Mandalaband (1975, 41.18) ***½/½Om Mani Padme Hum
Song for a King
Roof of the World
The Eye of Wendor: Prophecies (1978, 40.13) ***/½
|The Eye of Wendor
Florian's Song/Ride to the City
Like the Wind
The Tempest/Dawn of a New Day
Departure From Carthilias
Witch of Waldow Wood
Ænord's Lament/Funeral of the King
Coronation of Damien
BC - Ancestors (2009, 68.20) **½/0
Nimrod (Journey’s End)
The Sons of Anak
Solomon the Wise
The Wine Dark Sea
AD - Sangreal (2011, 76.11) **/½
|A Bloodline Born
England's Heart and Soul
Flight to Osca
The Kingdom of Aragon
Le Perche Val
Mandalaband were primarily a studio outfit (although I'm told they toured, at least early on), with much of their material being written by one David Rohl, who didn't actually play in the band, at least initially, and whose sole non-writing credit on Mandalaband is as remix engineer. Rohl's songs sit quite firmly in that 'musicals' style of prog writing, where you get the feeling that he'd have been happier writing stage shows in a Lloyd-Webber vein than that bloody prog stuff, although bassist John Stimpson's are less so. It's not a bad album, actually, if somewhat overblown, with highlights being parts of side one's epic, Om Mani Padme Hum (and no, it isn't a prog version of the Buddhist meditation chant), Roof Of The World and Stimpson's Determination. Now, despite keyboard man Vic Emerson having full instrumental credits, including 'string and choir arrangements', and the notable omission of a Mellotron from his rig, those are quite clearly 'Tron strings on Roof Of The World, unless the string arrangement somehow made a real string section sound like a Mellotron. The string synth has been left off his credits, too, making me seriously doubt their veracity.
Even more so than its predecessor, the preposterous The Eye of Wendor: Prophecies has all the hallmarks of a vanity project, oddly akin to The Intergalactic Touring Band's sole LP, released the previous year. Dozens of musicians, many of them famous, with no crossover with the first album, two years' recording time, a ludicrous concept... Yup, it's a vanity project. The album contains a beautifully illustrated fold-out insert, detailing the concept, a Tolkienesque effort concerning Florian, Ænord etc. etc., which was, of course, completely in keeping with the times. NOT! It seems unbelievable now that anyone might think that an album like this would be a success in the late '70s, but hindsight's a wonderful thing, and the upheavals of the day were probably regarded at the time as a temporary aberration, not a seemingly permanent situation. At the end of the story are the fateful words, "To be continued". I've only once seen this particular prophecy fulfilled, and that's on Rush's A Farewell to Kings.
Anyway, notable amongst the lengthy musicians list are all four of 10cc and Barclay James Harvest, with Woolly Wolstenholme playing synths and Mellotron, while 'Davy' Rohl plays various keys and sings this time round. I stumbled across a Japanese website detailing what was played by whom and on which track, but I've no idea where the information came from. According to it, Woolly plays Mellotron on over half the tracks, but I can only hear it on a handful, so I'm afraid I'm going to stick to that, so M400 choirs at the end of The Eye Of Wendor itself, Dawn Of A New Day and Witch Of Waldow Wood, although any or all of them could be the real choir that crops up here and there. For what it's worth, the tracks where I can't hear the 'Tron are: Ride To The City, Like The Wind, Elsethea, Silesandre and Funeral Of The King; I rather suspect that the real choir and string section have confused someone, but it's hard to say. So, we'll never know exactly how Florian regained the Eye of Wendor, but you can be sure that he did, as a failed quest isn't much use to anyone, is it?
