Manishevitz' third album, City Life, is a shocking departure from the group's first two. Gone are the low-key, melancholy chamber folk-pop songs; they are replaced by shiny pop songs that draw inspiration from arty glam bands like Roxy Music as well as early Eno and a large dose of the Fall. Their 2002 EP, Private Lines, gave a clue to the shift with its Roxy Music cover and generally shiny and upbeat feel. What that EP began is fully realized on City Life. Adam Busch's voice has blossomed from a quiet mumble to a swaggering croon that is equal parts smooth Bryan Ferry and stuttering Mark E. Smith. The rest of the group has helped the transformation by giving the songs a loose strutting feel. New member Nate Lepine is the most obvious difference; his sax and flute lines give bright splashes of color to the songs. Once you get over the shock of the way the band sounds, you realize that the songs have remained as strong as before. In fact, the new approach musically meshes with a hookier, more effusive brand of songwriting. Tracks like "City Life," "Mary Ann," and the gorgeously lilting "Back in the Day" (which appeared on Private Lines) burst out of the speakers and may even inspire listeners to dance spastically around the room. There is still a strong trace of the old brooding Manishevitz on City Life; "Hate Ilene" is a dirge-y, atmospheric track; "Undercover" is a meandering, beautiful song that makes full use of Lepine's flute skills and sounds like an unholy meeting of the Beach Boys and Eno. Actually, that sounds like a very holy meeting. If only it had happened in 1972. Still, this track gives you an idea of what might have transpired. One could see this new post-punk-inspired direction as a cynical shift toward a style of music that made commercial headway in 2003. More likely the members of the band heard some Fall or Eno records and were inspired to make a change. Hopefully, fans of the band will be swayed by the stellar songwriting and the wild energy of the music, because City Life is a very good record. If it had come out in 1972, kids everywhere would be lining up to claim Manishevitz as an influence.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra