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The Roaring Silence
Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Warner Bros. BS 2965
Released: August 1976
Chart Peak: #10
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Gold: 4/5/77

Manfred MannEven though I have come to celebrate Manfred Mann, it must be noted immediately that The Roaring Silence is not among his best records. It has great pleasures -- "Blinded by the Light," "This Side of Paradise," the chorus and ending of "The Road to Babylon" -- but it is not the marvelous work last year's Nightingales and Bombers was. That album, like the rest of Mann's Earth Band albums, was duly noted, faintly praised and failed to make the slightest dent in the steel plate of popular consciousness. "Blinded by the Light" is already getting national FM airplay, though, and thus the anomalous Mann is thrust before us again, if again only briefly. Most of us continue to think of him as Manfred "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" "Quinn the Eskimo" Mann, but to make things simple, I think we can agree that it was upon meeting his synthesizer that Popster Manfred became Underground Mann, keyboard gadfly and collaborator in musical pizzas with everything, to go.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - The Roaring Silence
Original album ad art.
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What keeps Mann from the holy insularity most synthesizer freaks wrap themselves in is his affinity for secular, sweaty rock: hence the Earth Band, more a conceptual commitment to everyday reality than a group of specific musicians. The Earth Band has changed -- comparative old-timers are bassist Colin Pattenden and drummer Chris Slade -- but each player's function is constant: Mann likes raw guitar lines and unpretty vocals to razz his thoughtful, passionate organ and synthesizer playing. On The Roaring Silence, both are provided by Chris Hamlet Thompson to good effect, though not quite as well as the ones Mick Rogers provided on Nightingales and Bombers. Any given Earth Band never contains anyone as experimentally bent as Mann himself; he consciously offsets his predilections with solidly professional rock musicians. This is the secret of his artistic success: for all his adventurousness, Mann is never too extreme, because he arranges a system of balances, in players and selection of outside material, to provide tension and variety. This fondness for structural paradox finds its correspondence in the very themes of Mann's song ideas -- a "roaring silence," or the juxtapositional sounds sounds of nightingales and (airplane) bombers.

He knows that by recording an elaborate eight-minutes-plus song called "Singing the Dolphin Through," as he has on The Roaring Silence, he is not going to tickle a mass audience. One reason for this is that it will strike many as being a mite too high-falutin. They'll be right, but that's okay with Mann since it establishes his work as "serious" on some level. For all the wit inherent in his Springsteen and Dylan covers, he is most definitely serious, even contemplative. His Earth Band work is one long meditation on the question, "What is this thing called jazz rock?" Rather than attaching hooks to free-form jazz, which is essentially what most jazz rockers are doing, Mann is engaged in elasticizing various rock forms: The Roaring Silence's examples of this are pop hymns ("The Road to Babylon," "Singing the Dolphin Through"), ballads ("Questions") and speedy instrumentals ("Waiter, There's a Yawn in My Ear").

The main weakness of The Roaring Silence is the flabbiness of its songwriting. Mann's method is to collaborate with members of whatever Earth Band is current, and looking over the albums one suspects that they write the words and nurture the melody while Mann fills out the rest. On Silence the huddlings with Chris Slade result in the two most uninteresting and overblown songs, "Starbird" and "Questions." "This Side of Paradise," coauthored by Pattenden, is a mixed victory.

Manfred Mann is the best sort of underground artist; he's engagingly complex, uncompromising, eccentric and aware of his occasional pretentiousness. In this sense, he doesn't deserve a huge audience: he makes little effort to actively accommodate them, and therefore only those who enjoy the challenge should bother with him. It's a healthy situation, and on The Roaring Silence it still leaves room for Manfred to make the last word of Springsteen's line about being "wrapped up like a deuce" sound like "douche" and it's...sort of a joke, I think.

- Ken Tucker, Rolling Stone, 11/4/76.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Album Review: Solar Fire

Single Review:
"Blinded by the Light"

Manfred Mann's Earth
Band Lyrics

Manfred Mann's Earth
Band Videos

Bonus Reviews!

Manfred Mann's groups have gone through various personnel and style changes since the mid-Sixties, when Mann first became known here in the days of the British Invasion. At that time the band's hit singles were usually reworkings of American teen tunes like "Doo-Wah-Diddy." Toward the end of the decade, though, they performed more complex and sophisticated material ("Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James" and "Ha Ha Said the Clown," for example), which was colorfully arranged and delivered with muscle. In 1969 the group had its biggest (and, to date, last) commercial success with a version of Dylan's nonsense drug song, "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo") which drew an endorsement from Zimmerman himself. The follow-up singles, "Fox on the Run" and -- one of my favorite titles -- "My Name Is Jack (and I Live in the Back of the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls"), made little noise.

The present pop group, the Earth Band, was formed in the early 1970s and almost had a hit with "Living Without You." But by then Mann seemed to have given up on or lost interest in pop, turning to free-form rock mixed about equally with jazz and British folk. He is a skilled keyboardist and a gifted arranger, but his meandering, amorphous, and ultimately pointless current style has never been as interesting or fruitful as his approach to pop material. Only one cut stands out on this album -- a lithe, leaping performance of Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light"; Mann's arrangement and the band's pizzazz make it sound better than it actually is. Mann is an interpreter rather than a creator. It's too bad he doesn't spend more time applying his specialized talents to pop.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 3/77.

Mann moves farther away from obtrusive electronic instrumentals towards a marked concentration on softer melodies, audible lyrics and a more cohesive sound. Instrumentally, the band is tight and highlighted by Mann's keyboard playing. The big hit from this LP should be Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light," as Mann had considerable success on his last LP with Springsteen's "Spirit In The Night." Best cuts: "Blinded By The Light," "Road To Babylon," "Questions," "Singing The Dolphin Through."

- Billboard, 1976.

Side two is so slavish in its heavy-metal pretensions that it sounds like a parody that doesn't come off. Which is why I'm inclined to give up on this band and describe side one as two worthy songs stretched out of shape on a synthesizer. If this is what the audience Mann has found on tour wants, he should retreat to the studio. C

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

A later edition of Mann's band, which had a '70s hit with Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light" (on this album). * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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