Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Manfred Mann's Earth Band [extended]

  • Chapter 3 [Polydor, 1970] C+
  • Manfred Mann's Earth Band [Polydor, 1972] A+
  • Glorified Magnified [Polydor, 1972] B+
  • Get Your Rocks Off [Polydor, 1973] A-
  • Solar Fire [Polydor, 1974] C+
  • The Good Earth [Polydor, 1974] B-
  • Nightingales and Bombers [Warner Bros., 1975] B+
  • The Roaring Silence [Warner Bros., 1976] C

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Manfred Mann: Chapter 3 [Polydor, 1970]
This horn-dominated no-guitar band succumbs to the chief pitfall of the approach, achieving fullness by sacrificing spontaneity--or rather, the appearance of spontaneity. And Mike Hugg never seems to go above a whisper. Which may be why the songs he sings come back to haunt me sometimes. C+

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+

Glorified Magnified [Polydor, 1972]
Somebody here has been contemplating Mahavishnu--not just Manfred himself, but guitarist Mick Rogers, who generates transcendental density with more rockish ideas than any would-be jazzman would deem mete. More cerebral, more electronic, and more improvisational than the first Earth Band album--but without its pop or literary gratifications. B+

Get Your Rocks Off [Polydor, 1973]
In which my favorite cult band returns to the mordant good sense of its debut album and gives guitarist Mick Rogers room to make some unsynthesized noise. John Prine's "Pretty Good" is pretty great, and "Buddah" is the devotional song of the year, which is why it's spelled like the record label rather than the wise personage. A-

Solar Fire [Polydor, 1974]
As this group moves closer to the jazzy style it no doubt covets, it begins to show the corners of its rhythmic box. As well as minimal self-knowledge--Mann's strength has always been song interpretation, after all. You think that's why this album has no writer's credits, not even for a familiar-sounding extravaganza called (here) "Father of Day, Father of Night"? I bet they wrote this silly stuff themselves. Ah, self-expression. C+

The Good Earth [Polydor, 1974]
Manfred has learned just enough about the synthesizer to be dangerous, as his previous album proved, but at least this one, intended to be "more accessible," improves with listening. Two songs are homely enough to justify the name of this progressive-identified intragalactic conspiracy: "I'll Be There" and "Be Not Too Hard." B-

Nightingales and Bombers [Warner Bros., 1975]
Space doodlers at their worst, these guys bristle with intellectual energy at their best, setting the self-conscious funkiness of songwriters like Dr. John and Randy Newman in a formalistic, futuristic rock context. This time Bruce Springsteen and Joan Armatrading get the treatment, and the result is a surprisingly songful album, their most gratifying in two or three years. Just in time for Mick Rogers to take his guitar and go home. Guess he prefers doodling. B+

The Roaring Silence [Warner Bros., 1976]
Side two is so slavish in its heavy-metal pretensions that it sounds like a parody that doesn't come off. Which is why I'm inclined to give up on this band and describe side one as two worthy songs stretched out of shape on a synthesizer. If this is what the audience Mann has found on tour wants, he should retreat to the studio. C