The Forgotten Armby Aimee Mann
Depression rarely sounds as sweet as it does in the hands of Aimee Mann; her skill in that arena puts her in the company of Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. The onetime Til Tuesday frontwoman has shaped a career writing about folks encumbered by loneliness and addiction, and her fifth album -- a song cycle chronicling the star-crossed relationship between a drug-addicted boxer/Vietnam vet and the girl he romances at the state fair -- is no different. Mann set the story in 1972 and says that she spent time listening to Traffic, the Band, and early Rod Stewart and Elton John to get in the mood. That vibe informs the keyboard-driven tunes on The Forgotten Arm, recorded with the same touring band behind her for 2004's Live at St. Ann's Warehouse and boasting a more muscular sound than her last studio disc, Lost in Space. As always, swooning melodies and minor keys define Mann's songs, which bristle with surface tension, thanks to the contrast between her butter-smooth delivery and barbed lines such as "Kicking is hard, but the bottom is harder" ("I Can't Get My Head Around It"). The billowy "Goodbye Caroline" is vintage Mann, an aching breakup tune given added depth by the roiling keyboards and searing electric guitars. Mann maintains a consistent tone throughout with songs wearing cheerful titles like "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas" ("Because I can't live loaded and I can't live sober, and I've been that way since October"), but wallowing in the muck seems to work for her. While it might have been nice to find a winsome love song to engage us in the album's thematic romance -- she comes closest on "Beautiful," which pines, "Why does it hurt me to feel so much tenderness?" -- perhaps Mann knows where her strengths lie. And The Forgotten Arm flaunts them like tattoos.
- Release Date:
- Superego Records
Performance CreditsAimee Mann Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar,Vocals
Chris Bruce Electric Guitar
Paul Bryan Bass,Background Vocals
Julian Coryell Guitar,Electric Guitar,Keyboards,Vocals,Background Vocals,Slide Guitar
Victor Indrizzo Percussion,Drums,cowbell
Jeff Trott Mandolin,Electric Guitar,Guitar (Baritone)
Jay Bellerose Percussion,Drums
Jebin Bruni Keyboards
Mark Visher Tenor Saxophone
Willie Murillo Trumpet
Jason Thor Trombone
West End Horns Group
Technical CreditsJoe Henry Producer
Aimee Mann Composer,Art Direction
Gail Marowitz Art Direction
Gavin Lurssen Engineer
Ryan Freeland Engineer
Gwen Smith Illustrations
Willie Murillo Arranger
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With the release of her fifth solo effort “The Forgotten Arm,” Aimee Mann proves she remains a sonic prizefighter, able to craft winning albums as easily as if she were a seasoned heavyweight taking on a novice flyweight. I can’t think of another modern-day songwriter whose work is as aching as it is defiant, as melodic as it is intelligent. “The Forgotten Arm” demonstrates that Mann has joined the short list of artists who craft music that will stand the cruel test of time. Like enduring tunesmiths Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Mann writes and performs songs crafted with equal measures of lyrical and musical depth, allowing them to encircle the listener in ways that work their magic again and again. Mann was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for “Save Me” in connection with 1999’s “Magnolia” soundtrack. Now the Virginia native has completed her first concept album, “The Forgotten Arm,” which loosely tells the tale of John and Caroline. Via events that will undoubtedly allow many listeners to relate to the fictional pair, their story is one of meeting, falling in love and making a road trip across America. Heartache is bound to follow. Mann’s songs seem to simultaneously celebrate and lament romantic loss, as evidenced by the stirring “That’s How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart.” Beginning as a beautiful and tender ballad, with Mann’s emotive soprano layered atop sparse piano, the song continues to build to include orchestra-styled keyboards and ends with the inclusion of drums and a folk rock sound that defies cliché and bombast. “So, like a ghost in the snow/I’m getting ready to go,” she sings. “Because baby, that’s all I know/how to open the door.” “Video” is a song the likes of which Mann hasn’t sung before, with its bounding lyrical step and confessional tone. “TV’s flat and nothing is funny/I get sad and stuck in a cone of silence/Like a big balloon with nothing for ballast/labeled like a bottle for Alice/drink me or I’ll drown in a sea of giants.” She proves to be a keen observer, as evidenced on “Beautiful,” “Little Bombs” and “The King of the Jailhouse,” capturing the world in musical ways that recalls artists ranging from Badfinger and early Elton John to the Finn Brothers, but carving out a slice on the musical map that is uniquely her own. “I Can’t Help You Anymore” is one of the most magnificent songs penned in eons, with it’s evocative lyrics set to lush layers of ringing guitars, bristling bass and inspired piano. Mann’s voice ranges from the bottom of her register to exhilarating highs. Having taken up playing and writing piano since the release of “Lost in Space” in 2002, the addition of the instrument to her already-formidable arsenal is yet another reason to celebrate. And the fact that she continues to write using both humor and the deepest affairs of the heart makes “The Forgotten Arm” truly unforgettable. This is clearly one of the best albums of 2005, and an equally poignant reminder why rock still matters.
The Forgotten Arm is a striking, awesome album. The songs are strong- bluesy, poppy melodies that string together story after story of human failure and desperation. And yet, the album is a beautiful take on love and the value of individual experiences. Absolutely her best work since the Magnolia soundtrack (Lost In Space had some wonderful moments, but was filled with too many half-baked songs), the music in The Forgotten Arm is catchy, melodic, and (at times) haunting. How many artists have the faith in their album to host the entire thing, song by song, on their website for their fans and critics to listen to first? Not many, it takes a lot of faith in their material. Here’s the write-up in this month’s issue of Esquire (by Andy Langer): “Concept records are like Operation- they take an awfully steady hand. And Amiee Mann’s The Forgotten Arm (May 3) is actually a double concept: It’s as much about a drugged-out Vietnam vet as it is about the sound of the 1970s era he’s stuck in. The incredibly consistent Mann pulls it off with sharp stories, a sharper voice, and li’l bit country, li’l bit rock ‘n’ roll landscapes that are undeniably vivid. Don’t take my word for it, or Andy Langer- listen to a few clips from the record and you’ll likely want to hear more."
I first experienced "The Forgotten Arm" at a Largo show last Spring. As a long time Aimee fan, it was exciting to go to a show and learn that Aimee would preview the entire album she was working on in its entirety from start to finish. From the first time I heard these songs, I could tell that something was different from Aimee's previous albums. As I've heard these songs at shows throughout this year, and now on the fully produced album, I feel that this album pushes the previous boundaries of her earlier recordings. Being a concept album, this album has a kind of momentum that makes you want to listen to it as a whole rather than bit by bit. I found this somewhat with "Lost In Space" but even more so with "The Forgotten Arm" Of course the record still is infused with Aimee's keen observations about what it means to be human, to struggle and to overcome. It has been great to see this album grow into what it is-which is a great step in a new direction and a highly thought provoking and listenable album that both new and old fans should enjoy!
Once again Aimee has turned out a masterpiece that will send her contemporaries back to the drawing board. Eloquently crafted characters flesh out this tale of fighting addiction and stand as metaphors for the addiction itself. In the pinnacle of the struggle for hope, Aimee points out that "kicking is hard, but the bottom's harder" Staying on top of the good side of life is always difficult, but succumbing to dispair and residing in a darkness where no one should have to is a much more difficult battle that is rarely ever won. Aimee Mann climbed on top of her game many years ago and apparently refuses to come back down. "The Forgotten Arm" is in deed Beautiful.
Aimee Mann's voice is beautiful. The songs are awesome. I can't stop listening to this CD. I recommend it highly.