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water... A composite version of Mandalaband reconvened in 2007, led by Rohl, of course, also involving Woolly. BC - Ancestors appeared in late 2009, and is... a real disappointment. I'm not sure why I thought it would be better than The Eye of Wendor, but it isn't. It has a (relatively) modern sound, full of programmed orchestrations, but its vaguely Celtic, rather insipid 'symphonic' prog sounds more like the tedious Alan Parsons Project than, say, Yes. Maybe that's the idea. Anyway, it tackles its lyrical subject matter (the ancient world, unsurprisingly) with determination, but the music really is a bit bland, not to mention that there's too much of it, as with so many releases from the last twenty years or so. Woolly's credited with Mellotron on three tracks, Ancestors (Overture), Shemsu-Har and roots, but I'll be buggered if I can hear it over the digital strings.
What was I saying about the water? Obviously on a roll (see what I did there?), Rohl swiftly followed BC up with (you guessed it) AD - Sangreal, in a near-identical vein. Lyrically, Rohl tackles the legend of the holy grail this time round, although his version of the story takes a rather unusual slant, claiming that said grail (you can stop the Python jokes RIGHT NOW. Yes, you!) resides in Valencia to this day and is known to the Catholic hierarchy. All sounds a bit conspiracy-esque to me, but there you go. Musically, this is, if anything, even more off-Broadway than its predecessor, to the point where I feel unable to give it more than two miserable Ts, not helped any by what I take to be dreaded autotune use on Sancto Laurent. Credited Mellotron on two tracks from Woolly again, on what turned out to be his final recording before his tragic death a few months before its release, with definite flutes on Visigoths, though nothing obvious (again) on The Kingdom Of Aragon. There's some slight confusion surrounding the musicians' credits on the album, at least as far as I'm concerned. Some years ago, my friend Robert Webb (of England fame, of course) recorded a Mellotron part on my own machine for 'the next Mandalaband album'. Given that it's nowhere to be seen, was it simply not used, or was it for Rohl's next project? Only time will tell, I suppose.
Well, none of these albums is exactly classic, but Mandalaband is definitely the most listenable of the three, and sounds less (though only less) like it should be playing off Broadway. The Eye of Wendor is very silly, although to be fair, it's obviously been created with a lot of love and considerable attention to detail, so it's difficult to be too hard on it, while BC and AD are similar, though less silly and more tiresome. They really aren't very good, though... None of these are exactly 'Tron classics, either, so I'm not even going to attempt to recommend these. You'll just have to decide for yourself.
See: Woolly Wolstenholme | 10cc
Wishbone (1998, 41.16) ***/TT
|I'm Your Girl
Meant to Be in Love
To Dream of Sarah
Nickel Plated Man
Eleni Mandell is an L.A.-based singer-songwriter who managed to get her self-released debut album, 1998's Wishbone, produced by Brian Kehew (Moog Cookbook), getting tape-replay star Jon Brion to contribute. It's a decent enough effort, with influences from the folk, jazz and showtune worlds, amongst others, with the occasional more rocking effort (notably Careless Driver). Although blessed with a great voice, her material, at least on this record, is inconsistent, although the good bits are very good.
Brion plays a shedload of instruments, including Mellotron and Chamberlin. Opener I'm Your Girl has what sounds like Chamby rhythm tapes and guitar, with Mellotron strings on Snake Song, but to finish off the album's tape-replay work, Kehew dug up one of the tiny handful of surviving Birotrons, the doomed late-'70s attempt to replace the Mellotron with a machine running 8-track cartridges (!), financed by Rick Wakeman. Nickel Plated Man features its ghostly flutes, both similar yet different to the Mellotron and Chamby varieties, making their use here very much worthwhile.
See: Samples etc.
Unreleased Materials Vol.1 (1997, recorded 1972-78, 56.09) ****/TTT½Kazari Mado No Dekigoto
Syumatsu No Kajitsu
Sukuran No Tobira
Unreleased Materials Vol.2 (1997, recorded 1972-78, 40.48) ****/TMandragora
Tales From Pornographic Ocean
Nagare No Hate Ni
Iriyoubachi No Yuuwaku
As with so many Japanese outfits, finding any hard and fast info on Mandrake is a bit of a chore; what's certain is that they were one of the earliest prog outfits from that country, led by Susumu Hirasawa, who went on to be highly successful with other acts and on his own. Mandrake's recordings have been collected together as Unreleased Materials Vols 1 & 2, both released in 1997 and not before time, I have to say. While unsurprisingly derivative, they both contain plenty of good material, probably better than the bulk of that released by the leading lights of the '80s Japanese scene. It's impossible to know what was recorded when, but both discs appear to hail from between 1972 and '78.
