Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – The Roaring Silence

Continuing in the spirit of articles inspired by my best friends, we have a band/sound that I was officially introduced to last week. In our weekly musical get-together, my friends showed me a really cool instrumental song called “Waiter, There’s A Yawn In My Ear”, which is one of those typically funny titles for an instrumental jam. I really loved the song, so I went to Zune and downloaded the album and listened to it about 7 times. Indeed, the song is great, but I was surprised by some of the other things on this album, so today we are going to talk about a band that is now pretty near and dear to my heart right now, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band with their “hit” album The Roaring Silence:

You know, if you stuck a pencil in that, you'd be breaking TWO rules of social conduct at the same time!I say “officially” introduced to, because actually I knew about Manfred Mann for years. Being a Gentle Giant fan, the internet has constantly pushed upon me the idea that “If you like Gentle Giant, you’ll LOVE Manfred Mann!” or even going so far as to say that Gentle Giant influenced Mann, and vice versa. Well, that’s all well and good, but I steadfastly refuse to believe that “If I like band A I’ll just LOVE band B”. It just doesn’t work like that. I have known this about my tastes in music ever since becoming a They Might Be Giants fan, because pretty much anyone else who is similarly into TMBG will attempt to push their other musical tastes on you, citing TMBG as the gateway to what usually amounts to boring, desperately “white” music. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this tactic, I’m just saying I am no dummy, I can tell bands apart, especially when they’re unique to begin with. TMBG is unique, so nobody is going to sound enough like them to make me like them by proxy, and indeed Gentle Giant is unique, so nobody is going to sound enough like them to make me like them by proxy. In fact, to implicate Gentle Giant in Manfred Mann’s crimes against all good sense is dern near fightin’ words.

Now that that’s out of the way, I really like Manfred Mann, 7 listens is not usually my quota for writing about an album, I just wanted to listen to the whole thing again that much. Each time, I feel a little less like I did when I first heard the album.

See, it’s my theory that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (note: “Manfred Mann” is an entirely different band than “Manfred Mann’s Earth Band”, but for the purposes of this writeup, I am going to use both names as I feel, since it’s unlikely I’ll be writing about them again) is the reason that most people, sensible people, people with 2 cars, 3 kids, and a little dog, really hate Progressive Rock music. Ok, ok, I am not deluded, there are hundreds of perfectly good reasons to hate Prog, but Manfred Mann commits some of the most common felonies, which means that YOU will probably hate them, but being a prog fan myself, I consider these guys on the “excellent” level of proggy nerdy wanky gooey goodness. Ok some of those modifiers are a little disgusting, we’ll be cleaning those up at the end of the day.

Really, I would consider the first two songs of this album to be less like “songs” and more of an endurance test for the excellence to come. They aren’t bad songs, per se, in fact one of them was a number 1 hit. That song is actually first, and it’s a cover version of a then-obscure (as in, couldn’t chart to save its life) track by Bruce Springsteen. It’s called “Blinded By The Light”, and Dr. Wikepedia, who holds a Phd in Doctology, by the way, says what all my suspicions confirm: the song is popular because he says “douche” all throughout.

Yeah, this album introduces us to a singer called Chris Thompson, who sang for a bunch of other groups I previously haven’t cared about. His voice is something like Burton Cummings crossed with Weird Al’s version of American Idol singer Taylor Hicks, if that makes a lick of sense. The guy has a great voice, honestly, I’m quite drawn to it, it’s simultaneously gritty and precise, and the tonal quality is like a carefully overdriven guitar, just pleasing all around.

This is not to say that his enunciation couldn’t use some work. I’m not sure what country you have to come from to pronounce the words “revved up like a deuce” (which already doesn’t make sense) to sound exactly like “rolled up like a DOUCHE”, but I imagine it’s a land where frat boy lingo pervades the sickened landscape.

Either way, the song borders on “ok”, about as likely of a “hit” as that song from the album I wrote about yesterday (I dare not speak its name lest it gets stuck in my head AGAIN, the worst part is that I don’t have the words memorizes so I replace the words with Weird Al’s version of the song). It’s got some cool little jams in it, but the song is clearly messing with its audience. After the 10th chorus (seemingly) of the “rolled up like a DOUCHE” line, I kid you not, the keyboardist from whom the band takes its name plays goddamn Chopsticks in lieu of a solo, which actually follows soon after.

The next song isn’t that hot either, except to say that it’s a slow, very 70’s-sounding jam called “Singing The Dolphin” and it sounds exactly like something I would expect to hear on the soundtrack to my favorite work of fiction, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. That’s saying something good about the song, but since it’s on an album already occupied by rock music, it doesn’t mean I want to listen to it every time.

The instrumental, however, is still a winner. “Waiter, There’s A Yawn In My Ear” stresses very much the keyboard prowess (citation needed) of Mr. Mann, and I realized something while listening to this track. It seems that progressive bands that are “led” by the keyboardist (see also: Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, or don’t, you’d be better off) tend to make room for more keyboard and synth solos than any funk album you’d care to name. Indeed, synths, and particularly good-sounding synths, are the name of the game for this track.

Then things get interesting. First off, we get this song called “The Road To Babylon”, which starts off being sung by either a pair of young girls or young boys, it’s hard to tell when they’re all English. Either way, as the kids sing, an awesome organ part comes in, but then the backbeat and groovin’ bass kick in, and suddenly we’ve got this awesome rock song! Nice! The vocal melody sung by the presumably adult Chris Thompson is particularly good (and interplays nicely with the youthful singers who remain in the background), and the entire song just has this no-nonsense grandiose rock feel to it. I quite approve, even if it takes 7 minutes to get the point across, that’s a paltry length for a Prog song, I assure you.

“This Side Of Paradise”, which opens up with some innocuous percussive tinkly things, and opens up to be kind of a mid-tempo rock song. It never gets truly interesting unless you really like pitch-bendy keyboard solos (note: I do), but this is probably the song I can most hear the Gentle Giant connection in, not that I was listening for one or anything.

“Starbird” is perhaps my favorite song on the album, though it’s hard to decide between that and “Babylon”. Either way, this song starts out with a vocal melody (borrowed from one of my favorite modern composers, Stravinksy) sung accapella, but by the adults in the band (except for one particularly high voice that might be from one of the kids in the earlier song). Either way, what really draws me to this song is the amazing beat that comes in. It’s 4/4, or at least seems that way, but the drums mix it up so much that you just have no idea what’s going, and that’s the way I like my prog drums.

Finally, we get “Questions”, which borrows from Schubert, and just kind of provides a Deep Purple-esque “emotionally captivating” end to the album (read: boring). It’s really a good tune, just not worth noting in too many words unless you really like impassioned guitar solos (read: I do).

So that’s the album, it starts off as kind of a joke, but those stalwart, die-hard prog fans will find a lot of good stuff waiting on the other side of the “douche song”. I still can’t believe that song went to number 1, what is wrong with you people?!

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3 Responses

  1. I think you may be on to something by reviewing albums featuring incomprehensible number one hits.

    Also, a citation may be needed for your [citation needed] tag.

  2. Well the guy is at least better at keyboards than I am, though after hearing “Chopsticks” in that one song, I am having my doubts…

  3. “Deuce coupe” is a slang term used to refer to the 1932 Ford coupe, hence “revved up like a hot rod” …. get it?

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