Manfred Mann's Earth Band

The Best of Manfred Mann's Earth Band

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Remakes can be atrocious wastes of wax: subpar carbon copy re-treads dressed up as calculated idolatry, or deconstructionist reconfigurations basking in the laziness of lyrics already written. However, two of the greatest rewrites in history belong to Manfred Mann's Earth Band. The treatments of Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded By the Light" and "For You" included here create a wholly unique variation on the stark, earthy originals by flipping the tracks and exposing the soft, white underbelly, then piling on excessive musical ornamentation like a master filmmaker visualizing a novel, blowing the inspiration at the nucleus into a bowdlerized paronomasia of sonic perfection. Pages have already been written about "Blinded By the Light," dissecting the rock critique jargon and roiling synthetic imagery. But it's the Earth Band classic that poured this bizarre stream-of-consciousness into the mainstream. Totally tubular and totally '70s, MMEB's "Blinded By the Light" is unquestionably one of the greatest left-field singles in history. Meanwhile, the awesome "For You," though more, like, totally '80s, comes across as nothing less of a masterwork. Hot licks and the always tasty voice of Chris Thompson make the whooping ELP keys bearable. "Spirit in the Night" is not as great a departure from the Springsteen standard, as "the Boss" himself began leaving his folk roots plane to reach a more bombastic base of inception (David Bowie performs a wild rendition of "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," all of the aforementioned from Springsteen's monolithic debut). Though consequently not as grand as the above epiphanies, "Spirit" nevertheless stands as a very strong piece. In fact, as the many glorious moments of MMEB pile on top of each other, one realizes what a discerning ear this African scion possessed, and what a wicked ensemble he surrounded himself with to realize these brilliantly blinding pastiches. Manfred Mann understood the nuances of Springsteen's Dylan discipleship, even as the band itself cleverly interpreted Robert Zimmerman's works. The distracting live read of "Quinn the Eskimo" goes on just too darn long, but "You Angel You" soars sublimely. "Davy's on the Road Again" and "Hollywood Town" also remain within the realm of enjoyableness, through expert over-embellishment. Sadly excluded is Randy Newman's "Living Without You," later reconstructed itself by Zebra. These erudite linear notes discuss too many other numbers not included (luckily, that annoying Olympic "Runner" song is omitted), still leaving a very listenable amalgam of tight prog (usually a contradiction) and a worthy addition to any personal library.

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