Vol.1 contains four lengthy tracks with a distinct Crimson influence, though far less than, say, Bi Kyo Ran, with a fair helping of their own sound thrown in, the material veering between semi-symphonic (Syumatsu No Kajitsu) to Crimsoid-heavy (Sukuran No Tobira). Yasumi Tanaka plays Mellotron throughout, with strings on the first three tracks, strident in places, melodic in others, replaced by Fumiyasu Abe's violin work on Sukuran No Tobira.
Vol.2 contains their remaining recordings and is a rather shorter release, although three of its four tracks are still fairly lengthy. The material's as good, though, although relatively brief closer Iriyoubachi No Yuuwaku is probably less than essential. Tanaka's Mellotron work is limited this time round to short parts on the first two tracks, Mandragora and the wonderfully punning Tales From Pornographic Ocean (I wonder if one of the band came up with that, or a native English speaker?), making the disc the less important of the two, Mellotronically speaking.
For such an obscure outfit, these two albums are really rather good; prog fans feeling that they're unsated by the several thousand titles already in their collections should probably look to add these to their straining shelves. As far as the Mellotron's concerned, go for the former over the latter, but both are well worth hearing.
The Book of Dreams (2002, 62.05) **½/TTTTOuverture
Is the End the Beginning?
The Book of Dreams
Days of Light
Under the Sea
Asha (Coming Back Home)
A New Century
Mangala Vallis formed in the late '90s as a guitar/keys/drums trio, with guitarist Mirco Consolini doubling on bass; they used several guest vocalists on their debut album, The Book of Dreams, including ex-PFM man Bernardo Lanzetti, which is a problem they're going to have to overcome in time. To be quite honest, the album lacks something on the originality front, although those of you more into the neo- side of the prog world will find much here to commend. As for the rest of us... This basically sounds like a cross between Grey Lady Down (who themselves sound an awful lot like the dreaded Marillion) crossed with Spock's Beard trying to play Genesis (just listen to the Supper's Ready cop on A New Century), so we're looking at a pretty well-trodden path here and not an especially interesting one, at least to those already steeped in the genre. Actually, by about halfway through, I found myself beginning to lose the will to live, with only the occasional decent key modulation to keep my attention - oh, and the Mellotron work, of course. I believe the album has a concept, too; it's apparently based on the work of Jules Verne, though I could only hear the odd reference to his writings.
Enzo Cattini is actually credited with Mellotron (yes, it's real), used loads, with shedloads of strings and choir on most tracks. He also plays it with a modicum of taste (another Banks comparison, then), although his efforts are somewhat wasted when they're plastered over a generic neo-prog chord sequence, with a bass part that Mike Rutherford would've hammered to death with his polo mallet, or at least his Rickenbacker. I'm afraid I really can't recommend something as leadenly uninspired, plagiaristic and wildly overlong as The Book of Dreams to anyone, really, although there is a fair bit of the ol' 'Tron to be heard, which is about this album's only real saving grace. Lots of far better 'Tron-heavy albums about - buy one of those instead.
So; a dodgy neo-prog album, I'm afraid. Mangala Vallis followed-up three years on with the slightly better Lycanthrope, reviewed here, due to their sample use; apparently their 'very old' machine (er, aren't they all?) didn't want to work, so they faked it. Oh well. Decent enough Mellotron on their debut, though not enough to disguise the music's shortcomings.
Here's an amusing promo, M400 to the fore.
See: Samples etc.
