Man : Endangered Species

Album Cover

The first studio album in five or so years, and the first as a five piece since 1977 when Phil Ryan was last with the band. It's been keenly anticipated by everyone who's followed the band closely in that time, but for those who haven't, as they say on TV, Previously, in the Man band... they recorded Call Down The Moon... drummer Pugwash left... Terry Williams rejoined and left... drummer Bob Richards was recruited... Deke had a stroke... Phil rejoined and stayed... and ever since they've been champing at the bit to get some new material recorded in a studio. Well, it's actually been recorded in the studio, Rockfield, with old mucker Dave Charles producing.

The opener Conflict Of Interest is the one song here which has been performed live for a while, though it has been transformed a little here: this is the song previously known as Do It, and the lead riff is taken not by Micky's guitar, but Phil's synth, with a setting last heard in the mid seventies on a Chicory Tip single. Hmm. Otherwise it's as we've come to expect from live performance, choppy guitar backing from Deke, and a Micky solo in the middle. A lot of decision making must have been involved in the arrangement, since this is unusual in that it has been performed live for a few years now, both as a four piece and a five piece.

A late change in the album running order sees the order of Martin's two vocal appearences swapped. Stuck Behind The Popemobile isn't one of his best songs, and it reminds me of something by Jack Bruce (which I haven't been able to properly identify, damn it); a slow verse leads on to up beat chorus, and there is an odd guitar solo which sounds like Micky is just giving his fingers some exercise. Both Martin's songs on this release suggest a car fixation, but for me this one doesn't really get into top gear, though to be fair, it sounds better live.

Before the album was made, the word was that they wanted to make an effort to produce something a bit different, and the first evidence of this comes with Saints And Sinners. A calypso style intro, it fairly bounces along, with Micky Jones' vocals as usual seeming utterly effortless, this song sounds like it was made with a tropical beach in mind - not something you would usually identify with Man music. It's perfectly executed, and imaginatively arranged and produced, with ample percussion added by Mr. Charles himself.

Face To Face is the album's longest track, with a very serious sounding Deke Leonard vocal. The lyrics are all about comradeship and spirit, but the melody and general atmosphere makes it sound rather dirge-like. Jones plays one of his trademark solos in the middle, the sort that starts slowly and builds up, and is then joined by Phil's keyboards. Instrumentally, this is probably the high point of the album, and with luck, will be developed to greater length when it's been seasoned on the road.

Another atypical piece next, Hangin' On has an intro that leans towards MOR twee, then the song proper gets going over a rhythm which is a close cousin of Kerosene from the Rhinos album. The Ace bass drives it along purposefully, and there's another understated guitar solo. Musically, this track would not have sounded out of place on Welsh Connection.

Another Micky Jones vocal, Tie Up The Wind is an unashamed ballad, and it's clear that somebody has been listening to Pet Sounds. It's all very lush and laid back, and a tribute to all concerned that it sounds like a decent song in itself rather than just a pastiche.

Victim Of Love is one of my personal favourites from the album. The intro tends towards heavy metal, with a powerful riff backed up by a Hammondesque organ, but overall the song has some imaginative twists and turns which makes it the freshest sounding of all the new songs. I haven't mentioned the drumming so far, and generally Bob Richards seems to be being kept on a fairly tight rein on this album, but on this track he demonstrates all the power and deftness of touch he has invariably shown playing live.

Deke's best contribution is saved until last, with more of his terse incisive lyrics, sung with immense verve and confidence. This is one of those Manband songs that suggest a vague country influence (though the coda nods towards the Beach Boys again), yet it's firmly placed in a more contemporary instrumental context.

It had been suggested that the band were determined to create an album that struck out in new directions and produced the unexpected, and I think it's fair to say they have done just that. I reckon it is the most experimental Man album since Man in 1970, though the musicians involved are experimenting in different ways. The other album it's impossible not to compare it with (try as I might) is Welsh Connection, the one other release that seemed to be pulling in so many directions at once. In doing so, I'm slightly uneasy that they have left behind some of the qualities that made them what they are - none of the songs here have the epic grandeur of Call Down The Moon or Drivin' Around from the previous release, and Micky Jones' soloing seems to be uncharacteristically restrained, (live of course, continues to be a different matter), while Deke Leonard's purposeful guitar is too frequently absent. Overall, it's as if they've created a Man album for non-Man fans - not that there's anything wrong with that, of course - but those who go to Man gigs merely for Bananas will be truly flummoxed.

The playing overall cannot be faulted (though as already noted, Bob's drums are kept under strict control), and the production is just fine. The cover package sees a welcome return for Deke's sleevenotes, ("il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux") though I had never had the guys down as the ardent Greenpeace activists they seem to have become. There had been talk of a new logo, but the old Rick Griffin artwork is still there, though to my eyes it sits a little incongruously with the excellent main pic. (I suspect that this was a late decision - the preview pic on Amazon did not include the Griffin logo).

While this is by no stretch of the imagination a bad album, I find it hard not to be slightly disappointed. I'm left with a feeling that an awful lot of effort was put into making Endangered Species, and there was a determination not to make 'just another' Man album. So it could well be that all parties were just trying too hard, and finished by delivering a good, but not great, end result.

Released in June 2000.

Available on Evangaline Recorded Works, GEL 4001.

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