As countless Oscar-nominated boxing films are happy to show, the pugilist is an easy signifier for the dispossessed, fixated not so much on winning and losing as on mere survival, the challenge to endure. Aimee Mann herself has persevered past the awkward poodle-puff days of fronting Til Tuesday, and as a solo artist virtually strutted through a major label breakup straight to a Best Song Oscar nomination for P.T. Anderson's Magnolia. But now she's writing for the movie in her very own head. The Forgotten Arm offers linked stories of passionate struggle, drawing Raymond Carver-style scenes of musty fairgrounds, stolen love in cheap motels, and the everlasting desire for escape. And like a well-placed jab, Mann's seemingly simple formula -- detailed, narrative verses with broader, more universal strokes saved for the chorus -- is deceptively hard to achieve. Consider "King of the Roadhouse" (They pack up their troubles in an old Cadillac/That's her in the mirror, asleep in the back) or "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas" (One less fucker trying to get in the business of the prodigal son), and soak in the fact that while countless underdogs mumble half-voiced prayers for redemption, precious few writers are capable of producing such telling and thought-provokingly hummable songs. Aimee Mann is one of 'em.
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