It was said of Fred Astaire’s partnership with Ginger Rogers that “He gave her class and she gave him sex.” Duties in The Both, which fuses Aimee Mann’s wry mopery to Ted Leo’s pop-punk passion, don’t break down along the same lines, but like all the best team-ups, one provides the other something vital they’d been missing.
It’s not simply a matter of each pulling the other in their direction, although Mann certainly benefits from Leo’s adrenaline surplus, and her harmony vocals remind him to write the accompanying melodies. Writing together, however they manage the details, creates a spirited looseness and a sense of play. Witness “Milwaukee’s” reference to a bronze statue of the Fonz, or “Volunteers of America’s” Jefferson Airplane-tweaking title. There are handclaps, “yeah yeah yeahs” and a Thin Lizzy cover for good measure. It’s a pleasure to hear Mann’s bouncing bass high in the mix, falling into line with Leo’s jangle-fuzz guitar, their voices meshing without losing what makes each distinct.
At times, the collaboration sands down the duo’s edges too successfully, so that what’s left is the smooth verging-on-blandness of “Hummingbird.” But more often, The Both feels like a partnership that was always meant to happen, or even one that already had and was just waiting to be discovered.