Aimee Mann delivers strong punch with ‘Arm’

Jason LeRoy


Credit: Jason LeRoy

What the hell is going on with boxing right now? First there was Million Dollar Baby, then the trailers for Cinderella Man, and now there is The Forgotten Arm, the new album from gloriously monotone singer-songwriter Aimee Mann. The album cover is a pulp-fiction-style illustration of two sweaty boxers duking it out in the ring. Allegedly Mann has recently developed a fondness for boxing, and so it went on to become a motif on the new album.

Just like with Baby and Cinderella, boxing is not the topic of The Forgotten Arm, but rather a symbol within the album’s subtext of internal struggle and interpersonal conflict. Boxing could also be used as a symbol to describe Mann’s relationship with various record labels over the years, having famously been dropped after a long series of label-related struggles.

Mann experienced a renaissance in 1999 when Paul Thomas Anderson took his love for Mann and built an entire film around it, Magnolia. Mann’s music served as an inspiration for much of the film, and even acted as the film’s centerpiece during the notorious cast sing-along.

In addition to the Magnolia soundtrack, Mann has also released two widely acclaimed albums of melancholy baroque pop, Bachelor No. 2 and Lost in Space, each on her own independent label SuperEgo Records. Both of those albums reflected what has come to be known as the Jon Brion touch, with little bells and whistles to garnish the proceedings.

However, on The Forgotten Arm, Mann works with producer Joe Henry, who most recently produced Ani DiFranco’s Knuckle Down. Just as Henry beefed up DiFranco’s typically sparse sounds, he also transforms Mann’s latest effort from alienated folk-pop to rootsy Americana.

Right from the album’s opening track, “Dear John,” the listener could just as easily be listening to Lucinda Williams as Mann. Consequently, the album is possibly Mann’s most accessible release yet; a Hammond organ may even appear on a track or two.

While The Forgotten Arm is certainly accessible, it is also somewhat less than memorable on certain tracks. Just like Mann’s other releases, the album can drag a bit in places, with Mann’s consistently one-note voice creating a tone of musical sameness. But still, Mann manages to be monotone and expressive simultaneously. The Forgotten Arm is one of Mann’s most musically muscular efforts yet.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Jason C. LeRoy at [email protected].