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.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine