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POP

A smile doesn't always mean happy

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / June 3, 2008

Aimee Mann

@#%&*! Smilers (SuperEgo)

ESSENTIAL "There's a Reason"

The idea that Aimee Mann is not enamored of the artificially cheerful should not surprise longtime fans of the woman who wraps her lyrical grenades in enticing melodies. But while the title of her smashing seventh solo album takes aim at the overly chipper, it contains some of her perkiest music in some time. Whether it's the absence of electric guitar, the occasional eruption of high-stepping horns, or the pileup of various keyboards (smoky organs, whirring Wurlitzers, whistling synths), there's some real pep in this collection. As usual that pep is paired with tunes that seep into your brain with the stealth of Mann's own beguiling murmur and lyrics that range from poetic to narrative. The best of the first category includes the chugging "Looking for Nothing," a rumination on carnival rides and ennui. The linear tales are populated with characters who are almost comically embittered, such as the birthday celebrant of "31 Today" who laments: "I thought my life would be different somehow/ I thought my life would be better by now/ But it's not." Happiness isn't usually conveyed in pop music by acerbic observations of hopelessness, but Mann isn't your conventional pop songwriter. And her fans, who should be happy with "Smilers," wouldn't want it any other way.

Aimee Mann plays at Berklee Performance Center July 26.

A smile

doesn't always mean happy

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Never too late to go solo

Taking pop into wide open spaces

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