|Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm||Label: Superego Records|
1. Dear John
2. King of the Jailhouse
3. Goodbye Caroline
4. Going Through the Motions
5. I Can't Get My Head Around It
6. She Really Wants You
8. Little Bombs
9. That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart
10. I Can't Help You Anymore
11. I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas
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|CHAPTER 1: Stories
In even the quietest, most obscure absolutions of humanity's collective dull thud in the universe, there are stories to be told. Sure, it all vaguely sounds like the beginnings of a 13-year old's crappy fantasy novel about the great slaughter of the Trogbears, but bear with me. These stories, if you're an average human being, may be of feverish day-to-days, unbridled desires (ooooh!), and, of course, the bloodied-by-their-rampant-overuse clichés of love, loss, love and loss, and the half-written charm of redemption (ahhhh!).
Or, if you're Aimee Mann, drugs, drugs, drugs, romance, and drugs. "High on a Sunday 51" indeed.
But when you’ve covered these topics to their horrible, cancer-infested deaths on a little album called "Lost in Space," where else could you possibly go with the same exact theme?
HELLO CONCEPT ALBUM!
On "The Forgotten Arm," which takes its name from a move in boxing, which, coincidentally, the album has about as much to do with as, say, homeless people have to do with the color green, Mann gives us two characters, John and Caroline, and sends them barreling through the drug-addled romances mentioned in Lost in Space, but this time extending the adventure to a good 50 minutes of happy fun time. It starts at the county fair in the warm embrace of Spring and soon spirals down into constant bouts of leaving and returning and "I love you, but this is too fucking hard."
Unfortunately, this is "The Forgotten Arm"'s primary failing. We follow the two characters through all of this, and yet, when the tale finally reaches its ham-fisted happy ending, we just can't bring ourselves to care. In fact, the story grows into such a clichéd mess that the most interesting and heart-wrenching moment on the album is during "That’s How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart," where the lyrics step away from John and Caroline's oversold troubles and point a slender, blaming finger at the author herself.
Thankfully, though, the story is mostly inconsequential. What truly makes up the bulk of the album is Mann’s music.
Well, okay, I lied about being thankful. She doesn’t exactly pull this area off either.
The argument could be made that Mann's been floating in the same musical space since the release of "Bachelor No. 2," and I readily agree with this argument. Despite the fact that "Lost in Space" was an incredibly strong collection of songs, it was, essentially, more of the same. To distinguish "The Forgotten Arm" from both "Bachelor" and "Lost in Space," Mann steeps the songs in Americana while simultaneously channeling singer-songwriters from the late '70s, but the album, for the most part, remains stagnant. Ignoring the quality of the story, one could say that, at the very least, Mann's made an attempt to evolve lyrically, but her music hasn't moved at all. There’s nothing here that wasn't explored on "Bachelor No. 2," and it's a lot less intriguing the third time around.
Despite my heavier criticisms, though, I still find myself liking this album a great deal. Mann's songs may sound incredibly similar to one another, but they're still well-crafted enough to infect one’s memory banks for weeks on end ("Goodbye Caroline" is a constant staple of my "Goddamnit, get out of my fucking head" playlist). And it's certainly a huge improvement on the directionless "Lost in Space."
Regardless, it feels like a missed opportunity. What could've been Mann’s next masterpiece is yet another enjoyable carbon copy of "Bachelor," but with a big, fat story attached to it for a little spice.
Perhaps not all stories are worth being told.
Wait, that's fucking stupid. Of course there are stories not worth telling! Why else would have God created Dave Eggers?
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