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Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Messin' [Aka: Get Your Rocks Off] CD (album) cover


Manfred Mann's Earth Band


Eclectic Prog

3.19 | 136 ratings

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4 stars 11/15P. This album - like most of the other Earth Band albums - is absolutely strange. This record is the most impenetratable take on blues rock that was likely to come out in 1973.

This album is where Manfred Mann's Earth Band first steadied their distinctive sound - the unisono playing of a fierce Stratocaster and the Moog synthesizer, the rapid jams which start abruptly in the middle of a song and the effective deconstruction of cover versions. But when I listen to this album I always wonder what kind of music this band actually wants to do. There are the spacy synthesizers, the (slight) jazz influences and the moody instrumentals, but the whole thing reminds me more of Lynyrd Skynyrd's debut album than of anything else. It's all about tight band interplaying and heavy riffs, but these riffs share similarities both with Robert Johnson's and Gustav Holst's compositions. There are few progressive bands which rely as heavily on riffs, and there is no other progressive rock band which arranges these riffs in such a sophisticated way, eventually making them sound like the title melody to a science fiction movie. This album is really knotty and cold, but nonetheless tremendously exciting.

First of all - I don't own the reissue of this album. The Earth Band reissues by Creature Music Ltd. are by far the worst reissues I've ever seen. Useless bonus tracks, a shabby booklet design without any interesting information and a sometimes shabby sound (especially on the Chapter Three albums). I don't want to know which drunk apprentice was responsible for this stuff. I mean, making typos while copying the original liner notes for an album - that cannot be true!

But all in all, there's just one dull track on the whole record. Get Your Rocks Off is a cover version of one of the many overrated Dylan Basement Tapes songs and is on the same level as the mediocre stuff on the Glorified Magnified album. Ok, they manage to pack a short and sweet multi-tracked guitar bridge into the song at 1:11, and the slide guitar in the chorus is quite alright as well, but they just aren't The Band - and the song itself is pretty forgettable. It's a shame because the MMEB pulled off some nice blues rockers on Glorified Magnified, particularly the stomping I'm Gonna Have You All and Look Around, which itself is based on the American folk song Black Betty.

Cloudy Eyes isn't dull, but simply a few tads too little inspired. It is a laid-back instrumental which steadily walks along a stoic 4/4 beat without lots of variation. Nevertheless I always enjoyed the neat J.S.Bach melodics in this tune with the sharp lead guitar setting the main melody with lots of trills while the Moog synthesizer echoes some guitar motives, allowing the guitar to do some variations. But since I've listened to Procol Harum's Repent Walpurgis I believe that such music works much better when given a certain degree of solemnity. But that's not the major problem, the chord progression differs too much from Repent Walpurgis to make the track a rip-off. But there's not a lot happening in the first four minutes, it's just the same (good) melody over and over again. Thankfully, the piece fades out before it gets tedious. The last 90 seconds are dedicated to Mann's Moog, and here he emulates the sound of a hurdy-gurdy, a stringed folk instrument which gives a droning sound due to a revolving wheel. In a way it's a violin with an endless circular bow, or the stringed pendant to the bagpipes. It sounds absolutely odd and I've got no idea what purpose this fragment has. But I don't mind; no matter what it is or what it shall be - it is really successful in its menacing drone and sends shivers down my spine.

Sadjoy is more or less an extended guitar solo constructed around a 40bpm, i.e. really slow, rhythm with many people singing a sophisticated melody over and over again. Supposedly Manfred Mann intended to write some kind of musical in 1973, and this and Cloudy Eyes are recycled versions of compositions intended for this purpose. A track like this, for sure, will only be successful when the guitar playing is good, and indeed Mick Rogers rarely had such a good opportunity to show off his considerable skills. The sharp attack of the Stratocaster bridge pick-up and Mick Rogers' emotional bendings fit very well to each other, preventing the whole affair from being boring over the whole 5 minutes.

Mardi Gras Day is one of the swampy Cajun-like tracks by Dr. John Creaux, and although this is pretty much a simple sing-along tune, this mixture of shrieking lead guitars, the laid-back offbeat rhythm and the tribal backing vocals by presumably everyone who was present in the studio is amazing. Mick Rogers really nails this one with his reggae vocals and the clean funky rhythm guitar. Manfred Mann's Earth Band, as early versions of Ashes to the Wind show, did a lot of this world-music inspired rock fusion in those years and continued to do so on the Somewhere in Africa album.

