Man : Kingdom of Noise

Album Cover

I started my review of the last album, Diamonds and Coal, with a few remarks about how the Manband are in a constant state of change. In the winter of 2008, the rate of change accelerated even further.

Having gathered in South Wales to record a new album, things didn't go well: Phil fell out with the engineer, the band fell out with each other, and it all collapsed in a heap. When the dust settled, Bob and George were no longer in the band, Martin and Josh regrouped and persuaded Phil to get back on board, and they attempted to make the best of what they initially saw as a bad job by putting the album back together in Germany. This is the result.

A couple of new tracks were needed, and Rene Robrahn added drums for these, while engineer Allen Murdoch added guitar on three songs. So... Bob is very much a presence on the album, but there is no trace of George. Guitarist James Beck is to be part of the touring band, but isn't on the album.

Messy, isn't it? Throughout the band's chaotic history, no album has really had quite as patchwork a background as this one.

The songs are all by the Aces senior and junior, and we kick off with Shadow of the Hand, inspired by a remark by Peter Singh. An easy going piece, it ambles along at a steady pace and features a good piano break from Phil

Steal the World features engineer Allan Murdoch's guitar weaving in and out between Josh's vocals. It takes a similar tempo to its predecessor, and after listening a few times I finally twigged what it reminded me of - the 80's twangy guitar sound of Manchester, paticularly the Smiths. Is Josh a closet Morrissey fan?

Ice Flowers is set against an accoustic guitar and piano background, with more Murdoch lead lines plus some very Beatlish harmonies on the chorus.

So far, it's been very song oriented, with no real effort push any boundaries. Russian Roulette is more imaginative, with some inventive organ from Phil running throughout, and what sounds like a brass section (but I asssume is Phil's synth) behind the chorus, and there's an understated solo from Josh. As the song ends, it strongly takes on the overall feel of 60's experimental pop. It melts into Kingdom of Noise, another Josh song, with a smokey jazz club vibe (do they still have smokey jazz clubs?), with piano, accoustic bass and Bob on brushes. It's just crying out for some media student to make a video of this in a film noir style.

Standing in the Rain sounds pretty formulaic Martin Ace, its 60's roots are clear, but despite a jaunty bass line, it doesn't really offer anything new.

Allan Murdoch's final guitar contribution introduces Josh's melancholy Speak, and it starts promisingly, but can't keep the momentum going; having listened to it a few times, I began to think it might have worked better as an instrumental: the melody is great, but the vocals don't add an awful lot.

Chuffin' like a Muffin is one plucked from Martin's novelty drawer, and like Iceflowers, was recorded entirely in Germany, so features Rene Robrahn rather than Bob on drums. As a song, it's harmless filler at best, but doesn't really have much else going for it.

There's a touch of the Edmundo Ros about Dissolve into Despair, which doesn't fit entirely with Josh's downbeat lyrics, and like elsewhere on the album, the lack of a fulltime upfront lead guitarist means Phil's piano seems to be what is driving the song along.

I expect many Man fans will be dissatisfied with this album. Historically, few Man albums have ever been much like their predecessor, but given all the fuss that led to the split during the recording, this one has a half finished feel to it. There's nothing really wrong with Allen Murdoch's guitar contributions, except that they do sound like they were only added later as an afterthought - which is of course just what happened. What's more puzzling it that Phil's contributions are so restrained. After the first few listens, it does come across like an album by the New Flying Aces, or perhaps a Manband Lite.

Bob Richards' drumming is exemplary, as you'd expect, but none of the material really pushes him. Rene Robrahn's contributions on his two tracks can't be faulted either.

Russian Roulette apart, the songs don't really stand out from each other, and some sort of change of pace and style would have been welcome. It's stating the bleedin' obvious to point out that this is clearly a band in transition; but purely in terms of this album, it's hard not to be disappointed.

One last word: this is a review of the album, not of the band itself. Man have for a long time been primarily a live band, and I think how they fare on stage will tell us a lot more than this album ever will.

Released in April 2009.

Available on Point, PNTVP135CD.

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