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Manfred Mann's Earth Band - The Roaring Silence CD (album) cover

THE ROARING SILENCE

Manfred Mann's Earth Band

 

Eclectic Prog

3.81 | 179 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars There was a lot going on with the Earth Band around the time they recorded 'The Roaring Silence', much of it possibly lost on fans that (like me) only discovered the band with this album even though they had been around for several years prior and released six earlier albums and five minor hit singles between 1971 and 1976. Several factors converged to make this arguably the finest album Manfred Mann and his band mates ever put together. Most notably lead vocalist and guitarist Mick Rogers departed the band following the 'Nightingales & Bombers' release, a mutual decision resulting from his almost obsessive interest in Frank Zappa and desire to take the band in an avant jazz direction. In replacing Rogers, Mann expanded the band to a quintet by recruiting vocalist Chris Thompson and guitarist Dave Flett. Between them Thompson and Flett had prior experience in such luminary groups as the Central Park Reunion, Hillberry Walker and the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band. In other words, Mann took a huge chance on a couple of unknowns. Based on the success of this album it seems that gamble paid off. It didn't hurt that Thompson was a Bruce Springsteen fan, something that surely endeared him to Mann and likely added a measure of enthusiasm to the recording of the seminal Springsteen cover 'Blinded by the Light' that launched the band into international stardom in late 1976. Mann also ensured the group had a chance to become familiar with each other and the band's music (including several songs on this album) by embarking on short U.S. and UK tours prior to entering the studio.

Mann also appears to have spent a bit of time studying the production habits of some of his contemporaries, including it seems Alan Parsons, Jeff Lynne and Godley & Creme. There is more than a little in the new album's sound that points to Alan Parsons Project, Electric Light Orchestra and 10CC in the arrangements and especially the accompaniment on this record. The choral backing on 'Blinded by the Light', 'Road to Babylon' and 'Starbird' almost sound as if they were lifted directly from a 10CC studio session, while the blending of synth keyboards and screaming guitar licks would have made Alan Parsons proud in the years before he started taking himself too seriously. And while I wouldn't compare much of this music to ELO, Mann's ability to work pop melodies into what is basically keyboard- dominated music is something Jeff Lynne made a career of, so they had that in common anyway.

The showpiece here is the band's opening cover of 'Blinded by the Light' from Springsteen's debut album. As with so many other covers Mann manages to deliver something better than the original, in this case by applying his production skill to a song that was not much more than an afterthought when Springsteen penned it for 'Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.'. Like Kansas' 'Dust in the Wind' this was a last-minute addition to that album and although it became the first single for Springsteen his version didn't make any impression on the music public. Mann's version is considerably more upbeat, energetic and full of musical layers including a toe-tapping and persistent keyboard riff, an extended instrumental bridge and luscious backing vocals throughout. It also contains perhaps the most misquoted lyrics of any modern tune, ranking up there with Elton John's 'Rocket Man' and Bowie's 'Diamond Dogs'. But despite all that the song became an international #1 hit and a lasting classic that graces the FM airwaves even today.

I never took much to 'Singing the Dolphins Through' back when this album was new, probably because it 'Blinded' was such a tough act to follow but also because the damn thing made no sense whatsoever (and still doesn't). Is this about a child caught between feuding parents? Is it about sailing into the sunset? Maybe a drug reference? Who knows. The original was penned by Mike Heron of Incredible String Band fame while the band was still nominally active but well past their prime. Heron had formed his own band and released a sophomore album titled 'Mike Heron's Reputation' that showcases his slightly bluesy pub-rock roots. The original is rather laconic and uninspired, but once again Mann found something to like and managed to turn it into a serviceable number thanks to easy-flowing guitar and keyboard passages and crisp female backing vocals. Heron's version had female backing too, but they sounded more like stoned hippies compared to the professional crooning of the Chanter sisters.

Mann's arrangement and keyboard playing on the instrumental 'Waiter, There's a Yawn in My Ear' sound all the world like something Alan Parsons would have put out in the mid- seventies, and had I heard this one on his 'Instrumental Works' CD next to 'Mammagamma' I really wouldn't have known the difference.

'Road to Babylon' was one of the tunes the new Earth Band lineup debuted on their tour prior to the album's release, and I've read the working title then was 'Well, Well, Well'. 'Road to Babylon' is a much more appropriate title, and here again the slowly building lead- in of keyboards, guitar and finally bass opening up to Thompson's lead vocals with layers of backing voices is something that smacks a lot of Alan Parsons. I always liked this song and thought it balanced the more pop nature of 'Blinded' quite well. Flett's guitar playing on 'Babylon' is possibly the finest on the album and Colin Pattenden's bass really grounds the mood well. Next to 'Blinded' this is the strongest track on the album.

The rest of the album kind of wanes after a strong opening quartet of songs. 'This Side of Paradise' has some interesting synth noodling but the guitar and bass are fairly restrained and the whole thing smacks of an attempt at a second single that never materialized. 'Starbird' has a weird a capella opening that explodes into a jamming keyboard/guitar foray that may or may not have been scripted, a solid enough song but not on par with the better parts of the album.

The closing 'Questions' is the slowest number on the album and a no-brainer for inclusion in live shows. I can almost see the ocean of lighters waving in the night even now.

'The Roaring Silence' marked the pinnacle of success for Manfred Mann's Earth Band, and despite a couple of average tracks it has held up quite well over the years. The band would never again reach the heights they achieved with this album in 1976, but considering so many progressive bands of their day never managed to put together even one outstanding album I'd have to say that this was a pretty good legacy to leave. Easily a four (out of five) star effort, and an album that definitely belongs in the collection of any prog or art rock fan.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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