The Spirit of St. Louis (2000, 46.18) ***½/½
|Stompin' at Mahogany Hall
The Blues Are Brewin'
A Kiss to Build a Dream on
Old Man Mose
Do You Know What it Means to
Miss New Orleans
|Nothing Could Be Hotter Than That
When You Wish Upon a Star
Ignoring an early version of the band, Manhattan Transfer (named for the 1925 novel) as we know and, er, love them have been around since 1972, releasing the better part of twenty studio albums in that time. They're best known in the UK for their 1977 No.1, the smoochy Chanson D'Amour, although it didn't hit in the States at all. For those of you who've managed to avoid them, they're essentially a four-piece vocal group (two female, two male) who sing material mainly from (or in the style of) the swing/big band era. Unsurprisingly, they sometimes come across as pastiche, but their dedication to their art is difficult to fault, whatever you might think of the actual music.
The Spirit of St. Louis puns nicely, referencing both Charles Lindbergh's minuscule plane in which he made the first non-stop Transatlantic flight and the album's content, which is pure Louis Armstrong, end to end. There's quite a range of material here, from the energetic Nothing Could Be Hotter Than That to the laid-back Gone Fishin', probably the best-known song here, all treated with just enough, but not too much reverence, Gone Fishin' in particular raising a smile. They also tackle the cheese-fest that is When You Wish Upon A Star without making me want to gag; quite a feat in itself. The ridiculously ubiquitous Patrick Warren is credited with Chamberlin, but as so often with the blasted instrument, it's enormously difficult to work out exactly where it appears. About the only even vaguely obvious place is the strings on A Kiss To Build A Dream On, although they could easily be real, unless some of those distant male voices are Chamby, which seems extremely unlikely, all things considered.
Anyway, do you like swing? Big band? Jump jive? Listen to the Manhattan Transfer. Don't? Then don't. Easy. The Spirit of St. Louis is excellent at what it does, but don't take that as a recommendation for non-fans of the era. As usual, next to no/no audible Chamby. Why DO they bother?
Take Off Your Shoes (1975, 34.38) ***/½
|Take Off Your Shoes
The Gifts That You Gave Me
Pennies on the Track
Hymn of the Earth
|Orion Over 395
Lord of All Hopefulness
Has it Dawned on You
Jim Manley was (and is) a Christian singer-songwriter, whose talent, at least going by the material on 1975's Take Off Your Shoes, clearly exceeds his chosen backwater by some way. He actually avoids Christian subject matter on a handful of tracks (almost unknown in this genre), songs like Pennies On The Track and Magician (OK, that one could have a Christian subtext) standing up well against many better-known artists of the era.
Jim Strathdee plays Mellotron, with choirs on Hymn Of The Earth, although all string parts appear to be string synth. Given how appalling most CCM tends to be, artists like Jim Manley should be lauded for not only having talent, but also refusing to sink to the lowest Christian denominator. This is easy to find on download sites, although I wouldn't bother for its minimal Mellotron.
Aimee Mann (US) see:
Reggae (1974, 38.52) ***/0Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Rivers of Babylon
Swingin' Shepherd Blues
Discotheque (1975, 41.23) ***/½Hi-Jack
Pick Up the Pieces
I Can't Turn You Loose
I Won't Last a Day Without You
High Above the Andes
Bird of Beauty
Brazil - Once Again (1978, 32.53) ***/TPele
Oh How I Want to Love You
Dingue li Bangue
Lugar Comum (Common Place)
O Meu Amor Chorou (Cry of Love)
Herbie Mann (born Herbert Jay Solomon) was one of the world's chief exponent of jazz flute and an early pioneer in what came to be known as World Music. Making his first recordings in 1954, he was already a studio veteran when he made his first foray into the murky world of reggae, er, Reggae, in 1974. Unsurprisingly, his flute-led, slightly jazzy reggae takes on familiar material echo the style's usual inherent sweetness; this is dance music, at the end of the day. Backed by several big names, not least recent ex-Stone Mick Taylor (who gets a lovely solo in on Swingin' Shepherd Blues), side one's three tracks work well enough, although side two's super-extended My Girl does go on a bit, if truth be told. Pat Rebillot plays keys, allegedly including Mellotron, but it's hidden away so well that I can't hear the bugger; no obvious strings, and he wouldn't have used flutes, would he?
