Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Manfred Mann's Earth Band [Polydor, 1972]
Mann has always embraced rock and roll's art-commerce dichotomy with uncommon passion--he used to rave on about jazz to the fanmags in the "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" days. This extraordinary cult record achieves the synthesis. Almost every song is defined by a hook that repeats over and over--the phrase "down on my knees" in "Please Mrs. Henry," the galvanizing guitar riff that runs through the almost-hit "Living Without You." But the doo-wah-diddy is continually threatened by an undercurrent of jazzy disintegration--the Cecil Taylor piano jangles that close "Jump Sturdy" or the discords that dominate the closing instrumental. The deliberately characterless vocal ensembles and square rhythms defy today's pseudo-soul norm, and Mann's songs--especially the brilliant "Part Time Man," about not getting a job after World War III--are indecisive and a little down. In short, the perfect corrective to the willful brightness of boogie optimism. A+