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Man On Fire - Habitat CD (album) cover


Man On Fire

Eclectic Prog

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4 stars I've had Man on Fire's new release "Habitat" for only a couple of days and I am still letting it all sink in. Habitat, like all great works, takes repeat listens to fully blossom on you. There are plenty of initial hooks to bring you in ("The Block", "Mr. Lie", "What the Canvas Hides", "Curtain Call", etc.) but many of the tunes don't truly reveal themselves until you have heard them several times. If you are looking for comparisons or direct musical references, look elsewhere. MoF is an original band. There is nothing derivative here. Even Adrian Belew's playing morphed into the MoF sound. Yeah, you hear his tone and playing and everything (which is the perfect compliment to MoF's keyboard/fretless bass driven songs) but it is somehow totally fresh in this context. The Discipline style riff in "the Beast Inside" is the closest thing to awareness of a particular sound, but even that is original in the MoF context! And David Ragsdale is superb, as always. He gets edgy ("Mr. Lie"), prodigious ("Habitat"), and lovely ("What the Canvas Hides", "Lover Never Lost"). Most importantly, he is consistently musical and blends into the MoF mix.

"Habitat" is impressive on multiple fronts. To be expected, the production values are incredible. Musically, "Habitat" is top notch. I am always drawn to melody more than words or concepts, but "Habitat" pulls you into the concrete jungle, revealing all of these people and their situations. There are segues and habitat street scenes that tie it all together. It's like "The Block" owns them. You find yourself actually visualizing them, feeling their situations, hating them ("Mr. Lie"), feeling their pain, whether admirable ("Majestic") or pathetic ("Beast Inside", "Curtain Call"), relating to their escape ("What the Canvas Hides"), and rising above it with the truth ("Love Never Lost", "Broken"). I particularly like the way the closer "Habitat" wraps it all up; start anew, have faith, create your destiny. Not only the perfect coda to a unique concept, but a very cool song, to boot.

Integral to the MoF sound is the vocals of Jeff Hodges. He shows emotion, range and phrasing that are truly original. The vocals perfectly compliment Steve Carroll's lyrics and imagery of "Habitat". I also love the keyboard work on this CD. MoF always has the right sounds and textures without ever being overbearing. The playing is totally fitting to the tunes and the aural spectrums provide a foundation to tell the stories. Standout keyboard solos include the very cool solo at the end of "Curtain Call" and the very melodic solo on "Habitat", which trades with some incredible violin playing.

At the bottom of the sound spectrum of MoF is the trademark fretless bass work. Eric Sands continues to demonstrate some of the best fretless playing on the scene. His playing is always in the pocket. He and the drummer, Rob Sindon have a strong rapport that provides a solid foundation for the MoF soundscape. As special guests, David Ragsdale and Adrian Belew are excellent compliments for MoF. The coolest thing is how cohesive it is. It all fits together perfectly. MoF has a unique chemistry. There is no disparity in parts, just a tight production where the sum exceeds the individual parts. Highly recommended!

Report this review (#34938)
Posted Friday, May 13, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I feel compelled to add onto Mr Eacho's review.

Habitat is clearly a modern day classic in the making. It reminds me of when I first bought Caress of Steel (Rush), Magnum Opus (Kansas), Dont Look Back (Boston) or even Alive! (PJam). EVERY song has hidden layers of musical interplay that are subtle and seamless but reach out and grab you by the hoohoo after a dozen spins or more.

Call me a junkie but I have listened to this disc no less than 30 times by now (I have a long commute) and while I prefer tracks 8-12 there is not a bad song on it.

This disc is a CLASSIC and I will not be surprised when we see MoF playing "Broken" and "Love Never Lost" on Saturday Night Live.. it has that kind of commerical appeal while at the same time being a classic rock album for those of us purists.

Long Live Rock.

Report this review (#34939)
Posted Monday, May 23, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars I am an old man on fire. My first transistor radio was in 1957 and the rock and roll station was daylight only. I am old school and have no multiple CD changer in my vehicle so I listen to the same CD for days at a time. Habitat is still in the player... can you wear those things out? What a pleasant, yet stimulating CD. MOF is a tight group with each member able to express themselves musically without losing the rythm, the essence, the groove. I love music that the beat is so constant that at anytime you can just groove with the tune. And Habitat does that. I listen to most all kinds of music, from Cee-lo to Zappa, Clint Black to Matty-J. Thanks to MOF for sticking it out over the years and attracting the likes of Adrian Belew and David Ragsdale. I can see right now I will have to burn a copy and put the original back in the case. Yes, I have my old vinyl LP's in their original covers and wish that needle had not stayed in the grove so long. Now I know how to save the music worth saving and Habitat is a keeper. Go sit on the beach one starry night with the headphones and Habitat will surely be a keeper for you too. Thanks for the music and keeping me young. Uncle Bogart

ps: Excellent.... mos def Masterpiece..... maybe after I listen to it a couple more times on the beach 4.5 stars

Report this review (#34940)
Posted Monday, May 23, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Absolutely a keeper. The music is beautifully layered and the story/concept hepls draws the listener into "The Block". Much of the album gives a Rush or Kansas feel which, in my humble opinion, can never be listed as a bad thing.

