Aimee Mann’s career has been plagued by the media. Too much of her press is spent explaining her fall-out with Geffen, her “difficulties” with working with the labels, and not enough spent on the music.
Anyone familiar with Aimee’s work might be able to explain why: her albums have been consistently great, and consistently “same-y” in terms of sound. There is little to distinguish an Aimee Mann song as belonging on a particular album. She is a craftswoman, and the idiosynchrasies of her songs’ production is what keeps her fans coming back for more. What distinguishes “The Forgotten Arm” from the pack is its cohesiveness. There is no drop in quality, and more so than ever, many of these songs’ melodies stay with you after the first listen.
Fans might note that two of these songs were released, in live versions, on “Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse” last year. “Going Through the Motions” and “King of the Jailhouse” are well served in their studio counterparts. As evidenced on the live album, her songs work well in any context. Which is interesting since “The Forgotten Arm” is Mann’s attempt at a concept album.
Produced by Joe Henry, Mann tells the love/hate affair of a boxer and his girlfriend and their trek across America in search of happiness. A little bloated, yes, especially since the narrative isn’t obvious in the songs themselves (the exquisite packaging provides art and direction to guide the listener along). Mann’s songs have always been cinematic (see “Magnolia”, a song cycle that served as source material for the movie), and “The Forgotten Arm” is no exception. Her America isn’t dissimilar to that described by Bruce Springsteen in “The Ghost of Tom Joad” or “Devils and Dust.” Images of truck stops, beat-up old gas stations and sleazy motels help paint the destitute image of America, and possibly the relationship of her main characters. Henry’s production is, as expected, spot-on, as he and Mann have constructed a very classicist rock album similar, in a sense, to The Wallflowers’ “Breach”.
To her credit, Aimee Mann’s FOUR (that’s right…FOUR) most recent albums have all been released on her own SuperEgo records, allowing her complete creative control. With the consistently good album’s she’s been producing, it makes you wonder WHAT exactly her issues are with the record companies. Regardless, Mann remains one of rock’s premier singer/songwriters, and “The Forgotten Arm” is a welcome addition to her catalog.
While none of these tracks, on an individual basis, surpass the best of Mann’s work, “The Forgotten Arm” may be the most satisfying in aggregate. It is her best-paced collection to date, packing a punch even as the album comes to a close.