The concept behind Aimee Mann's fifth solo album feels like something to talk about on NPR: A former boxer returns from Vietnam addicted to smack, and he and his softhearted girlfriend endure painful rehab and dysfunctional domesticity. But the vague narratives and subtly pretty story-songs of The Forgotten Arm save Mann from the self-loathing that dragged down 2002's plodding Lost in Space. With tempos cranked slightly, "Dear John" and the junkie lament "Clean Up for Christmas" combine singer-songwriter clarity, L.A. harmonies and melancholy piano into a convincing package. Mann is still prone to depressive cliches such as the "Life just kind of empties out" thesis of "Little Bombs," but this time around her songs are more pleasurable for seeming less deeply felt. As a wise Detroit rapper once said, sometimes you have to lose yourself.
(Posted: May 5, 2005)