Music Reviews
2:57 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

A Duo's Debut Album: A Collaboration From 'The Both'

Originally published on Mon April 21, 2014 6:26 am

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

The Both is the name for the duo formed by veteran singer-songwriters Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. "The Both" is also the name of their debut album. The two began performing together in 2012, when Ted Leo was Mann's opening act. Mann began joining Leo onstage during his set. They liked the sound their voices together and started collaborating. Rock critic Ken Tucker has this review of "The Both."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GAMBLER")

THE BOTH: (singing) The ball dropped in the cold like dawn on a cold eastern morning. Not shocked, can't be too (unintelligible) there were so many warnings. I hear you knock, I hear you unlock my door. But I don't want you to have, have my key anymore. Shoes on but the mailbox is empty when there could have been something. The well's dry...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's Aimee Mann and Ted Leo harmonizing on a song they co-wrote called "The Gambler." As separate acts, Ted Leo is generally considered a punk-influenced indie musician for the work he's done with his band the Pharmacists, and Aimee Mann as a sensitive singer-songwriter ever since she left the pop star life with the group 'Til Tuesday in the 1980s.

But of course both of these musicians are more than their genre categories. What their work as The Both suggests is that together they've found common ground in confidently precise, propulsive melodies and lyrics that twist with oblique cleverness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MILWAUKEE")

BOTH: (singing) Over the bridge in Milwaukee past the statues of Fonz and the duck with the wind kicking in and the sparrows all running amok and the woman, your friend who was pregnant put your hand on her belly for luck, and I laughed 'cause it's you and I knew that you knew you were stuck. You can tell by your laugh in the dark and the sound of the bell. You can tell it's the nucleus burning inside of the cell. It's the nucleus burning inside of the cell.

TUCKER: That's "Milwaukee," one of the first songs Mann and Leo collaborated on in gradually hatching this plan to perform and record together as The Both. They bring out the best in each other musically: Leo gives Mann zip and vigor; she gives him poetry and hard-headedness. Sometimes one of them takes the lead vocal, at other times they trade off lines and harmonize throughout.

On a song such as "You Can't Help Me Now," they make gloomy sentiments lively.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T HELP ME NOW")

BOTH: (singing) Any time you establish a world of your own you get thrown. Trying to (unintelligible) I wanted you to know that I put up a fight. But everything goes missing when they draw the line. The catastrophic sinking of the will is kind but even you can't help me now. You can't help. You can't help me now. You can't help.

TUCKER: In interviews, Aimee Mann has said working with Ted Leo has made her feel as though she's in a rock band for the first time, which must make her old bandmates in 'Til Tuesday feel a tad dismayed. But if anything, The Both includes some of the most Aimee Mannish of Aimee Mann songs, the way her best singing captures an urgent longing and pessimism that's redeemed by a prickly self-awareness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BOTH: (singing) There's a shadow in the room and you let it tell you things. Yeah, you plant it on the ground but you don't make a sound. No, sir. No, sir. All the helicopters fell...

TUCKER: "The Both" works so well as an album because its songs cohere as the documentation of the ways a new creative partnership revitalizes the familiar habits, tics, tricks, and talents of the collaborators. It sets their individual talents in a new context that compels the listener to form a new appreciation for these musicians. They may begin the album singing about a gamble that didn't pay off, but their own musical collusion really has.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BOTH: (singing) You're going to make me pay for it. You're going to make me wait for it. You're going to make me pay for it now. You're going to make me pay for it. You're going to...

DAVIES: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed "The Both," the new album by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo from their band also called The Both.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BOTH: (singing) Well, I laid our bread and I laid out clothes and I made our bed when you finally rose and I, I was never alone. Well, you win again, you held on hold while I held your head while I caught cold and I, well, baby, I should've known. You're going to make me pay for it. You're going to make me... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.