100 for 2000 – #53. Aimee Mann – The Forgotten Arm

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2005 – #3. Aimee Mann – The Forgotten Arm
(SuperEgo)

Concept records. What a weird term. Are there concept books? Concept movies? Concept paintings? It’s only music that sometimes gets tagged with concepts. Aimee Mann’s The Forgotten Arm is a concept record, and it’s great! Why do people not like these things? Because there’s no other album like this.

Meet John. Meet Caroline. We will be getting to know them. We discover John was a boxer and a Vietnam vet. He has a gal, Caroline. They try to escape in a car together, traveling through America. They break up, they drink, they cry, and then they get back together.

What’s not to like about a story like that? Best thing about it though, is that it’s not a story that is TOLD. Aimee Mann wrote brilliant characters and songs in the 3rd person her whole life. She just brought that idea to a logical conclusion.

This album is a thrill to piece together. In King Of the Jailhouse, track 2, when our new friends hit the road, there is a feeling of joy, but tempered with such a slow tempo song. It makes the image of their car pulling into the highway seem like slow motion.

They break up somewhere, and track 6, She Really Wants You, details John’s waiting around for a phone call. It’s a great song, and like all the songs on here, it easily survives on it’s own.

The record ends, as it should, with a track called Beautiful. It’s maybe the most affectionate song that Aimee Mann’s ever wrote. It’s uncynical and lovely, and a great ending to the story. And album.

We don’t learn much about these two. They are just boy and girl. And that is their story – Aimee Mann’s dissecting a relationship with her sharp eye. To mix film terms, the concept is actually a macguffin to my favourite, and most Aimee Mann-ish, of Aimee Mann albums.

It’s also produced beautifully by Joe Henry. A deliberate 70s vibe pervades the record. It’s bass heavy, the keyboards hum, and it’s smooth. It’s such a great sound, and much warmer than she usually gets.

So I love this idea. It gives me a real reason to listen to an album start to finish. Not just random tracklistings. I don’t understand why anyone is so cold to concept records.

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