Back into the Future

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Rock music is littered with bands that wrecked on the studio/live double album concept; Man is rare in that their attempt, despite the departure of Clive John, brought them their first real success. The band's tight performance and increasingly ambitious musical experimentation made Back into the Future the first Man album to chart in the U.K.; when it hit number 23, it was to be the band's high-water mark. Despite the band's live reputation, the studio album probably holds greater interest for listeners today. The title track is a lyrical evocation of the album's charming cover art -- a staged before-and-after shot of a railway station in its Edwardian prime, and then in modern decrepitude. The song's wistful glance at the past blurs with dabs of modern psychedelia, and it conveys the post-Sgt. Pepper's fascination of British rockers with the costumed grandeur of Empire past. But it is "Ain't Their Fight," with its echoing vocals and windmilling guitar riffs, that stands out as one of the band's most satisfying tracks. Most of the rest of the album is comprised of lengthy instrumentals, but the opening "Never Say Nups to Nepalese" is worth noting for its gloriously crashing crescendo, cheerfully lifted from Pink Floyd's "Echoes." And while the live set uses a male choir to haunting effect in the slow psychedelic jam of "C'mon," it's more typified by the indulgent 21-minute boogie marathon of "Jam Jelly Up Tight." Much like the third record of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, it must have seemed a great idea when stoned, but it's interminable today. Nonetheless, the album stands up as a fine artifact of the band's heyday.

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