The follow-up to 2005's The Forgotten Arm (a concept album chronicling the rise and fall of a fictional boxer) finds Aimee Mann back in familiar territory. Like Bachelor #2 and Lost in Space, Smilers finds the singer-songwriter once again observing the self-destruction of middle-class 30-somethings. Songs like "Freeway", "31 Today", and "Medicine Wheel" find Mann both admonishing and sympathizing her spiritually bankrupt characters. Aimlessness, wasted potential, failed relationships and an otherwise general malaise blanket Mann's album, and as usual, Mann coats it all in an extremely accessible pop format.
This time out, producer Paul Bryan is at the helm, and under his direction Mann has made her most lush and sonically realized record yet. Strings, synth, and a heavy emphasis on piano and keys shroud Smilers in a very British kind of pop beauty; it's easy to imagine Mann opening for a band like Coldplay, but the downside to it all is that her unique personality and musical charm is still less apparent than it was with the quirky, Jon Brion-produced breakthrough Bachelor #2. Not to say that Mann's sole function is that of a producer's puppet, but, while Bryan brings out her top-forty potential, Brion's absence ultimately results in a good album that could've been great. --Josh Kline
Rose Hill Drive
Moon is the New Earth
It's fitting that Rose Hill Drive is opening for the Whigs, and not in a good way. Like the Whigs, this 70's retro outfit is milking the Strokes/Kings of Leon/Jet evolution of derivation (a copy of a copy of a copy) for all it's worth. Sadly, if the Whigs are a little late, then Rose Hill Drive is twenty miles behind the pack. Like our own 70's schlocksters The Effects (the most overhyped band in town), Rose Hill Drive is a band that's desperate to be liked but pathetically out of touch. Like the Whigs, they've been inexplicably lavished with praise and attention from the media (Rolling Stone called them one of 2007's Ten Artists to Watch), and like the Whigs, they're talented and energetic, but completely lacking in originality and taste.
One only needs to listen to disc opener "Sneak Out" to begin the long list of other, better acts the band is cribbing from. And it's okay; plenty of my favorite bands pull from other artists in both obvious and subtle ways. But I have a particular distaste for this current wave of late-in-the-game band wagoneers; like the almost-over 80's retro-wave thing (with comparably pathetic bands like She Wants Revenge and VHS or Beta), the most revolting and easily targeted are the groups that ride the tail end of the fad. Rose Hill Drive is one of those groups. They'll never be cool, they'll never be original, they'll never matter. And they'll never be remembered. -JK
Share this article: