Intelligent and articulate, Aimee Mann's new album THE FORGOTTEN ARM is more a literary masterpiece set to music than a simple CD. I was a little concerned at first when I heard Mann was doing another concept album....her last release, 2003's LOST IN SPACE, ultimately got bogged down under a similar idea...but I had nothing to worry about - THE FORGOTTEN ARM is nothing short of brilliant, all nuanced and deep, heartfelt and passionate. So intertwined are the disc's twelve songs that it's hard to think of them individually, but I'll give it a shot! The opening lines of the first track - "Dear John" - perfectly set the mood for things to come: "Cotton candy was king on the midway that Spring/When I saw you in the ring on the lawn...dear John." Just those few words introduce us to our two main characters, John and Caroline, in an attention-grabbing fashion, augmented by a sturdy backbeat, ringing guitars, tinkling piano and an almost sultry, yet shy, lead vocal from Mann. Next up is the melancholy "The King Of The Jailhouse." With it's almost plodding arrangement, you can't help but feel the weight on our hero's shoulders. And when he utters the words "I'll tell you a secret that I don't even know (Baby, there's something wrong with me)", well, your heart just breaks! Mann delivers the song in a crystal clear vocal that beautifully offsets the song's somber tone. "Goodbye Caroline" has a sweeping 60's feel to it, with the drums, guitars and piano blending together perfectly. Mann adds a huskier, deeper edge to her vocal on this cut, and it works well...VERY well! Then there's the album's first single, the lilting "Going Through The Motions." The flipside of "King Of The Jailhouse", this track is all bouncy and light...and, yet, it's about the trials and tribulations of living day to day with an addict. Over chiming guitars and some tasty drumming, Mann lets us know it's not easy: "I feel like I'm in jail with you and Mr. Hyde(a guy who leaves a trail about a mile wide" and "but when the trumpets fade, you'll go down like a submarine - and you won't see it coming." Only an artist of Mann's talent and magnitude could turn such a downer song into a radio-friendly Summer hit! Amazing! "I Can't Get My Head Around It" is told from the other side of the coin - the junkie's. This is someone who wants to quit...but just can't. Or, possibly, just doesn't think he can. Starting out with some nice acoustic guitar, the track segues into a churning piano-driven rocker (Piano plays a BIG part on THE FORGOTTEN ARM, and it's WONDERFUL!!). Another of TFA's gems! "She Really Wants You" could easily have been a Beatles cover, with it's sparkling vocal, economical instrumentation and honest lyrics. "Video" has to be another one of my favorite tracks off the album; there's something hypnotic and almost other-worldly to the song. Jebin Bruni's keyboards are so player-piano perky that they have to be masking something, while Jeff Trott's mandolin is both comforting and eerie, all at the same time. Add an ethereal lead vocal and haunting lyrics ("Like a building that's been slated for blasting, I'm the proof that nothing is lasting....counting to eleven as it collapses")and you have a hard-hitting story about a sad loser that'll leave you aching. There's a hushed acoustic quality to "Little Bombs" that is both smart and searing. By song's end it's made clear that one can easily be a prisoner, even when there are no bars involved ("Life just kind of empties out, less a deluge than a drought, less a giant mushroom cloud than an unexploded shell"). "That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart" is a gut-wrenching ballad, 3/4's of which is nothing more than some gorgeous piano and a killer lead vocal. This is a break-up song to the nth degree, and when Mann utters...no, confesses...the words "Because baby, that's all I know - how to open the door. And though the exit is crude, it saves me coming unglued" it's like a punch in the stomach. "I Can't Help You Anymore" chugs along, all sexy/slinky in spots, soaring in others. The arrangement is particularly infectious, with the piano and drums beautifully weaving in and out. Definitely a strong candidate for THE FORGOTTEN ARM'S second single! Piano also plays a big part on "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up For Christmas", anchoring a lyrically heavy song with an almost good-time vibe. The rollicking, barroom joviality is in direct contrast to lines such as "Because I can't live loaded and I can't live sober", "And I know enough to know: that, baby, when it's over, it's over. And it's over" and "..tell you I'm sorry that I made you a witness to my moral decay. And that once upon a time I believed it was a victimless crime", but the fact that it works so well is just additional proof as to why Aimee Mann is considered by many to be one of the best songwriters of the past two decades. Things wrap up with the hopeful (yet guarded) "Beautiful." In summarizing things up, I just want to say that, after the hit and miss quality of the aforementioned LOST IN SPACE, it's good to have Aimee Mann back in fighting form with THE FORGOTTEN ARM, a true contender for 2005's Album of the Year (As with all my reviews, I'm giving the disc an extra half a star for including the lyrics, PLUS I'm giving it ANOTHER half a star for the amazing art direction and concept. If this CD doesn't win a Best Packaging award at next year's Grammys....!).