Aimee Mann has made her career championing the underdog and projecting herself as a woe-is-me singer-songwriter who has just as many problems as regular folks. To be fair, her much-publicized sour experiences with nearsighted music execs were rather shitty, and this was before the industry resembled the last remains of the dodo. Ironically, as Mann's profile increased, her lyrics went from pretty poignant to pretty trite. It was like she ran out of things to say by the time of 2005's conceptual drudge, The Forgotten Arm. Thankfully, she sounds like she's on the upswing on @#%&*! Smilers. Still, Mann remains obsessed with metaphorical buzz kills, tackling greed in "Freeway" and wandering aimlessly in "Looking for Nothing." But even when she's fretting over relationships in "Phoenix" and "It's Over," her voice is as elegant as ever — especially when it's augmented with a faint string section. On @#%&*! Smilers, Mann has stopped overexerting herself with cheap metaphors, returning to her forte: a polished glow of a voice that sounds even more fantastic when it's not spewing an insurmountable number of clichés.
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