@#%&*! Smilers is Aimee Mann’s seventh studio album, and as a pretty big Aimee Mann fan, I have to say that the album represents a sonic shift for her. To break it down: gone are the electric guitars, and in their place, lots and lots of keyboards and synthesizers.
The new aesthetic is immediately noticed on the first track “Freeway,” which also happens to be the first single. The second major difference is the addition of a brass section, which I believe has never appeared on an Aimee Mann record so far. In this album, they appear on a number of songs. Third, the album as a whole is much more percussive than other albums in her catalog: even the piano serves more of a percussive function than anything else.
“Borrowing Time,” the fifth track on the album, best represents this new aesthetic. The song has a driving drum beat, and two synthesizers in the background. The brass section appears in the chorus and never really goes away. They even get a solo in the bridge.
Other songs on the album exhibit a much simpler arrangement: just vocals, piano, and strings. Such songs include “Phoenix” and “It’s Over,” and these songs almost sound Beatlesque in their structure and sound. But that’s not surprising, considering Aimee Mann has publicly acknowledge the influence that the Beatles had on her.
But you know that it’s still an Aimee Mann record because of one thing: her voice. Yes, that voice, that unmistakable voice. In my opinion, Aimee Mann probably has one of, if not the, best voices in pop music. And if you can believe it, her voice on this album is even better than before, as it gets more expressive and somewhat deeper.
And of course, she’s still singing about the same things: deeply flawed characters going through life’s minor victories and tragedies, but melancholy doesn’t sound much better than when she sings it. She still possesses the knack to dole out a line or two, which belying their brevity, manages to express something deeply emotional about the subject.
If you are an Aimee Mann fan, I think you would not be disappointed with this album. I know I am not, and I have been looking forward to this record ever since I discovered Aimee Mann two years ago. I am going to see her in DC in August, and I am definitely exicted.