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Aimee Mann has spent the last quarter-century examining the downside of human interaction, first with 'Til Tuesday and on through a nearly 20-year string of terrific solo records. Those looking to sum up Mann's worldview in a single sentence could do worse than this line from "Gamma Ray," on the new Charmer: "One thing leads to another, and none of it's good." That's a fine 10-word summation of Mann's emotional palette, which takes her from dour defeat all the way up to wryly jaundiced resignation.
But Mann has never been a mere bummer, and Charmer (her first album in four years, due out Sept. 18) unfurls with a springy zinginess that makes it hard to resist. For all its examination of rejection ("Disappeared"), misplaced loyalty ("Labrador," "Crazytown") and fraudulence ("Living a Lie," in which Mann duets with The Shins' James Mercer), Charmer buzzes and chugs along agreeably. Mann may sing memorably of self-doubt — "Secretly charmers feel like they're frauds," she admits in the album's title track — but her eighth solo record is the work of a sharp, confident veteran who's never strayed far from the top of her game.