Thinking of the terrified word concept album, the sense of artistic masculine suddenly rushes to my mind. Pink Floyds tragic epic of The Wall comes first, and following by Dream Theaters complicated story in their several albums. In Thai music, Zero, the second album of Pru, should be considered along with. On the other hand, we are forbidden to overlook the great works from female artist, namely; Kate Bush, Tori Amos (especially Scarlets Walk and American Dolls Posse) or even Ayumi Hamasakis My Story. As always frightens the listeners from its difficulty and complexity, actually, the concept album can be created as a simple form, like Aimee Mann has done in The Forgotten Arm
Who the hell is Aimee Mann? Think of Tori Amos or Fiona Apple, a singer-songwriter with small cult following, and then you will get a similar image of her. In fact, Mann has initiated her music career since early 80s, but she just made her breakthrough from Magnolias soundtrack (1999) which included popular tracks like One, Wise Up and Save Me. After that, she released about three albums; Bachelor No.2 (2000), Lost in Space (2002) and The Forgotten Arm (2005) which is still her latest album.
As declared itself as a concept album, The Forgotten Arm depicts a story of two lovers who run away together, only to find the collapse of relationship. The two main protagonists are John, the boxer and Vietnam veteran; and Caroline, an innocent but also naive girl. The story was set in 1970s, Post-Vietnam War Era, which can be defined as the golden age of inspiration; Scorseses Taxi Driver, Stones Heaven and Earth, and If Im not wrong the father of Pink (the main character of The Wall) was also killed in this war.
What mentioned above is not clearly stated in the album. It may sound absurd, but if you want to join the aesthetics of concept album, you evitably find the hints from external source especially the artists interview. Moreover, each song is linked to others vaguely and loosely. To get the whole picture, you have to integrate them by yourself. The American context (specific names and places) increase your confusion as well. But dont worry too much; Mann simplifies her work by telling it chronologically. Besides, her charming voice, sparkling piano and guitar will keep you to the final track.
The album starts with Dear John, a flashback which Caroline recalled her first meet with John. On the contrary, she recognizes their current status almost comes to an end (And the midway I knew / Where the sky was so blue / With the memory of you is gone). King of the Jailhouse tells us about the happiest moment that they sat together in the car to escape from the town, but John sensed a terrible hunch (Baby, there's something wrong with me / That I can't see). Afterwards, it is revealed that John is an alcoholic; therefore he decides to leave his girlfriend as told in Goodbye Caroline. From the first three tracks, we can see, Mann expresses both characters feeling; male and female. Even some has an observation that Mann uses Caroline as her proxy (they share the same hometown, Richmond)
Mann has indicated in her interview that the title, The Forgotten Arm, was a creative term among the boxers. It is a moment one concentrates in defending his rivals arm but forgets about the other, thus he gets a heavy punch. Parallel with John & Carolines chronicle, they are blind with love and not realize about the males addiction. Not only John has a problem, but also Caroline who is too immaculate and traps in obsession. The album visualizes about something we cant see in the first place, but they suddenly appear and desperately ruin our relationship.
And the album goes on with Johns treatment but it does not work out (I Can't Get My Head Around It) and he truly knows how much Caroline wants him back (She Really Wants You). The next couple songs detail about Johns despair; Video describes Johns circumambulated thought of his lover (Baby, baby, I love you / It's nonstop memories of you / It's like a video of you playing / It's all loops of seven-hour kisses) and Little Bombs points out that he has come to the lowest range. (Life just kind of empties out / Less a deluge than a drought / Less a giant mushroom cloud)
From the other side, Caroline figures out that the only thing she gets from waiting for her boyfriend is depression (That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart). Eventually, in the track I Can't Help You Anymore, she makes her final decision to stop helping John. (I'll get a pen and make a list / And give you my analysis / But I can't write this story / With a happy ending)
However, the last two songs of the album shine a dim light. In I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up For Christmas, Caroline lays down her sorrow and apprehends all things come to the end. (I was thinking I could clean up for Christmas / Then call it a day). But there is just a little twisted ending in the last one, Beautiful, seems like they have met again in the long future. The explicit place and time is not clarified, perhaps the song has been projected by Carolines view. It looks like they have not yet returned to each other as a lover, but just a best friend.
Although Caroline fears about this good-old-days feeling (Sometimes it hurts me / To feel so much tenderness / Beautiful), she intentionally does John a delightful thing. (And all I have to do today / Is make you happy / The only thing you have to say / Is, It's all lovely, baby). She is not a little girl anymore; she has grown up and got her appropriate maturity.
The story is not completed with a happy ending, but it gives you a pleasant warm. In my opinion, they still keep the distance because of the catastrophic experience in the past. They have learned the mistake which is caused by their neglect. It is the lesson that they will keep in mind forever.
Like people have said, sometimes we have to forget in order to remember.