I have probably listened through the CD 20+ times and seem to enjoy in more each time. It can be enjoyed with the headphones on and the volume up, or is the background while doing other things.

While the lyrics are excellent and paint a truly visual picture of each of the characters, the music is what makes this album as each song truly defines a mood which can't be missed by the listener.

I have to agree with Charlie P aka "The Banzainator", tracks 8-12 are truly the best on the CD. If I had to further narrow it down I would have to say 10-12 are my true favorites.

All told, an excellent CD and a great addition to the collection. I hope to see MoF start to receive more widespread play and notoriety which would be weel earned based on this work.

Report this review (#34941)
Posted Tuesday, May 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Man on Fire" has the ingredients of a masterpiece of progressive music and is and excellent addition to my progressive music collection on my iPod! I have been working out to it and listening to it has increased my production in cranking out evening e-mails!

I love "Mr. Lie"! It sums up last three business appointments! AWESOME arrangement here, the keyboards ROCK! "He the Devil, ya know." This is the song to kick off my lonnnnnnnnng business day!

A "Kansas, Rush, Yes" feel, bring me back to my roots in Rock, I can so relate, now being in my middle 40's, the emotion, content and the lyrics fit into my last 35 years of being a seasoned Rocker!

My favorite tracks.

- "Mr. Lie", listen to it daily!! AWESOME!! Ragsdale, cooks with GAS!

- "Habitat", Love the beginning! Wants me want to pack it up and head to the beach house for the weekend! This is the HIT!! Hodges, Sands, Sindon, and of course Adrian Belew and David Ragsdale, you gotta be kidding me!! WOW!!

- "Shelter", GREAT right out of the gates! "Looks like you done it again." & "Who's your saavvviorrr.." GREAT lyrics here!! Crankin!

- "Broken", AWESOME friggin keyboards, "I'm am broken"."then I am healing"! Love the ending! Right on!!

This work is GREAT, bringing a Classic Rock feel into our New Progressive Era!!

Rock on!! ":o)

Tom Rocca (T-Rock)

Report this review (#40662)
Posted Wednesday, July 27, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars Somehow I anticipated great things with this album.....and I have to say......WHAT A HUGE DISSAPOINTMENT. I have so many issues with this album......starting with the whole CONCEPT. It's been done, and much better I might add. ACT's album "Last Epic" was about a building and all its inhabitants.....Man On Fire expanded the concept to a block. What they missed was strong material. The songs are uniformly weak and meandering. There is little sense of cohesiveness or melody. "The Block" is the lone shining moment, with singer Jeff Hodges sounding like Michael Jackson. The rest of the album he sounds like a very poor approximation of Geddy Lee. Though there are some interesting keyboard moments throughout the album, what is lacking is melody, direction, and the solid backing of a conventional guitar player. Adrian Belew's playing more often than not sounds like a dying animal. He has ALWAYS been only a cult guitar hero because MOST folks grow tired of his style of playing after about 2 minutes. Though the album is very well produced in terms of overall sound quality, it is cluttered and noisy. The only positive for me is the cd booklet art.....very well done....aside from that............ouch!
Report this review (#51561)
Posted Thursday, October 13, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I've got to admit, I considered the idea of Man on Fire surpassing their previous release, "The Undefined Design", to be an almost impossible goal. When I ordered "Habitat" I expected it to be good, but never expected to be blown away like I have been. Unlike the reviews posted here, I was hooked instantly!! One listen was all it took for me to see that MOF has matured into a top tier band to be reckoned with!

This is the CD Spock's Beard WISHES they had released instead of "Octane"! All of the classic elements of classic progressive rock are here: sweeping melodic hooks, complex and unexpected twists and turns, dramatic tension and release, virtusoso musical performances and crystal clear state of the art studio production. Add to that the incredible fretwork of Adrian Belew and the jaw-dropping violin work of David Ragsdale and you have my vote for the best release of 2005. And having seen these guys onstage at ROSFest this year, I don't think there's a more formidable band on today's current prog scene!

Highest recommendations on all fronts!!

Report this review (#52358)
Posted Wednesday, October 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars With Habitat, Man On Fire have produced a very melodic and easy to listen to album that should at least garner some interest from the fans of many different sub-genres of prog. This is actually the first album that Man On Fire has produced with a full band, spearheaded by Jeff Hodges (keyboards, vocals) and Eric Sands (fretted and fretless basses, 7 string guitar) and features Adrian Belew, of King Crimson fame, on guitars and David Ragsdale of Kansas on violin along with Rob Sindon on drums. Habitat is a concept album, of sorts, that, rather than have an underlying story behind it, follows 11 different characters (1 per song) that all live in the same city, their habitat.

The term "prog light" is probably a very good way to describe this band as the music they play gets very close to being pop on this album. Most of the songs here are fairly short (being generally in the 5-6 minute region) and short on complexity, but not lacking in providing interesting music. You wont, for instance, find many complex time signatures, or many changes mid-song of time signature either, but what you will find is a very well thought out, concise and coherent album that makes for very easy, and pleasant, listening.