Mann followed up immediately with Discotheque the following year; I love his über-literal album titles - at least you know what you're getting. Actually, it starts off in a disco-ish vein, but shifts into the kind of jazz/soul territory with which Mann is usually associated after a few tracks, dished up with a soupçon of funk. Rebillot on keys again, with Mellotron strings on I Won't Last A Day Without You, in an orchestral-replacement kind of way, although that would seem to be it.
After three years and several releases (Mann put out two or three albums a year at the time), he released Brazil - Once Again, unsurprisingly containing a somewhat Latin vibe. Five mostly longer tracks this time, though not quite as extended as on Reggae. Rebillot gets the Mellotron in from the off this time, with strings on opener Pele, though once again, one track's your lot.
Sadly, after a lengthy career, Mann died in 2003, although his legacy is vast, much of it now available again after years out of print. Open-minded jazzers stand a good chance of finding things to like about these albums, but Mellotron nuts will probably drift off, uninterested at Mann's fairly minimal usage. There are two other relevant albums I know of, 1974's First Light (released under the name Family of Mann) and '76's Reggae II; reviews forthcoming when I get to hear them.
See: Pat Rebillot
Manfred Mann (UK) see:
Manfred Mann Chapter Three (UK) see:
Manfred Mann's Earth Band (UK) see:
Manna (1972, 39.19) ***/TT½
|Good Old Rock and Roll
Tell Me Why
Save the Country
What Ya Gonna Do
We Can Make it
Clap Your Hands
New Day's Coming
Children of the Mountain
When Blues Image split at the beginning of the '70s, after bring unable to repeat the success of major hit Ride Captain Ride, keys man Frank "Skip" Konte joined Three Dog Night and some of the others formed Manna, releasing their sole, eponymous album in 1972. It's a pretty typical mainstream American rock album of the era, with a heavy country influence on many tracks, better efforts including funky opener Good Old Rock And Roll, the rocky(ish) We Can Make It and Red Man and the Allmans-esque Southern Bound.
Someone (Konte guesting?) plays Chamberlin, with strings all over We Can Make It, a flute/string mix (?) on Southern Bound, vibes and female voices on Hold On and strings on New Day's Coming, making Manna semi- worth hearing on the tape-replay front. After the band split, members (notably guitarist Mike Pinera) went on to various projects, including Iron Butterfly and Ramatam, although it doesn't seem as if any broke through in any major kind of way.
(Guy) Manning (UK) see:
Antichrist Superstar (1996, 69.53) ***/T
|Irresponsible Hate Anthem
The Beautiful People
Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World
Angel With the Scabbed Wings
Minute of Decay
The Reflecting God
Man That You Fear
Mechanical Animals (1998, 62.38) ***/½
|Great Big White World
The Dope Show
Rock is Dead
The Speed of Pain
I Want to Disappear
|I Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)
New Model No.15
The Last Day on Earth
Holy Wood (in the Shadow of the Valley of Death) (2000, 68.11) ***/T
The Love Song
The Fight Song
Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis)
In the Shadow of the Valley of Death
Cruci-Fiction in Space
|A Place in the Dirt
The Death Song
Lamb of God
The Apple of Discord
The Fall of Adam
King Kill 33 Degrees
Count to Six and Die (the Vacuum of Infinite
The Golden Age of Grotesque (2003, 57.46/63.52) ***/½
This is the New Shit
Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag
Use Your Fist and Not Your Mouth
The Golden Age of Grotesque
The Bright Young Things
Better of Two Evils
Obsequy (the Death of Art)
Baboon Rape Party]
We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to the Ramones (2003) **/T[Marilyn Manson contributes]
The KKK Took My Baby Away
It seems to be a matter of conjecture as to whether Marilyn Manson (originally Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids) should be classed as a band or an individual, a conundrum that also, ironically, applied to the early Alice Cooper, who has commented re. Manson: "He has a woman's name and wears makeup. How original". Go Alice! The original concept seemed to encompass each member taking a female icon (usually film star)'s first name, and a surname from a serial killer (Twiggy Ramirez, M.W. (Madonna Wayne) Gacy etc.), although this seems to've become diluted over the years. Their remit has always been to shock, and to expose society's (and specifically America's) hypocrisy, although the end result is nearer to a cross between Cooper, David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails, with whom the band have worked.
