Aimee Mann’s records straddle a perilous line between emotive alt.country and bland adult contemporary. Despite her obvious knack for intuitive lyricism and a tranquil singing voice, her records are chock-full of the slick guitar soloing and clean production that can be found on Blue Rodeo and Wallflowers records.
Mann’s fifth album, The Forgotten Arm, is a reflective concept album following the romantic mishaps of a couple’s problematic relationship. Dealing with themes of substance abuse, insecurity, loss, genuine beauty and redemption, Mann poignantly commands empathy from her audience. The plot follows a drug-addicted alcoholic carnival attendant named John who falls for a woman named Caroline. They decide to elope, but John’s struggles soon cause them to drift apart. This story sounds all too familiar, but Mann’s exceptional writing brings emotional depth to the record. Painting lucid images with her lyrics — “Life just kind of empties out/ less a deluge than a drought/ less a giant mushroom cloud than an unexploded shell” off “Little Bombs” — Mann uses her characters to communicate larger messages about the human condition.
Musically, the record is standard faire for alternative country rock, with enough bending guitar licks to satisfy the yuppiest of thirtysomething businessmen and enough mellow ballads to satisfy your Dixie Chicks-loving mom. Entwined with Mann’s arresting story, however, the music stands on its own as a viable work of art. If given due attention, Mann commands the most pompous listeners to shed their preconceptions and appreciate this album for the tragic opus it is.