As previously mentioned, this is a concept album that tells the stories of several people that inhabit a city. The lyrics convey the lives, thoughts and feelings of numerous characters thoughtfully without ever being, what you might call, deep, but being more observant of the people here. This is probably a good thing as it keeps it in tune with the style of the music, not overly complex, but not too simple either. The music is, as you would imagine with some of the members involved, extremely well executed to support the story of the album, were everything works together very well. There are few solos here with the music preferring to keep to a strong, sometimes shifting melody, allowing to keep the songs short and coherent.

However, this album does nothing that can be remotely called spectacular. In the same way that I find it hard to believe that there is going to be many people that find this album bad, I find it hard to believe that many people would consider this an excellent album. The mood of the album stays pretty much consistent throughout and the musicianship, though consistent, doesn't really grab your attention. I suppose that its fitting, then, that the singer is best described as competent. He can certainly sing but, as with everything else on this album, he doesn't really inspire any fervour.

Habitat is a competent album, something that just about anyone can enjoy when listening to it, but, like pop music, it can quite easily slip into the background unnoticed. An album that hasn't really got anything going for it but neither does it have any major problems. A distinctly average album that is probably worth listening too, but will probably be easily forgotten.

Report this review (#115564)
Posted Monday, March 19, 2007 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
3 stars An easy to approach, easy to enjoy bit of clever songs and performances that mixes numerous styles and tones to create a crisp total package. "Habitat" has a little something for everyone, the tunes being poppy enough for the masses but layered and smart enough for the connoisseur to enjoy-- no small feat. Hodges vocals are bright and infectious while his many samples and key effects bring a classy palette for Belew's distinct guitar and Ragsdale violin (a great choice of instrument for these songs); sing alongs and soundscapes abound (mostly sing alongs though).

While undeniably enjoyable, "Habitat" breaks little new ground conceptually and makes few significant impressions by the time it's done. The concept is solid enough, but could have been told without the cheesy voice/sound effect drama between songs. The album may not knock you off your feet, but as the weeks go by and you spin it again on a whim you'll be glad you did.

Recommended for fans of melodies or those seeking a fresh voice.

Songwriting: 4 Instrumental Performances: 3 Lyrics/Vocals: 3 Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Report this review (#140380)
Posted Monday, September 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This third release by US-band Man on Fire is a really good one; as long as you are able to appreciate their chosen sound.

Although venturing out to progressive rock in many ways, with multi-layered complex soundscapes as a key dominant feature, the band also have many elements of pop sensibility. Relatively straight forward song structures, a prominent fretless bass sound with just as much pop as jazz tinge to it, extensive use of synths, loops and samples, melodic choruses with a high singalong feel, and a very slick production giving it all a teflon sound you might expect in a chart topping Billboard act. There's great work done here by the band itself as well as guest musicians Belew and Ragsdale though, and many strong tunes in this bands slightly unique art rock approach.

People into melodic and atmospheric music might want to check this one out, and people listening to electronica, pop and rock should be the ones getting the most out of this release.

Report this review (#173658)
Posted Thursday, June 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars This is American band MAN ON FIRE's third studio album. They've scored a couple of special guests in Adrian Belew (KING CRIMSON) and David Ragsdale (KANSAS). Maybe it's just me but I think this record would sound better without Ragsdale's contributions because the violin parts are so boring, nothing like his seventies KANSAS days that's for sure. This is a concept album that runs almost 69 minutes. Lots of samples on this album mostly to start or end a track.

"The Block" is a song I was already familiar with from a sampler cd I think. It really gives you a clear picture of the band's sound if you've heard it before although this song is clearly a top two track on here. Lots of energy and very expressive. The samples are kind of cool as the first track ends with street noise, sirens and a dog barking. I'm not going to go through each track but one other song that I like as much as the first one if not more is "Broken". A door opens to start then the music comes in. Synths are spacey and there's a beat. Violin before the vocals arrive. Just a great sounding track.

Unfortunately for my tastes there are too few of these moments let alone songs, so 3 stars feels right to me.

Report this review (#277812)
Posted Tuesday, April 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars What's with the 2 and 3 star reviews for this release? Did we listen to the same CD? 6 years after its release and I still consider "Habitat" to be one the real high points of the last decade of prog.

While there are definitely hooks galore, it never ceases to be anything less than grade A quality from start to finish and is not pop music. Why do hooks have to mean pop? Outstanding songwriting, incredible production, exemplary musicianship, strong lyrics, and perhaps most of all, something sorely lacking in a ton of modern prog - real conviction!

Add to that amazing contributions from King Crimson alum Adrian Belew, not on a handful of tunes, but as THE primary guitarist for the entire album, and the beautiful violin work of David Ragsdale from Kansas, and you have an unbeatable sound that refused to be pigeon-holed into anyone's narrow view of modern progressive rock. The fretless bass work alone is worth the cost of the CD! Jaco Pastorious fans take note!

Highest recommendations on all fronts from this fan!

Report this review (#503904)
Posted Tuesday, August 16, 2011 | Review Permalink

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