|by Blair Fraipont|
|Artist: Aimee Mann Album: The Forgotten Arm Label: SuperEgo Records
"Something isn't rightI don't know how I know; but baby, it's despite your dog and pony show,"
Aimee Mann sings in tones that lie somewhere between callousness and concern. The Forgotten Arm, which is Mann's fifth studio album is a concept album about John, a Vietnam war veteran and boxer who is also a drug addict, who falls in love with Caroline. They meet at a Richmond, Virginia state fair ("Dear John") and then head off in their Cadillac ("The King of the Jailhouse") to leave the south. As they road trip across the country they encounter many a roadblock and drama ensues.
Luckily, The Forgotten Arm lacks the histrionics of most concept albums (i.e. The Who's Tommy or Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon). The strengths of Mann's lyricism lies in her power of narrative. She is able to sing from the perspectives of both characters and then also from the third person. Mann's lyrical prowess enables her to sing from the center of the storm but then also at the same time be able to take a step back to view the wreckage that has occurred. Though what is easily noticeable about Mann's singing is that it lacks the urgency or intensity that would normally accompany a story as dramatic as The Forgotten Arm.
Whereas most listeners would imagine that over-the-top singing would make this record and its subject matter shine, Mann's more subtle and restrained approach is really what makes all the songs work here. Rather than belting out, Mann prods each song and their characters with a pointing stick as if she were a college professor dissecting and analyzing them line by line. Of course this does not mean there is nothing of emotional merit here. What it does mean is that Mann's artistry combines intelligent song writing with thoughtfully more straightforward, though memorable, performances.
"Video" and "That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart" are indeed the closest you'll get to tearjerkers on this record, as most of The Forgotten Arm harbors heavily on steady mid-tempo rock. As stated on her website, Aimee Mann intended to blend sounds of early 1970s singer-songwriters such as Elton John and The Band. Mann also continues to use her obvious Beatle-esque textures and hooks as she has quite cleverly in past years. Incidentally, this no-nonsense production provides wonderfully tight performances from the musicians which lack the sometimes otherworldly atmospherics of her previous album, Lost In Space.
Similarly, both records tackle the same subject matter. While the former, Lost In Space sounds much more saddening and lyrically biting, The Forgotten Arm may come across as being more cohesive in sound and concept. Mann is able to capture that sense of desperation without coming across as dreary. "Goodbye Caroline," "Going Through the Motions," and "Little Bombs" are examples where Mann provides thought provoking imagery amid cleverly succinct and simple melodies.
Finally, unlike other concept albums or rock operas, the ending of The Forgotten Arm seems inconclusive. John and Caroline reunite on "Beautiful," yet there is no bravado in Mann's voice or lyrics that assure the audience that they'll be together forever. No one could predict the ending especially when they are provided with the preceding songs which document the hard times and breakups of these characters. In this way, Aimee Mann's new album is much more realistic and gutsy than one would imagine.
Artist: New Order Album: Waiting For the Siren's Call Label: Warner Bros.
The sound of this album falls somewhere between their rock & pop mixture of the past with a twist of New Order's penchant for making catchy dance songs. The overall combination produces a fairly good album with no glitches except "Dracula's Castle" and for the occasional saccharine and stupid lyrics from Bernard Sumner as in "Krafty."
"I Told You So," has a rhythm and melody that remind one of a 90's electronica/rock song; "Guilt Is A Useless Emotion" is the one shameless and succulent dance track that should have rumps-a-shakin on the floor; "Working Overtime" is another awkward gem which has crunchy guitars reminiscent of 1960's The Kinks or The Who.
Overall, Waiting For the Siren's Call is definitely worth purchasing for the impassioned New Order fan and may be enticing for the average music consumer. What is good to know is that New Order is still able to compose hook-driven pop music that is always worth repeated listening.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 9 July 15, 2005