Manfred's Mann's Earth Band - Angel Station (Classic Album UK 1979)

Jumat, 08 Februari 2013

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Angel Station is an album released in 1979 by Manfred Mann's Earth Band. Angel Station features a six-note descending theme in most of the songs on the album, woven into the context of each song in a different way. "Hollywood Town" and "You Are, I Am" share a common tune and basic arrangement. They occupied almost identical positions on either side of the LP. The album has the air of an emotional and musical crossword puzzle, or has affinities with the work of M. C. Escher, whose art is alluded to on the cover illustration.

Of interest is the involvement of Fingerprintz's Jimmy O'Neill whose influence can be heard in the edgy, angular instrumental "Platform's End" (a song whose title was probably influenced by the fact that it originally closed the 1978 vinyl's A side), and ex-Slapp Happy and Henry Cow member Anthony Moore who produced the album and influenced its modern, sparse sound.

"This is Chris Thompson's last album with the Earth Band as he is forming his own band in the near future. I wish to thank him for a valuable creative and personal relationship, and wish him every success in the future." - Manfred Mann 1979 In spite of this announcement, Thompson's own outfit Night turned out as unsuccessful, releasing two mostly overlooked albums in 1978 and 1979 respectively, so the singer stayed with the Earth Band instead, returning on the group's next album Chance (1980) already.

Kanye West sampled the bridge from "You Are, I Am" for the track "So Appalled" from West's 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. [Wikipedia]

Vocalist Chris Thompson's last album with Manfred Mann's Earth Band is dressed up in Mann's beautiful keyboards. Angel Station has some key moments -- "You Angel You," a Bob Dylan tune that sounds nothing like Dylan, and not the way their Top Ten version of "Quinn the Eskimo"/"The Mighty Quinn" was reinvented. "You Angel You" has a strong hook with topnotch Anthony Moore production work, and it melts into the title track of Harriet Schock's landmark Hollywood Town album, the source of Helen Reddy's "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady." The Manfred Mann version is interesting, and explores the possibilities of the composition, though Schock's version is perfect country-pop and hard to top. 

Germany Single 1979
It is nice to see a rock band with such good taste. "Angelz at My Gate," co-written by Manfred Mann, leads off side two and is another dreamy "angel" tune. It sounds mysteriously like "Games Without Frontiers," the Peter Gabriel radio hit from his 1980 third self-titled solo album. Now since this was released the year before, do you think Gabriel found inspiration from the grooves of Angel Station? While artists like Gary Wright and Jordan Rudess overwhelm you with the keyboards, Manfred Mann's are indeed the lead instrument, but he uses them to augment the vocals, not to overpower. The John Shaw-photographed album cover looks innocent enough until you turn it upside down -- there a female dark angel, in open black cape, exposes her breasts. So blatant, but upside down it probably went right by many retailers, and with no hit single, it probably didn't cause too much of a stir. 

It's interesting that, like Gary Wright, the Earth Band recorded for Warner Bros., yet both acts only eked out a couple of hit singles. As with Wright's Headin' Home LP, this 1979 album has more than its share of good material, both keyboard players being intuitive artists with credentials and past chart success. Despite good performances on Heron's "Don't Kill It Carol" and a simply wonderful cover of Billy Falcon's 1978 release, "Waiting for the Rain," this is yet another album that deserved a better fate. The rendition of the Falcon tune may be the best performance of one of that singer's compositions ever. The two Manfred Mann songs on side two are excellent: "You Are - I Am" is good and pleasant while "Resurrection" has lyrics that display clever sarcasm and religious -- or sacrilegious -- overtones. Angel Station is well-crafted music by an industry veteran. [AMG]

Netherlands Single 1979
Coming off the great successes of Nightingales & Bombers and The Roaring Silence, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a bit of a dip with Wired and Watch. Like pretty much every other progressive and prog-related band of the 70’s, they were struggling to formulate a sound for the new decade. In Manfred Mann’s case, more of the same seemed to be a good answer. With Angel Station the Earth Band delivers just that, and in doing so probably should be given credit for staying the musical course while so many of their contemporaries were donning parachute pants and boning up on the subtle nuances of synthetic dance music. This is an album that might sound a bit dated, but it wears its age well.

The band hits the floor running with “Don’t Kill it Carol”, a rocking tune written by Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band. This one is all over the place musically, with some thundering drum work, screaming guitars by the awesome Steve Waller, and Mann’s keyboards simulating everything from piano to violin to pipe organ. Somewhere in the mix someone pulls out a voice-box and that gets thrown in as well, to great effect. I gotta’ wonder if Mann drew on his production experiences from this song when he took on Sting’s “Demolition Man” on Somewhere in Afrika a few years later. Just when you think the song is coming down from the mountain, Mann and Waller just cut loose with an orgasmic frenzy of guitar shredding and keyboard slamming. By the time this one winds down I’m doing a wild-eyed air guitar AND the Flashdance around my living room. Bitchin’!

