Guy Manning CDs

Title

Label/Cat No.

Year

Length

The Cure

Cyclops  CYCL088

2000

64'39

TheCure

THE CURE

'The Cure' is Guy Manning's second solo release to date, the first being the 'Tall Stories for Small Children' album.  As I have not heard the earlier album I am not in a position to make comparisons, but my impression of this piece is that it has far more in common with the music of the seventies and progressive music in its original sense than with the current neo-prog scene which it seems to be invariably mixed in with.

Guy is clearly a man of many talents and supplies vocals, guitars and keyboards, as well as some bass, mandolin and drum/percussion parts.  He is joined by a number of other musicians, most notably Andy Tillison-Diskdrive, of Parallel or 90 Degrees fame, who plays additional keyboard parts as well as further drum work and who co-wrote the track 'Domicile'.  Also appearing are Jonathan Barrett - bass; Simon Baskind - drums and percussion; Laura Fowles - saxophone; and finally Ian Tothill and Ian Fairbairn, both on violin.

Despite the fact that 'The Cure' is reported to be a concept album it's not one that is easy to interpret and, I must confess that, even after many listenings I am still trying to unravel it.  Don't mistake me, this album is really very good indeed, but I have not got a clue what a lot of it is about - but then again to some extent the uncertainty somehow adds to its appeal.

Thankfully, whatever your views on concept albums this should in no way detract from the level of enjoyment that can be derived from this work since all the songs work on a number of different levels, and for the most part work equally well in a stand alone environment.  You can either listen to the album as a series of often quite inspired songs, or if you want to search for a deeper meaning it is there to be found.

There are three major sections to the piece, 'Syndrome', 'Therapy' and 'Prognosis', definitions of which can be found in the sleeve notes. Further clues to the underlying plot are provided by a number of quotations about the effects of total sensory deprivation, while the associated art work contains various pictures of sensory deprivation tanks - presumably the 'strange place' referred to by one of the songs.

The first section, 'Syndrome', comprises a single track, 'Domicile' which at its simplest level deals with environmental issues and looks at how mankind destroys his home planet without a care for tomorrow.  The instrumental opening is quite complex and varied and from the outset we are made aware of elements of disharmony an disquiet.  Once the vocal starts there is excellent support from both the guitar an keyboards.  During the breaks from the vocal section the instrumental themes are developed further and the keyboards run through a range of styles from symphonic to almost jazzy at times.  Inclusion of saxophone to the track adds much the the spirit of the piece.

The second section of the album is 'Therapy' and this is the longest of the three, comprising five tracks in all, opening with 'Real World'.  This is a relatively short song which acts as an oasis of calm and tranquility.  The vocals are very mellow an the instrumentation is subtle and subdued, producing a wonderful calming effect on the listener.

By comparison, 'A Strange Place' starts with a strong percussion and pulsing bass line which ironically quickly brings the listener back to their senses.  Once more the vocal line holds the attention and the acoustic guitar accompaniment works well.  As the track develops the keyboard sound builds up gradually but just as one expects a final climax the theme changes altogether and the tone becomes at once soft and subdued.  As we mover ever closer to the finish a vocal chant slowly starts up, initially with an almost tribal feel but gradually changing in character until we get something more akin to Gregorian chant.  This  transformation is wonderfully executed and is one of the high spots of the album for me.

'Whispers on the Wire', like the preceding track, has an all consuming beat and the 'Click Click' theme developed in the vocal - and touched upon again later on the album - dominates the proceedings.  There is a real sense of urgency to the instrumental break and both keyboard and guitar seem to feed off each other.  At the end of the track the cohesion is starting to break down and in amongst the other sounds we can here snippets of radio broadcasts worked into the instrumental themes.

Next up we have 'Songs of Faith', which has to be my favourite of all the tracks.  The song tells the story of an astronaut whose space ship has been damaged and, having no means to return home, is resigned to dying alone in space.  From the start the listener may be tempted to think in terms of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity', and this comparison is clearly intended as borne out by the lyrical reference to Major Tom.  The track opens with extracts of radio and TV broadcasts which seem to all relate to the Apollo 13 disaster, creating a nice contrast in view of the fact that the astronauts in that instance had the eyes of the world on their every action (mine included).  Despite the subject matter this is a really inspired and uplifting piece, which while starting with a resigned and sorrowful air gradually builds up to a great outpouring of hope as the protagonist finally comes to feel that maybe he is not alone after alone after all!  Throughout the track the guitar and keyboard work is powerful and emotive yet and while wonderfully restrained in the earlier stages they eventually find more freedom to break out towards the final stages.

This section of the album is brought to a close with 'Falling' and the nature of the track is similar to 'Real Life'.  Instrumentation is peaceful and soft and instills a feeling of inner peace while the vocals are superbly delivered with a soft timbre and occasionally with a slightly 'folky' character.  As the track starts to wind to a close saxophone and violins come in to great effect, although I felt it was a shame that their parts were not developed a little further.

Finally we come to the last section 'Prognosis', which like the first only contains a single track, 'The Cure'.  The initial vocal section seems a little forced but this soon passes and there are some nice supporting harmonies.  Furthermore the strength of the playing here is superb and again the styles seem to vary widely covering everything from symphonic to an almost big band sound.  I am still a little bemused by this track as it clearly attempts to wind up the work from a conceptual point of view, but since for me the concept is still unclear, I cannot really comment on how well this is achieved.  Regardless of that point however, I have no doubt at all that this track is a great finish to what to my mind is a great album.

In the final analysis this album is strong on both composition and musicianship, and it is well worth checking out and because of the enormous variety shown in the music there is something here that is sure to appeal to a very broad spectrum of listeners.  If you have not already had a chance to sample Guy Manning's work I would strongly recommend you start now with 'The Cure'.

Simon   14th January 2001

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