Aimee Mann: The 'Charmer' And The Disciplined Id | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Aimee Mann: The 'Charmer' And The Disciplined Id

If you listen to the music on Charmer, hearing Aimee Mann's vocals as just another lilting instrument, you'd probably think the album was just what the title suggests: a charmer. The melodies have an airy quality, at once floating and propulsive, and even without fixing on the words, you can hear that they're metrically precise, with carefully counted-out syllables and tight rhymes.

Once you key in to what Mann is singing about, her new album takes on another dimension. Early on, in songs such as "Disappeared" and "Labrador," there seems to be a streak of masochism, or at least self-criticism. In "Disappeared," she refers to herself as a "gullible stooge" who's become the latest victim of a guy who drops relationships with chilling abruptness. And in "Labrador," she's the dog: "When we first met / I was glad to be your pet, like a lab I once had." But Mann really isn't into self-abasement; she gets in a good jab at the "Disappeared" guy as a "forgotten face behind a beard," and she tries on an array of different roles in other songs. One striking composition, "Gumby," takes a point of view I don't think I've ever heard in a pop song: She's the woman in a relationship who urges her guy to pay less attention to her and more attention to his daughter, whom she feels he's neglecting.

In the past, Mann's natural tendency to sing with a rather blank affect, allowing the listener to project whatever he or she wants onto her vocals, has occasionally come across as remote or detached. I heard this habit as part of her rejection of look-at-me stardom after the success of 'Til Tuesday, a period of her life she's repeatedly said she didn't particularly enjoy. But on Charmer, she really commits — she's thoroughly engaged, as when she trades verses with James Mercer from The Shins in the terrific "Living a Lie."

When you've listened enough to all 11 songs on Charmer to form a complete experience, you can take it in as a song cycle about getting rid of a cynical frame of mind; about distancing yourself from people who are dragging you down, about building a life that's not, as she sings, "living a lie." I'll use a cliché that Aimee Mann never would: Charmer is about the power of positive thinking, but without the false cheeriness. She may have named her record company Superego Records, but she's trying to work with a disciplined id.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, Oct. 1

Music from West Africa and photography from South East Asia come to the D.C. area.

NPR

From Kale To Pale Ale, A Love Of Bitter May Be In Your Genes

Researchers have found a gene that affects how strongly you experience bitter flavors. And those who aren't as sensitive eat about 200 more servings of vegetables per year.
NPR

Obama Sidesteps Midterm Campaigning As Approval Ratings Slump

The president's job approval rating is somewhere in the low 40s. That means there are a lot of places where his presence would hurt more than it helps.
NPR

Facebook Apologizes For Name Policy That Affected LGBT Community

The social networking site will not change its requirement for people to use "real" names on their profiles, but it will adjust how alleged violations are reported and enforced.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.