by: Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann began to bounce back toward pure pop with @#%&*! Smilers, but that 2008 album retained a lingering hangover from her records with Jon Brion and Joe Henry, albums that were sober-minded in more ways than one. That's not the case with 2012's Charmer. Once again working with producer Paul Bryan, who has every one of her albums since the 2006 seasonal set One More Drifter in the Snow, Mann has brightened her palette considerably, surrounding herself with synthesizers and trebly guitars, keeping the hooks spiky and precise. She has never shied away from melody, not even when she immersed herself in the narrative of The Forgotten Arm, but it's been a long time since she's been so insistently pop in either her composition or her construction. Which isn't to say Charmer is a garish, neon-colored, new wave revival record; she still has a fondness for stately midtempo marches like "Slip & Roll" and "Barfly," songs that threaten to slip into somnolence, keeping the album anchored in some measure of meditation. Her livelier numbers, of which there are quite a few, aren't exactly frivolous, but they have a pulse and plenty of color which, combined with album's concise running time (the only songs to slip over the four-minute mark are the aforementioned marches, most clock in near to three), give Charmer the feel of an immediate, engaging pop record, something that Mann has threatened to deliver for many years but has always kept in reserve. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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