’t bring anything new to the table.