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manning - cure

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Guy Manning

Tracklist: {Syndrome} Domicile (10:18) {Therapy} Real Life (3:59), A Strange Place (6:48), Whispers On The Wire (7:33), Songs of Faith (11:44), Falling (6:38) {Prognosis} The Cure (17:34)
After his good debut solo album, Tall Stories For Small Children , I was quite curious what Guy Manning had in store for us next. I wasn't disapointed, the album is as diverse and prog-oriented as one can get, while not losing the typical own identity that the first album introduced.

Guy Manning 's first album Tall Stories For Small Children is one of the few albums that I reviewed that do occasionally show back up in my CD player. This is mostly due to the very own style and feel that this album has, a distinct identity. This is very, very important in this time that seems to be dominated by wannabe Dream Theaters. I was quite worried that Guy would not be able to deliver another album of that strength. Fortunately, I was wrong. With his new album, The Cure, he takes us through all the ranges of feelings and emotions, all ranges of melodies and rhythms, and virtually the whole of prog history.

As some of the regular readers know, I hardly ever discuss lyrics. It's a slippery area I preferably avoid. As this is a concept album though, I could not ignore them. Therefore I asked Guy himself to explain the album's lyrics to me. For those of you who really enjoy getting into a concept album, and figure it out themselves (and I know there are a lot of you out there!): don't follow the link, just purchase the album and you'll be guaranteed to have hours of fun! Ok, so here's Guy's explanation of the album's concept.

Apart from Guy, the most notable name is that of PO90's Andy Tillison Disk-drive. The musical history of Manning and him is quite heavily intertwined, and influence each other. In fact the opening track Domicile was prototyped for the last ever Gold, Frankincense & Disk-drive (GFDD) album, which was never released, and Tillison wrote the words for it. It has all the ingredients of an opening track, featuring as a musical overture and a lyrical introduction to the theme. Starting with a soft humming and acoustic guitar, it suddenly bursts out in a pounding track, with different flute/recorder like keyboard melodies and a bass organ tune that immediately reminded me of Genesis' Watchers of the Sky intro. Some complex bits 'n pieces follow before entering a more mainstream prog rock vocal part.

Talking about the vocals: opinions may differ on Manning's vocal skills. He's perfectly in tune, that's not the problem, but a couple of people who I played this album found his vocals quite whining at times. I cannot disagree with that, although personally it does not really bother me. The track keeps a quite uptempo pace and features some very nice instrumental sections. Some of the organ solo parts remind me of early Camel (Lady Fantasy etc.) but with a more modern sauce over it. Really nice prog rock track including all the ingredients: different instrumental solo's, many rhythmic variations and tricks, and a catchy vocal part!
The second part of the album, {Therapy}, starts with some sounds of a waiting room or something, and a very simple melody sets in, like a children's song or lullaby. Slowly, this is worked out with some more instrumentation. Just as you get used to the calm mood, A Strange Place breaks in with a Porcupine Tree like dissonant chord sequence. However, this song that seems to cry out quickly turns more normal and another catchy melody is featured. There is some particular fine keyboard work featured here, in a quite massive fashion, before it quietens down and a soundscape of all kinds of different religious chants from all over the globe is played. This has become quite a beautiful and calming collage, almost New Age like. This flows into Whispers On The Wire (which could have been subtitled "click click", which keeps hunting your brain long after the song has faded). Some cool Hammond organ is played here (keyboards are the main instruments on the album, even though guitar is featured on every track; in this track a nice short guitar solo stresses the fact that it is not a keyboard-only album). The middle section becomes very powerful, a kind of "Alan Parsons freaks out." Lots of instrumental interplay going on! Suddenly this stops and another soundscape sets in (you get the impression a different song has started). Together with the sound effects and different voices that seem to come from random TV channels they give you the feeling of a Roger Waters album. This impression is strengthened further by Songs Of Faith, a ballad with a typical Waters-like keyboard melody with piercing guitar (remember Amused To Death?). Lovely track, featuring (real) violins and piano. Halfway through however, it suddenly changes into some kind of "happy fiddler" Country & Western style! What a contrast that is. Still, Manning manages to flawlessly mingle these styles (even including some click-click reprises). The ending section is a beautiful, Pink Floyd style, variation of the first minutes. The intro of Falling reminded me a bit of the new IQ album The Seventh House, calm moody synth work, with a darker undertone. However, where IQ explodes in more powerful prog, Manning keeps things calm. A ballad follows, but it is not a very special track. The Sting-like jazzy saxophone playing and violin solo are quite nice though.

The last part, {Prognosis}, consists of only one 17 minute long track, The Cure. It in general has the same kind of feeling you get from the last (title) track of Amused To Death, finally opening up. The track itself is quite diverse, in the same way as on the rest of the album and keeps interesting throughout its length, due to the fact that every two minutes or so the melody and rhythm changes and so does the mood. This track takes us through all the moods present on the album, from calm melancholy to haunting keyboards and soundscapes to agitated rock. It would be a bit too much to describe in detail how this track progresses. Let's just say it's very nicely done!

All in all Guy Manning has produced a worthy sucessor to Tall Stories. Very much focussed on the vocal melodies and the concept, combined with powerful but not too massive keyboards, this is clearly the album of a song-writer, not that of a band focussed on superficial music repeating the same trick over and over again. A couple of minor points of critique regard the fact that at times the instrumentation is a bit too sparse, leaving sonic "holes" in the sound-wall, and Manning's voice that may not be appreciated by everybody. On the compository side, there is not much critisism of my side, Manning is a fine composer who knows how to keep the attention of the listener and masters both writing catchy melodies and writing difficult complex instrumental parts. Summarizing: a recommended album for people who like a more intelligent approach to music. Hope to see them live in Holland one day!

8 out of 10.
Remco Schoenmakers