In one of those moments of sublime serendipity, the Random iTunes Fairy has offered up an Aimee Mann track exactly one week after the last random Aimee Mann track. You won’t hear me complaining.
In fact, back before Random Weekends, when I dedicated weekend posts to specific artists (The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, among others), Aimee Mann was one of the artists I considered. At the time I was looking for artists with voluminous discographies and hers was a little on the lean side, but she easily could have carried several months’ worth of posts.
#3 – @#%&*! Smilers – Aimee Mann
Aimee Mann’s @#%&*! Smilers topped my 2008 list, and sits in the top three of this one, having not lost a bit of its staying power. Another record did leap frog it, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about that one.
Sometimes an artist releases an album that pulls it all together in a way that none of their previous records could manage. @#%&*! Smilers was that album or Aimee Mann.
I can’t think of a better choice as my first example of a ‘Melancholy’ artist than Aimee Mann. She’s probably the first three results on a Google search of the word melancholy (that’s the 21st century version of the old picture-in-the-dictionary cliché).
Yes, she’s the saddest, loneliest woman to ever strap on a guitar, and I love every damn minute of it. Nobody captures existential malaise or Gen X ennui as well as she does and, all the better, she does it with a mordant sense of humor and an acute melodic ear.
I never expect a favorite artist’s most recent album to be her best. When I count somebody among my favorites, it’s because something he released years ago made a huge impact on me. Maybe a band put out a string of excellent work in the early 90s, enough to cement them as legends, but after their heyday they settle into groove of sustained quality that falls just short of that peak.
I don’t think Elvis Costello will release a new album that I rank higher than the two or three I consider his finest. I’m sure R.E.M.’s best work is behind them, even though I’m excited as hell about their newest release. It’s reasonable to accept that musicians hit a high point and then spend the rest of their careers trying but never quite approaching it again.
Aimee Mann’s sixth album of original material, 2008’s @#%&*! Smilers, is her best work yet. It’s the first since Bachelor No. 2 to work as a simple collection of songs and not a concept album and perhaps it was that freedom that allowed her to produce such a consistently great record.
This is one of those albums that feels like it’s always one step ahead of you, taking unexpected turns that seem perfectly obvious in retrospect. It’s the rare album about which you can say “There isn’t a moment on this record I don’t love.”
Ten Best Songs of 2008 – #3
It occurs to me as I reach number three on this list that Alex’s comment about me being drawn to the melancholy is certainly borne out by this top ten list. Many of the songs I’ve already featured are downbeat and now we arrive at Aimee Mann, the queen of melancholy, with a song titled ‘It’s Over.’
Well, fine. I won’t hide from the facts. I like sad songs, for whatever reason, and here’s another one.
Here we are at the end of November and Aimee Mann’s @#%&*! Smilers remains comfortably atop my Best 2008 Albums list, where it has sat since its release in June. Nothing has really come close to toppling it, either. It’s not only the best album she’s ever put out but one of the best albums I’ve heard by anybody in years.
I don’t think many in the business can write sad songs as well as she can, and even fewer can sing them as sweetly. And while she has a demonstrated capacity to rock out, it’s her recent focus on acoustic guitar, piano and bass that has pushed her music to a new level.