Do a casual search of the Internet for reviews of Manfred Mann's Earth Band's eponymous 1972 debut album and you'll get the full gamut of conclusions from: superlative, lost treasure, criminally underrated, one of the best of the 70's (Robert Christgau, All Music Guide, and the above product description/editorial by Amazon) to: terrible, dull, boring, plodding junk, is this the best they could do (Mike Saunders of Rolling Stone). The truth, I'm happy to report after repeated listenings, is that the positive professional reviews are far closer to the mark than the negative review(s).
This is a progressive rock record of the first order, ranking right up there with Dark Side of the Moon. Take a listen to Mann's "Tribute" and you may wonder where Pink Floyd derived some of their inspiration for Wish You Were Here. Keep listening to "Tribute", an original instrumental by Manfred Mann, and you'll also hear strains of the haunting blues-inflected instrumentals that gave Fleetwood Mac their distinctive early 70's sound. Why this record received hardly any radio air-play even in the waning days of so-called free form radio, was because it was overshadowed in early 1972 by more "heavy" and hit-laden records released by Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer which at the time sounded flashy, but, now sound overblown, at times pretentious and just plain dated. And this is coming from a fan of all three of those bands. Mann's reworking of Bob Dylan's "Please Mrs. Henry" sounds like Abbey Road era Beatles and it is the definitive cover of that Dylan song. Manfred Mann took the best elements of jazz improvisation, a knack for inventively re-interpreting others' songs (Randy Newman, Dr. John, and Bob Dylan), and blended these ideas into a unique if somewhat quirky rock mix. "Prayer" nicely showcases Mann's keyboard virtuoso, Mick Rogers' razor sharp yet fluid guitar fills and solos, and Chris Slade's creative yet rock solid drum back beat. And confounding expectations right to the end, "I'm Up and I'm Leaving" is a pleasant sounding little tune about moving away from the country and going to the big city. Released at a time when the hip thing was to sing about moving to the country (Elton John's Honky Cat), this was a clearly satirical send-up of the hippie back to nature ethos like The Who's "Going Mobile". Air conditioned gypsies for sure, Manfred Mann never took themselves too seriously, but they did take their music seriously and if you want to hear quite possibly the best of British early 70's progressive rock, and just a brilliantly conceived and executed rock album, this the Manfred Mann's Earth Band album to start with. MMEB never repeated themselves so uniquely or briliantly on any of their fine subsequent records, and this Cohesion digital remaster captures the sound of the recordings clearly and brilliantly. Enjoy it and rock on!