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“The Forgotten Arm”

Grade: B

Aimee Mann is equally blessed and cursed with a gift. She continuously releases quality albums full of songs about loss, heartbreak and the dysfunctional human condition. In fact, she may be a victim of her own success. Because we are so accustomed to her tragic melodies and inspired lyrics it is easy to take her gifts for granted and to consider her work just more of the same. Mann never raises the bar or lowers the bar she always nudges the bar. Sometimes a little bit better and other times little bit worse, but throughout her solo career she has remained remarkably consistent.

This consistency is present in her latest release, “The Forgotten Arm,” her fifth solo disc. The disc suffers somewhat from sameness and familiarity it has with her previous efforts. Its still a very strong album, but nothing comes out and grabs you because it all sounds so familiarity.

One thing that does work for Mann on this album is the idea to make a concept album. Complete with a book-like CD case with the lyrics organized like pages in a novel the album she tells the story of a young woman who falls for a boxer while at the Virginia State Fair. They run off together but drugs and insecurity inevitably get in the way.

The title of the album, in its own brilliant way, keys you in to everything you need to know in order to understand where Mann is coming from with the record. In boxing the forgotten arm refers to tricking your opponent into paying attention to the soft jabs with one arm while not paying attention to the other arm that is about to knock you right on the chin. In the realm of the album, however, it also could mean the arm that is neglected by the character of the boxer, who is spending his time wasting away into a life of drug addiction. Still yet, it could mean the person in your life who is all but forgotten, in this case the girlfriend.

The idea to make it a progressive story plays very much to Mann’s strengths. It allows her to create beautiful vignettes in her songs. Each track is one small moment in the lives of the doomed lovers and she has the ability with her craftsmanship to really capture these heart-wrenching moments with beautiful wordplay and subdued musical accompaniment.

What is unfortunate is that while Mann has a terrific opportunity to share the highs and the lows of the relationship she too quickly sings about how things aren’t working out. In her previous efforts she would sing about a relationship gone bad. I think it would have been nice to hear some hope and optimism, no matter how naïve that might be, from the “characters” in this concept album. As it is by the third track in the album we’re already hearing “Goodbye Caroline / goodbye everything.”

That is not to say that this kind of relationship drama doesn’t lead to some truly excellent work. When the album hits track seven “Video,” and goes through to track 11, “I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas” “The Forgotten Arm” hits an emotional and satisfying high note. These five tracks wrap you into the hardships of the two characters in the story and creatively explore all the things that lead to the demise of their relationship.

Yes, it may be more of the same and it doesn’t quite reach the level of her masterpiece, “Bachelor No. 2” Aimee Mann’s latest album is a welcome, if familiar addition to the catalog of one of America’s premier singer/songwriters.

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