Eponymous début album “The Both” is the result of an artistic collaboration between Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people who know a decent amount about music will be familiar with one, but perhaps not the other. Ted Leo has been around for a few decades, playing with bands such as Citizens Arrest, The Spinanes and Ted Leo and The Pharmacists. No? Well I hadn’t heard of him either before this project, so don’t feel too bad about that particular gap in your knowledge (note: if you did know Ted’s work, then enjoy a quiet moment of smugness… not too long, though, nobody likes a know-it-all). I have, however, been a big admirer of Aimee Mann’s music for rather a long time, so any project she is involved in is of interest to me. Produced by Paul Bryan (part of Mann’s touring band and also producer of her previous three solo albums), Mann and Leo seem to bring out the best from each other, giving Mann a little more power and vigour to her performance and bringing a more palatable indie-pop demeanour to Leo, who is best known for having a harder punk edge. It results in a very likeable album that, whilst it isn’t quite a world-beater, does boast at least a handful of exceptional stand-out tracks as well as a selection of songs that draw you in the more you hear them.
On listening to the album for the first time, I was immediately struck with how much energy, sparkle and life there is in these songs and that this pairing definitely works. This isn’t exactly what you would call power pop, it’s a little too gritty to fall under that particular sub-genre, but it truly does sound like Mann’s music has been supercharged and been given a new lease of life and even the mid-tempo numbers have some real power behind them. I readily confess to enjoying her last couple of albums immensely, but having her music taken up a notch or two and augmented by a loud, ballsy guitar solo isn’t a bad thing at all. Ted and Aimee’s two voices intertwine and complement each other like they’ve been performing together for years, even though their vocal styles are both so markedly different from each other that it’s surprising they blend together so well. My particular picks from “The Both” are the immensely catchy, instantly enjoyable “Milwaukee” which features some fantastic guitar work from Leo, “No Sir” a superb composition which is played with such passion and gusto, it’s just under four minutes of pure pleasure, “Honesty Is No Excuse” which just has so much heart in the performance and “Hummingbird”, a shimmering song which very much sounds like it was written by Aimee. It’s a truly gorgeous composition full of poetic imagery, all presented within a rather beautiful melody.
If every single song on this album was as good as the highlights, we’d be talking about a contender for album of the year. As it is, it’s still a really rather enjoyable piece of work from start to finish and an extremely strong addition to Aimee Mann’s impressive catalogue of work. There is no question that if Mann and Leo wrote and recorded a second album together, I’d certainly buy it. I’d also encourage anyone who has enjoyed Aimee’s work in the past to give this album a go, because it would be a near-impossibility to be disappointed by a collaboration that appears to bring out the best in both parties. I imagine that the rawness that Leo brings to the party may put a small number of people off, but I believe the vast majority of fans who have been following Mann’s career over the years will accept this harder edge to the sound and welcome the addition of a talented collaborator, especially when the music sounds this good as a result.
The Both’s eponymous début album is out now on SuperEgo Records and further info can be found on www.the-both.com.
Andy Sweeney, 11th June, 2014.