Back down to earth and we’re treated to that unique Manfred Mann touch on the classics, in this case the great Bob Dylan’s “You Angel You”. This is straightforward rock, as no one, not even Mann, can sing a Dylan song any other way. The only disappointment here is that four minutes of this song is not nearly enough to do it justice.

Norway Single 1979
Next up is Harriet Schock’s “Hollywood Town”, a somber treatise on the broken dreams and spirits of the walking dead in that land of plenty and of despair called Hollywood. Schock is probably best known for a number of her songs that other people have turned into hits, but this one really doesn’t fit with the rest of this album, so perhaps Mann was hoping her magic would turn this one into his hit single for the album.

Mann contributed “Belle of the Earth”, a slower, almost bluesy tune about – well, I’m not sure exactly. On the one hand this seems to be a kind of ‘left behind’ morning after song, while a closer listen makes me wonder if Mann is simply singing about drawing on solitude and introspection for artistic inspiration. Who knows, it’s a sad song either way.

“Platform End” is a short little instrumental that ends the front side of the album. For some reason this one is credited to six different writers, although it’s only about a minute long and nothing spectacular. Weird.

Next up is “Angelz at my Gate”, a song that seems to be seething and bubbling under the surface of an explosion, with Mann’s middle-eastern influenced whining keyboards and some funky uncredited percussion that sets a Turkish bazaar mood. Waller is scratching the metal coating off his guitar strings off to the side, while Mann and Chris Thompson almost mumble the lyrics. I have no idea what this song is about, but I’m guessing there’s blood above the doorway and plagues involved.

Germany Single 1979
Mann also contributed “You Are – I Am”, and this is probably the last purely Earth Band song with the combination of Mann and Thompson we’ll ever hear recorded. This is a brooding and almost creepy tune, and again I have no idea what it means. Maybe you can figure it out - 

“You are the time between solar fire and the silence; You are the last chord in the symphony of the lost. You are the sign between the high road and the low road, You are the pen in the moving hand of time”.

Ideas anyone?

Billy Falcon’s “Waiting for the Rain” is up next, and you have to understand the context of this song to really appreciate its depth. Billy Falcon lost his 29-year old wife to breast cancer in the 1987, and wrote a song called “Heaven’s Highest Hill” that described the experience of having to explain to his three year old daughter why her mother wasn’t coming home. “Waiting for the Rain” is an early love song written to his wife early in their relationship. Anyone choked up yet?

“Resurrection” is a very sarcastic attack on commercialized religion. Jesus comes out of hiding and goes on tour:

“We'll sell them Jesus hats, Jesus socks, Jesus coats, We'll sue the Pope. Jesus shoes, Jesus dirty books too, I wonder what will Billy Graham do”.

This is a Manfred Mann tune, but sounds all the world like something Randy Newman would have done. An odd choice to end the album.

This was supposed be Chris Thompson’s last album with the Earth Band (although in fact he was back only a year later for the Chance LP), and Manfred Mann showed his true class with a hand-written tribute to his long-time friend and band mate on the back cover of the album. Although there are a couple tracks on this album that I didn’t particularly care for (“Angelz at My Gate” and “Resurrection”), and Mann would commit in my mind an egregious act of negligence with his Somewhere in Afrika album just three years after Angel Station, he is after all one of the good guys in the modern music business. This is a good album, and I doubt if anyone who listens to it would find it to be anything less than that. Some might find it to be great – I wouldn’t go quite that far, so I’m going to give it three stars and call it a day. []

* Manfred Mann - keyboards, vocals 
* Geoff Britton - drums, alto saxophone 
* Pat King - bass 
* Steve Waller - guitar, vocals ("Don't Kill it Carol", "Angelz At My Gate") 
* Chris Thompson - vocals ("You Angel You", "Hollywood Town", ""Belle" of the Earth", "Waiting for the Rain")

* Jimmy O'Neill - rhythm guitar 
* Dyan Birch - backing vocals 
* Anthony Moore - guitar, sequencer, synthesizer 

01."Don't Kill It Carol" (Mike Heron) – 6:18 
02."You Angel You" (Bob Dylan) – 4:02 
03."Hollywood Town" (Harriet Schock) – 5:09 
04."Belle" of the Earth" (Manfred Mann) – 2:46 
05."Platform End" (Mann, Geoff Britton, Pat King, Steve Waller, Chris Thompson, Jimmy O'Neill) – 1:32 
06."Angels at My Gate" (Mann, Hirth Martinez, O'Neill) – 4:50 
07."You Are - I Am" (Mann) – 5:11 
08."Waiting for the Rain" (Billy Falcon) – 6:17 
09."Resurrection" (Mann) – 2:42

Bonus Tracks 
10."Don't Kill It Carol" (single version) (Heron) – 3:58 
11."You Angel You" (single version) (Dylan) – 3:46

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