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@#%&*! Smilers (Deluxe Version)

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Album Review

Arguably, Aimee Mann hasn't released a simple collection of songs since her 1999 breakthrough with the Magnolia soundtrack and its cousin, Bachelor No. 2. Her releases since then have been prominent and respected, yet they played as explorations, with 2003's Lost in Space floating in the ether and 2006's The Forgotten Arm qualifying as an outright concept album. With @#%&*! Smilers, she returns to simply writing and recording songs, a back to basics that isn't quite so basic, as it finds Mann livelier and snarkier than she's been in a while. That censored profanity in the record's complete title — it's easy to see but not say or write — is a tip-off that Smilers has a defiant cynicism rippling throughout the record, something that's welcome after the careful craftsmanship of The Forgotten Arm and the spacy sleepiness of Lost in Space. Although this could hardly qualify as a bold departure — there is nothing surprising about the arrangements, which still bear the ghost of Jon Brion although he is long gone — Smilers pops with color, something that gives it an immediacy that's rare for an artist known for songs that subtly worm their way into the subconscious. That still happens here, of course — one of Mann's greatest strengths is that her songs unfold slowly, seeming indelible after a few listens — but Smilers grabs a listener, never making him or her work at learning the record, as there are both big pop hooks and a rich sonic sheen. At its heart it's just a collection of songs, but it's that rare thing for a songwriter: it works as a piece of writing and a sterling pop album of its own. [This edition of @#%&*! Smilers comes in a special package that is similar to a ledger-style bound book complete with file tabs for the liner notes and lyrics.]


Born: September 8, 1960 in Richmond, VA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

During the '80s, Aimee Mann led the post-new wave pop group 'Til Tuesday. After releasing three albums with the group, she broke up the band and embarked on a solo career. Her first solo album, Whatever, was a more introspective, folk-tinged effort than 'Til Tuesday's albums, and received uniformly positive reviews upon its release in the summer of 1993. However, the album was just a small hit, spending only seven weeks on the American charts, where it peaked at 127. Nevertheless, Whatever rejuvenated...
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