This brings us to the three huge songs on this album.

In Black and Blue the band do what they were always best in: enriching existing songs by other bands which sounded pretty dull in their original form. This time it's a first-person blues song by an Australian band which has slavery and deprivation as its topic. Starting off as a Mick Rogers vocal solo the song develops into a mournful sea of tightly weaved Moog melodies on top of a leaden rhythm. The guitar stays pretty quiet, but howls from afar from time to time. Apart from the wailing multi-tracked guitar riff (which, in fact, take in the role of a chorus) this is an amazingly haunting piece of psychedelic blues rock and a definite highlight in the band's career. I'm not completely sure, but it might be my favorite track off this record, simply due to the psychedelic mid-part which is pretty unique in the band's repertoire.

Messin' is, in fact, a self-cover - something which the Earth Band frequently did with their 1960s and Chapter Three songs. It was written by keyboarder Mike Hugg and recorded for the shelved third Chapter Three record. Originally a fast soul/rock track with free jazz elements, actually a more concise Happy Being Me with a flute and Hammond organ solo, the band augmented it with industrial machine sounds and sounds of crying monkeys (both effects are utterly frightening, I have to admit) and made a leaden blues rocker out of it. The female backing vocals and the lyrics are the only things which didn't change, even Mike Hugg's melody has been simplified at certain places. But the band deteriorated the original version by no means; they rather gave it a better structure in the extended instrumental part by rearranging the brass melody of the early Chapter Three track Konekuf that it may fit on the heavy rhythm of the vocal parts. Interestingly, they play parts of the melody in a nearly polyphonic way (i.e., shifted by some bars) with amazing musical communication between Manfred Mann and Mick Rogers. Afterwards Manfred Mann shows his talent of writing riffs which sound bluesy although their melodies, soaked with strange intervals and avantgarde, are as stiff as contemporary classical music. At first Mick Rogers has an extended solo, then Manfred Mann runs into some ragtime-inspired Moog synthesizer pitch bends. After a reprise of the chorus the track ends in the monkey and machine noises again. A tour de force with a style of improvisation absolutely typical of this band. Check out the Chapter Three version (Messin' Up The Land from the Odds and Sods collection) as well - it's available for commercial download and absolutely worth the mony.

Buddah begins deceptively as a ballad - a really good ballad I daresay, owing to Mick Rogers' controlled and vibrato-laden voice and the catchy clean Stratocaster picking, alternated by some heavy riffing in the chorus. The (not that rarely thought about) topic is the reappearance of ancient prophets (Jesus, Buddah and Moses) in our time. The Strawbs' The Man Who Called Himself Jesus is, from the lyrical point of view, more interesting than this example, but it doesn't matter in this case because everything else sounds marvellous. At 3:38 the jam part of the song begins. Listen closely to the shift in timing in the first bars of this part and you'll find again how meticously the band composed and planned the frame of the improvisation. They played these bars exactly the same way live, as recordings for the BBC and the Swedish TV prove! To the accurate thumping of the bass guitar and an accelerated drum rhythm Manfred Mann glides into an atmospheric Moog solo, sometimes accompanied by some backwards piano notes, a bit like Deep Purple's No One Came, but more futuristic and avantgardistic. The last 90 seconds contain in total six different parts: a riff-laden hard rock part, followed by some rising major chords, moving into majestic Moog fanfares (I suppose many AOR bands listened to this part!), a reprise of the riff-laden part, a short drum solo and an ending in which Mick Rogers majestically superimposes lead guitar lines in a major mode - which is not the kind of scale you would expect in a blues jam, but which Mick Rogers would later be known for.

All in all, ideas like these - making jams more exciting by improvising on complex scales, deconstructing existing melodies in a classical way, taking influence from world music, jazz, space rock and blues rock - make this album a really interesting piece of music. Solar Fire is more consistent and also has more peaks, but the stiff blues rock of Messin' - although it's, perhaps unintentionally, an exhausting and absolutely uncommercial record - isn't far away from the quality of Solar Fire. Get the album if you like blues rock and Moog synthesizers, but be prepared that the album is tougher than you might expect it to be.

(By the way - how comes that the song lengths are all exactly n:30 or n:00 minutes long? I did say that the album is peculiar, didn't I?)

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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