Monday, November 1, 2010

Aimee Mann's The Forgotten Arm Might Be A Clever Concept Album, But It Sounds Familiar.

The Good: Wonderful lyrics, Good vocals, Good concept
The Bad: Instrumentally derivative of other works, Short!
The Basics: A decent album, The Forgotten Arm is dragged down by the fact that it is too much like other Aimee Mann works.

When I had Aimee Mann as my Artist Of The Month, I started with the Magnolia soundtrack and the 'Til Tuesday album Voices Carry. Unfortunately, I found myself crippled by foreknowledge. Actually, my prior experiences with Aimee Mann's works did not adversely effect my listening to her album The Forgotten Arm. As it turns out, The Forgotten Arm came after the Magnolia Soundtrack and thus, my main criticism of the album holds.

The Forgotten Arm is a concept album about suffering in relationships (not at all new territory for Mann or her listeners) but musically, the album is almost entirely derivative of other works that she had written and produced. On multiple songs on this album, I thought I was listening to "You Do" or "Driving Sideways" from Magnolia. In other words, while there might be new poetry on this album, music lovers will not find anything terribly original sounding on The Forgotten Arm.

With a dozen songs occupying 47:11, The Forgotten Arm is a work by Aimee Mann which is very much her musical vision. Mann wrote all of the songs and provided the lead vocals for each and every track. She also plays guitars - electric and acoustic - on several songs. She was not involved in the production of the album, but she seems to like the songs and how the album turned out, so it does seem to be her musical vision at the time which is represented here.

Instrumentally, though, The Forgotten Arm is a complete strikeout. Mann sings in front of keyboard and guitar-driven tracks which have a ridiculously familiar sound to them. Mann overcomes the whole "one woman and a piano" sound by having "one woman, a piano and a guitar," but within those confines, she has little variety, at least on The Forgotten Arm. After several spinnings of the album, I was astonished how none of the songs stood out and sounded truly different. Every song on the album is mellow, melodic, but utterly indistinct. This lends well for the album, but not for making any of the tracks sound interesting. Instead, the album is one monotonous, pain-filled album which is murky and musical but utterly forgettable.

That said, it is hard to fault Mann's vocals for the album being uninteresting. Aimee Mann has an amazing soprano voice which she uses to sing clear and high on each and every song. She is an able vocalist whose tones are clear and she is able to enunciate even as she soars upward in the registers. But again, Mann does nothing on The Forgotten Arm that listeners to her works have not heard on other Aimee Mann works. This is especially disappointing when one considers how few works by Mann I've heard. Even with only two albums prior to this having been studied by me, Aimee Mann illustrates a terribly repetitive quality which is disappointing in every way. At least her vocals are clear and natural and illustrate a true vocal talent.

Lyrically, The Forgotten Arm shines, at least as much as an album about the unforgiving natures of life and love can shine. Mann is a gifted poet and this concept album is a musical story that progresses with the characters getting more and more miserable as the album goes on. Mann has a knack for writing painful descriptions of relationships as she does when she writes "Something isn't right - I don't know how I know; / But baby, it's despite your dog and pony show. / I can hear it coming - you're only going through the motions, baby; / With your engines humming, you're just going through the motions, baby. / I feel like I'm in jail with you and Mr. Hyde / (a guy who leaves a trail about a mile wide)" ("Going Through The Motions"). Mann has a great poetic voice for loneliness and despair, which is what many of the songs on The Forgotten Arm are about.

Indeed, one of the best weapons in Mann's arsenal is a keen use of imagery. When she sings "Life just kind of empties out, / Less a deluge than a drought, / Less a giant mushroom cloud than an unexploded shell inside a cell of the Lennox Hotel" ("Little Bombs") it is hard not to get chills. Mann is a master of comparative imagery doing what great poets ought when she ties the external world to the internal one.

In fact, the only problem with any of the lyrics is a sense of repetition. Songs like "That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart" and "The King Of The Jailhouse" are plagued by lines that are too oft repeated. Indeed, there are only so many times one may hear "It'll tell you a secret I don't even know (baby, there's something wrong with me)" ("The King Of The Jailhouse") before one wants Mann to move on and say something new.

That said, the biggest strikes against The Forgotten Arm are that the album is short and nothing sounds terribly new on it. This is enough to drag it down in the academic rating, but not enough to make me not want to recommend it to listeners. Even repetitive, indistinct Aimee Mann is better than many other artists on the market today!

The best track is "Going Through The Motions," the low point is "Video."

For other works by ‘Til Tuesday and/or Aimee Mann, please check out my reviews of:
Voices Carry - 'Til Tuesday
Welcome Home - 'Til Tuesday
Coming Up Close: A Retrospective - 'Til Tuesday
I'm With Stupid
Magnolia Soundtrack
Lost In Space
One More Drifter In The Snow


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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