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Melissa Manchester

Arista AL 4031
Released: January 1975
Chart Peak: #12
Weeks Charted: 41
Certified Gold: 6/24/77

Melissa ManchesterMelissa Manchester's third album represents a striking departure from Home to Myself and Bright Eyes, both of which showcased her voice in a cabaretlike setting. Melissa joins Manchester with producer Vini Poncia, an associate and protégé of Richard Perry. Poncia, who has figured prominently in several recent Perry productions, brings to Melissa the Perry trademarks that helped make Ringo and Carly Simon's No Secrets such commercial blockbusters. Manchester's voice is mixed at a lower level, echoed and overdubbed in parts. Several cuts use horns in the style of "Oh My My," and drummer Kirk Bruner provides the impetus of delayed percussion to songs that might otherwise have come off as strict MOR ballads. Poncia's grand style production (he also cowrote one song and sings backup) has given Manchester a confidence and discipline that were only intermittently in evidence on her previous albums; her tendencies toward vocal excess and flatness of pitch have been eradicated, while her idiosyncratic phrasing and intimate approach to a ballad remain intact.

Melissa's material is evenly divided between uptempo party songs and ballads. For the former, Manchester has adopted Steven Wonder as muse. "Stevie's Wonder," a pastiche of Wonder's melodic chromaticism, amorphous spirituality and phased vocal sound, makes an engaging, if superficial tribute. Wonder and Syreeta Wright's "Love Havin' You Around" cooks behind Trevor Lawrence's good-timey horn arrangements, and Manchester's "I Got Eyes," intentionally cops part of its time from "Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing."

Melissa Manchester - Melissa
Original album advertising art.
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While Manchester's affecionate tributes to Wonder sound pleasant enough, it is as a singer and writer of ballad tunes that she really shines. Among her original songs, two, with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager -- "We've Got Time" and "Midnite Blue" -- are especially beautiful. The sophisticated melody of "We've Got Time" flows into a bridge that modulates the song a step higher into its conclusion -- an effective dramatic format. Similar in spirit, "Midnite Blue" works as one continuous hook, its lovely phrases repeated by Manchester and Poncia's overdubbed chorus -- "Just Too Many People" and "This Lady's Not Home" -- though not quite as arresting, amplify the theme persistent throughout Manchester's work: Perseverance, self-containment and faith in the future are the means toward serenity.

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With the exceptions of Manchester's poignantly torchy rendition of Randy Newman's "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore," written 12 years ago and given an equally compelling treatment by Dusty Springfield in 1969, Melissa is much stronger musically than verballey. An intuitive, introspective artist more concerned with mood than with specifics, Manchester has yet to find a collaborator who can translate her feelings into better than serviceable lyrics. Carole Bayer Sager, who has written excellent lyrics with Peter Allen, has so far supplied Manchester with mostly diffuse and directionless verse. Ultimately, however, the singing and lavish production values of Melissa overshadow the album's dearth of lyric idea. For two years, Melissa Manchester has been poised on the threshold of mass popularity. Because Melissa transcends cabaret and evences a pop personality no longer conjunct with Bette Midler's, it stands a better than even chance of establishing Manchester as a major pop star.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 3/27/75.

Bonus Reviews!

Melissa Manchester is the kind of performer-composer who would have a large audience no matter how much the critics pouted. Her work is actually modishly clever salon music for the Seventies, and so it fashionably shivers with sensibility ("Just Too Many People"), quakes with "deep feeling" ("We've Got Time"), and, of course, can be cutely horny ("I Got Eyes"). How can she miss? She can't -- and won't. Her total professionalism is as unquestionable as it is oily, and listening to her new album would have made me very happy if I were the sales manager of Arista Records. As it was, I couldn't have cared less.

- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 6/75.

Manchester is very sexy in a barely disciplined, almost blowzy way -- maybe a touch overexpressive, a little too liberal with her emotions. "I Got Eyes" is nice juicy funk music and "Stevie's Wonder" the ultimate fan letter from someone who's found a new model of overexpressiveness. Both transcend the rest of the album, which in turn transcends the popped seams and middling Midlerizations of her first two LPs. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

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