The Forgotten Arm
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2005, Volume 12, #5
Written by T.J. Simon
The Forgotten Arm is Aimee Mann's fifth solo album since departing from ĎTil Tuesday, and with the help of producer Joe Henry, she has crafted a brilliant concept album that exceeds the lofty expectations that one might expect from such a union. In fact, this creative partnership ó which brings together the brother-in-law of Madonna (Henry) and the sister-in-law of Sean Penn (Mann) ó is so successful that the result is Mannís finest outing to date.
It helps, of course, that both Mann and Henry are literate songwriters, who have a keen eye for capturing the hidden details in their charactersí lives. The Forgotten Arm was devised to present a series of vignettes that examine the troubled romantic relationship of John and Caroline. Heís a heroin-addicted, washed-up boxer, who is relegated to fights on the county fair circuit. Sheís the miserable girlfriend following him around the country trying to support him while he strives to be a better man and free himself from his personal demons. Like most conceptual outings, the storyline becomes murky at times, and Mann canít resist filling it with recovery platitudes such I Canít Get My Head around Itís "Kicking is hard, but the bottom is harder." In the end, both John and Caroline come to the conclusion that a painful existence together is better than pursuing tormented lives alone.
Regardless of how well they push the plot forward, any concept album is, of course, only as good as its individual songs. Fortunately, the tunes that Mann and Henry crafted for The Forgotten Arm are irresistible. There are moments when the outing rocks harder than anything that Mann has created thus far, and Henryís multilayered, textural production adds the kind of dimension to the music that reaps rewards over the long haul. Goodbye Caroline, for example, begins with the sound of a sparse acoustic guitar and gradually adds piano, percussion, and electric guitars beneath Mannís clear and beguiling voice. In addition, the outing is also Mannís most piano-centered effort, and tracks such as Clean Up for Christmas and Thatís How I Knew this Story Would Break My Heart showcase the keyboard as a new core element of her fantastic compositional skill.
Overall, The Forgotten Arm is the kind of collection that will yield new and interesting discoveries each time it is heard, and given it is full of ultra-catchy pop songs that easily could stand on their own as credible singles, itís also a rarity among concept albums. Mann is to be commended for her wise choice of Henry as a producer, and together, they should be applauded for tackling this ambitious project, which truly pays tremendous dividends for attentive fans. Indeed, thereís little doubt that their winning partnership makes The Forgotten Arm an early contender for the best CD of 2005.
48th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Recording Package
Of Further Interest...
The Forgotten Arm is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box