Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Nightingales & Bombers

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The album that was Manfred Mann's commercial breakthrough was a departure from the previous albums made with the Earth Band. Though the personnel are the same and the musicianship is as mind-blowing as ever, the songs are shorter and punchier, in some cases more poppy. This is not to say that the band had sacrificed a bit of ingenuity or complexity, but the long jams are gone in favor of briefer sound portraits. Nightingales and Bombers included Manfred Mann's first cover of a Bruce Springsteen song, the album-opening "Spirits in the Night," a single that charted, and became one of the only pieces written in 10/4 time ever to do so. It would prove to be an important move in their recording career, as 1976's Roaring Silence earned them a big hit with Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light." Another foreshadowing of that tune can be detected in the track "Fat Nelly," which includes a synthesizer part almost identical to the intro of the aforementioned hit. Also featured in Nightingales and Bombers are such synth-driven rockers as "Crossfade," "Countdown," and the title track, in which Manfred Mann appear to be trying to capture the prog rock crown. Nightingales and Bombers featured in almost every "Best of the Year" list for 1975. Justifiably so -- though attention at the time was naturally on the hits, the rest of the album features a mix of good originals and eccentric covers, inspired playing, and tight, focused arrangements. The album stands up to repeated listening decades after it was created, and though fans of the more expansive progressive phase may prefer earlier works, they will generally allow the excellence of this one. (The name of the album was once regarded as a possible drug reference, but it is actually taken from a nature recording made during World War II. An ornithologist who was trying to record birdcalls captured not only the sound of birds, but also of incoming enemy aircraft. That recording is used in the track "As Above, So Below," and gives it an eerie character.)

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