The Both's first album represents the results of a well-conceived collaboration between two artists who've built up considerable goodwill with their long careers of first-rate songcraft. While both Aimee Mann and Ted Leo are perfectly capable of making records that are full of brainy, emotionally charged, and melodically rich songs, together they come together in a way that adds up to something greater than their solo work. Most of all, their vocals sound great together whether singing in harmony or trading off parts. That's a huge selling point right there, but apart from that, Leo gives Mann's songs a boost of energy, his guitar ripping off fiery solos and live-wire riffs, while Mann's earthy vocals and carefully structured chord changes rein in Leo's rockist tendencies and let him show he can do power pop ballads as well as he can do Thin Lizzy-style rockers. The record is balanced between songs that are obviously his ideas (the rollicking "Milwaukee" and "Volunteers of America") or hers (the stately "No Sir," the melancholy "You Can't Help Me Now"), but no matter who came up with them, all the songs are hooky and memorable. They were both clearly inspired by the chance to work together and brought their best work to the table. Other highlights of the albums are Mann's rock-solid bass playing, the well-placed keyboards and simple production of Paul Bryan, and Scott Seiver's strong drumming. Their cover of the early Thin Lizzy track "Honesty Is No Excuse" is another high point, with Leo's well-documented love for Phil Lynott shining through in his impassioned vocals and fret-melting solo. Though the album slows a bit on the back half, with the fragile "Hummingbird" coming off as a little too sedate and precise, it charges back with two of their best songs, the super-catchy "Bedtime Stories" and the bouncing, piano-led "The Inevitable Shove," which represents one of the best blends of Leo and Mann's talents. Indeed, The Both never sounds like Leo playing Mann's songs or vice versa. They work hard to make it a true collaboration, and due to that effort and the high quality of the songs they each brought, it works amazingly well. Well enough that it rates with the best work of either artist, which, given their respective track records, is saying a great deal.
The Both Review
by Tim Sendra