Two are Better Than One!

“The Both” by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo

The Both

Don’t be fooled by Ken and Barbie on the cover, this album is serious!  “The Both” is brimming with intentional and thoughtful music, with lyrics of well-spoken yet punky wit – by successful artists Aimee Mann and Ted Leo.   Don’t know Aimee?  Think Maia Sharp and Mindy Smith, although Aimee is more edgy and less country.  She’s a geekier, sassier Sheryl Crow; her style results in fewer ballads and more rock n’ roll.  She barely moves her lips when singing – her energy is truly musical, not physical.  Ted Leo, by contrast, is a dynamic performer with a wild head movements and animated facial activity.  He dives right into his performances in a raw, enthusiastic way that is appealing.  You’ll find some Tom Petty-ish, Elvis Costello-ish, and Ryan Adams-ish moments in his music.

It is hard pin-point my first impressions of “The Both” – I actually heard the single “Milwaukee” on public radio last spring when the album was released.  I was excited because I have been listening to Aimee Mann for years (remember ‘Til Tuesday, or the “Magnolia” soundtrack?) and I saw Ted Leo in a handful of live shows back in the days of his band –the Pharmacists.  Hearing this single made me realize how much I had been missing good music!  What is remarkable about this album is that they are actually singing very much together.  Some tracks feel like an Aimee Mann song featuring Ted Leo (and vice-versa) but for the most part they present a balanced pairing of vocals which is wonderful to hear.  Aimee’s voice is low and clear, while Ted’s energetic voice allows him to hit some higher notes – he frequently takes the harmony while Amy drives away at the main melody.  They co-wrote the whole album, and they both play guitar on the recordings.

It is hard to pick a favorite track –  I like “Milwaukee” because it is rollicking and fun.  It starts with a catchy beat and a memorable chorus that is fun to sing.  There is also a slower song that I love – “Hummingbird”.  This is more Aimee’s style – steady and haunting in a minor key with cold, clear vocals telling an eerie, environmentalist-warning tale.  I prefer upbeat music though, so I like to skip ahead to track #4 to hear “Volunteers of America” for the great sound, lyrics, and harmonies.  And let’s face it: you just have to love a song with the title “The Inevitable Shove” no matter what it is actually about!

My least preferred track is “Pay for It”.  If I took a break and came back to this later, I’d probably like this song better – but it just isn’t immediately accessible to me and so I struggled to appreciate it.  It features some odd harmonies that are probably very intentional, but in the bleakness of a dark 6:30 a.m. commute they just sound weird.  The song has a negative and dark tone, which is generally not my style.

My overall rating:  8.0 out of 10.  In summary, this is a good solid album in its own right, but an extra special treat is that it is coming from two excellent and well-known artists (yet not mainstream) that have taken the time in their long careers to develop strong, distinct styles that suddenly sound great together.  The only reason I’m not rating this higher is because it is of a specific taste – not something you want to listen to every day, and not really favorite album material.  Still, it is totally worth a listen or two (and the cover art is cute, too).

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“The Both” – Aimee Mann and Ted Leo


  1. The Gambler – This is truly an Aimee Mann song. Guitars are fuzzy with reverb; and there are slow (but great) drums underneath it all.   Aimee’s voice pops through more on the chorus than Ted does.
  2. Milwaukee – In contrast to #1, this is truly a Ted Leo song! A reckless, rollicking strong start with twangy abandon. Great catchy harmonies on the chorus, too.
  3. No Sir – This has the format of a classic 50s waltz in “doo-wop” style, but with the Aimee angst blended in there somehow. Not bad – a nice mellow break between the more upbeat #2 and #4 on the disk.
  4. Volunteers of America – Vying for my favorite, as described in the full album review. This features fun guitars, driving beats, and cynical lyrics. Can’t go wrong with that!
  5. Pay for It – Featuring the Aimee Mann storytelling style, this is your basic sad relationship song with a kind of miserable, foreboding “you’re gonna make me pay for it” chorus sung by Ted. Just OK from my perspective, not my favorite.
  6. You Can’t Help Me Now – If you liked the “Magnolia” movie soundtrack, this song will be just your style. Aimee is the primary singer on this, and it has the piano backdrop you will recognize from her earlier work.
  7. The Prisoner – Ted is the main vocalist on this. I love the chorus – the whole song has a sort of 80s feel to it, and faintly reminds me of the classic “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” by Squeeze.
  8. Hummingbird – Lilting acoustic guitars, in a medieval-esque style with violins creating a slow and emotional chorus. This is actually one of my favorites on the album, even though I usually like to ROCK a little bit more.
  9. Honesty is No Excuse – Here is your dramatic, classic, love-gone-wrong “took your love, I used it” kind of song. The auditor in me noticed that the lyrics for this song are strangely NOT included in the CD liner notes. Perhaps this is just as well, because the chorus is basically just “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…” This one is really balanced between Aimee and Ted on the vox.
  10. Bedtime Stories – There’s a pop-y feel to this one. But at the same time, the melody is unpredictable and runs all over the map in terms of chords and key.   I love the lyrics here – “and now there’s poetry and prose in your name / it overflows the frame / trying to impose a theory on the game.” The phasing is perfect with the music!
  11. The Inevitable Shove – I have to say that this last one is kinda Billy Joel. Really piano-driven, and it feels like an intro number for some hypothetical musical about life sucking in “the big city “ (or something). Not a bad song, but not my favorite. Meh.

Don’t forget to check out the overall album review – I actually liked this one and hopefully you will too!