The announcement that Aimee Mann and Ted Leo would be releasing an album together under the name The Both surprised some people, but it really shouldn’t have. While Mann and Leo come from different musical worlds—she’s the former lead singer of the new-wave one-hit wonder ’Til Tuesday with a successful alt-rock solo career, and he’s the hardcore vet who now makes smart, timeless pop-punk in Ted Leo And The Pharmacists—they have one big thing in common. They’re both adaptable. And that adaptability serves them well on The Both’s self-titled debut.
Mann and Leo haven’t found a fresh middle ground so much as glued their respective styles together. “The Gambler” is a churning, gently distorted nugget of subdued power-pop led by Leo, who sings more dexterously than he’s ever sung before, while Mann adds harmony and texture to his light, pliable voice. The division of labor is more even on “Milwaukee” and “Hummingbird”—the first an upbeat finger-snapper, the second a winsome ballad. Folk, punk, and classic pop come in equal doses, and the ragged, catchy riffs of the garage-like “Bedtime Stories” give way to a more jangling, complicated chorus.
Lyrically, there’s plenty of the clever yet emotive songcraft that both Mann and Leo have long controlled. And therein lies the biggest overlap between the two. Even as Mann pushes toward friendly pop-rock and Leo pulls toward spiky punkiness, the lack of struggle in that mild tension makes for a charm offensive that’s hard to resist. It’s best heard on The Both’s closer, “The Inevitable Shove,” a song that skips, claps, and bubbles along without a care. Moments of dark, complex lyricism pass across the album like wispy storm clouds, but they’re whisked away with a harmony and a wave. Mann and Leo may come from different worlds, but the one they made for themselves is all peace, love, and understanding.