We met Aimee Mann, crowned with spiky, bleached blond hair and braided tail, belting “hush, hush, voices carry” in the video for the song “Voices Carry” by the Boston band ’Til Tuesday. Mann’s charismatic performance and songwriting skills were superior to the band as a whole. By the end of that decade, with two solid albums under their studded belts, ‘Til Tuesday called it quits.
Mann was plagued with record label troubles from the demise of ‘Til Tuesday through the release of her marvelous 1993 solo debut “Whatever,” on the short-lived Imago label. Unfortunately, although not surprisingly, she didn’t receive much better treatment from the otherwise preoccupied folks at DGC/Geffen when she released the equally good “I’m With Stupid” in 1995.
Mann’s fortunes began to change when “Save Me,” one of the songs she wrote for the 1999 Paul Thomas Anderson movie “Magnolia,” earned her Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Some of Mann’s songs from “Magnolia,” including “Deathly,” “Driving Sideways” and “You Do,” were included on her third solo album “Bachelor No. 2 or, The Last Remains of the Dodo,” released on Mann’s own SuperEgo record label. In the years that followed, Mann put out three more enduring studio albums, as well as a live CD/DVD set and a Christmas disc.
“Charmer,” her latest release, takes a while to warm up the listener. But when it does, there’s no turning back. The synthy title track/album opener harkens back to Mann’s early days in Boston. It sounds like a long lost track by her fellow Bostonians The Cars – but with much better lyrics. Even if you aren’t a dog lover, it’s hard to resist “Labrador,” the musical equivalent of a cold wet nose and sloppy kiss, complete with Mann’s trademark turn of phrase and life lessons.
The track “Crazytown” is worth a visit and “Living a Lie,” featuring guest duet vocals by James Mercer of The Shins, is a treat. Mann offers useful and concerned advice on “Gumby” (“Please, call your daughter again”) and toys with explosives on “Gamma Ray.”
Prepare to be charmed.
Aimee Mann performs on Nov. 11 at The Pabst, 144 E. Wells, Milwaukee, and on Nov. 16 at the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton.