Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers

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When listening to a new Aimee Mann CD, one should expect several things: cleverly written songs, engaging music, creative packaging (with lyrics), and subject matter that touches on every synonym of disappointment portrayed in context of character studies or relationships. Obviously, she must be good at what she does as those topics would make it difficult to sustain a career.

Beyond the title that suggests cursing at smiling people, her thoughts dwell on those in some way who are down and out. Every day is a rainy day. Some examples:

Imaging people as something they're not in order to find them more likable ("Strangers into Starmen"), avoiding excitement and inspiration ("Looking for Nothing"), an unfaithful lover ("Phoenix"), retreating into the past to avoid future pain ("Borrowing Time"), wasting gifts due to lack of initiative ("It's Over"), dissatisfaction with life to date ("31 Today"), the hopelessness of coming out on top ("The Great Beyond"), people who take and don't give back ("Medicine Wheel"), creating a false reality ("Columbus Avenue"), loving those who hurt you ("True Believer"), and status lost due to alcoholism ("Ballantines").

Plus a few other others, even. Just as Mann's comfort zone seems to fall within these areas, her characters never have the resolve to change, and none of the songs end on a positive note. Instead, they remain judgmental and resigned.

For those that like to sing "You are the Sunshine of My Life," this isn't for you. And those who actually live within the subject matter probably aren't listening to Aimee Mann, bless them. But for the rest, who can appreciate a poet at work within a theme, the settings, situations, and different aspects of disappointment make for thoughtful enjoyment.

Musically, the CD is driven by keyboards, but strings and brass are used tastefully in keeping it a fairly bright listening. The music keeps more than enough pep to keep interest, and, beyond that, the beat and garnishments add a sense to the unavoidable rhythm to life, and in this case, to forthcoming setbacks.

Almost all of the songs have a pithy lyric to reinforce the themes mentioned, but one can summarize for all:

"I thought my life would be different somehow. I thought my life would be better by now. But it's not and I don't know where to turn."

It's difficult to tell whether Aimee Mann lives in the world about which she writes, or whether she's a fascinated observer of human behavior. In either case, whether for her own best interest or for the possible music that might result, I hope Aimee Mann starts hanging out with a different crowd and sees happiness in something.

Suggested Tracks: "Looking for Nothing," "Phoenix"

4 Stars (somehow or another)

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