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Their strongest collection of songs?,
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This review is from: Rhinos, Winos and Lunatics (Audio CD)
This fine album saw Man largely abandon (at least in the studio) their West Coast/prog rock/space rock tendencies in favour of a bunch of (for them) short and snappy songs. It's also one of their most "produced" records, with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker doing an excellent job.
The stronger songwriting largely stemmed from the considerable personnel upheaval that preceded the album - lead guitarist Micky Jones and drummer Terry Williams parted company with the rest of the previous line-up and recruited Man's first non-Welsh members, bassist Ken Whaley and keyboard player Malcolm Morley, both late of fellow United Artists act Help Yourself and, most importantly, reunited with founder member Deke Leonard on guitar and vocals.
The album kicks off with Taking The Easy Way Out Again, a typical Deke Leonard rocker and one of his better ones; The Thunder & Lightning Kid is by Morley and Leonard and is another good tune. California Silks And Satins is a bit of a departure for Man - a lushly produced acoustic number with gorgeous harmony vocals, redolent of the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Four Day Louise brings Micky Jones's clear, high tenor to the fore over an epic riff.
The second half of the album contains two longer songs bracketed by Intro and Exit. Personally I think these guitar fanfares spoil the album slightly as they aren't musically strong enough to compliment the two excellent songs between them. Kerosene is is a steamy meander through erotic undergrowth, and fairly untypical of the band, and then Scotch Corner details the band's chance meeting with a suicidal man at a motorway service station. It's a quality tune and features a spectacular guitar duet between Jones and Leonard. Shame they couldn't have replaced Intro and Exit with another song up to the overall standards of the album but for a band whose forte was always on stage (check out the number of live albums they've made) this is probably their most successful studio album, certainly in terms of production and song quality. For the uninitiated this is a really good place to start, though it gives little indication of what they sounded like live (they rarely played any of these songs on stage) or on their earlier and more exploratory studio albums. It's just a really good mid-70s mainstream rock album.
My review of the BGO issue seems to have found its way to the Esoteric version, so I can't review the latter separately. The extra material consists of a rather pointless single edit of Taking The Easy Way Out Again tacked onto the end of the main album, and a bonus disc featuring a live recording from the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles, recorded on 8th or 12th March 1974 depending on whether you believe Deke Leonard's notes or the album credits.
This is, in theory, interesting, as a) it's only the second live recording of the short-lived Malcolm Morley line-up to emerge; b) it features guest sax from the highly regarded Jim Horn, who got up to jam with the band, and c) they play a Help Yourself song - in fact, according to Deke's notes, they played another, which is left out here. But in practice it turns out to be rather disappointing - the nearly 70 minutes-long CD contains only 5 songs, which is hardly unusual for Man, but in this case features some of the least inspired jamming I've heard from them.
The opening American Mother, originally by Help Yourself, meanders along for nearly 6 minutes before any vocals appear and is rather shapeless; they then play two songs from Deke Leonard's first solo album Iceberg, 7171-551 and A Hard Way To Live; both of these were regular features in their set and are the most concise here, but far from inspired. Romain is OK but is preceded by nearly 9 minutes of dull jamming, and finally a near 20 minutes version of Bananas is by far the best thing here and they actually work up a head of steam at last. Unfortunately the mix is terrible - the vocals (not at their best anyway) and drums are too loud, the guitars and keyboards often lack definition and Jim Horn is mostly inaudible. Unlike some of their other archive live material released in recent years, this was mixed a few months after the gig; it's a very rough mix and even compares badly to the much-maligned remix of Greasy Truckers.
So unless you must have every live Man recording you can lay your hands on, I'd stick with the BGO version. The 1999 Party Tour album, recorded in Chicago a couple of weeks later, is considerably better both in sound and performance, but this line-up unusually shone brighter in the studio than live.