1996's Antichrist Superstar was Manson's second album proper, after 1994's Portrait of an American Family and the following year's hour-long 'EP' of remixes and covers, Smells Like Children, and is surprisingly varied, although much of the material is the full-on industrial/goth/metal crossover you'd expect. Manson (née Brian Warner, on the offchance you didn't know) writes frequently witty and pointed lyrics, often utilising wordplay to get his point across, although given that his voice is often heavily effected, it's not always so easy to make out what he's on about. An awful lot of you are simply not going to like this music - I'm not at all sure I like it myself - but it's been assembled with some care and skill, and shouldn't be dismissed lightly. Anyway, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor plays Mellotron on Cryptorchid, with a distant, high string line and an upfront, almost solo flute part.
Two years on, Mechanical Animals is slightly more Bowie-esque, although the bulk of its material is business as usual, at least to ears unattuned to Manson's abrasive style. Lyrically, Manson's as astute as ever, but the music will (and has) put many people off who may otherwise have been intrigued by the band's imagery. This time round, M.W. Gacy plays 'Tron on two tracks, The Speed Of Pain and Coma White, but to little effect, with possible faint flutes on the former, and nothing recognisable on the latter whatsoever.
Holy Wood is quite clearly a concept piece, with a plotline alluding heavily to society's cult of personality (which, ironically, Manson uses towards his own ends), taking a major pop at Hollywood in particular and celebrity in general. Manson had curtailed his 1998 tour after the Columbine shootings, so it's no surprise that this album refers to the incident more than once, specifically on The Nobodies; frequently underestimated, Manson made possibly the most intelligent recorded comment on the shootings in Bowling For Columbine when he stated that he wouldn't have said anything to the boys, just listened. Back in Mellotronland, Manson himself plays choirs on "President Dead", while Gacy puts more of them onto Valentine's Day, although neither to any great effect, to be honest.
The Golden Age of Grotesque apparently has a Weimar Germany thing going on, though I can't say it's that obvious from the music, which sounds like... more of the usual. Distorted vocals, 'industrial' synths, buzz-saw guitars; yup, it's a Marilyn Manson album, although, in fairness, it's more electronic than his previous work, probably due to Tim Skold's presence in his band and at the desk. Manson's usual wordplay extends to several track titles this time round, and yes, the album's opening track is spelt correctly. He adds a little Mellotron to the album himself, with choirs and strings on the title track, although I didn't spot anything else, and without its predecessors' track-by-track credits, there's always going to be some guesswork involved.
So; given that I was expecting a horrible mess of tuneless pseudo-'industrial' goth/metal, these albums have been a pleasant surprise, although I rather doubt that they'll get played too often at chez Planet Mellotron. The Mellotron work is pretty sparse all round, with only one really worthwhile track, Antichrist Superstar's Cryptorchid, so don't go too far out of your way for any of these, really.
See: We're a Happy Family
Attack of the Grey Lantern (1997, 60.17) **½/½
|The Chad Who Loved Me
Mansun's Only Love Song
You, Who Do You Hate?
Wide Open Space
She Makes My Nose Bleed
Egg Shaped Fred
An Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter
Mansun came riding in on the coattails of Britpop, although in several respects they had little in common with that 'movement', such as it was. On Attack of the Grey Lantern, rather than write a bunch of tedious, '60s-'inspired' songs, they chose to write loads of little bits, then stick them together almost at random, with rather spurious track divisions inserted to try to deflect press accusations of 'prog rockdom'. Sadly, though, the end result is still fairly dull, with those awful whiny vocals so popular at the time (why?!). There's a few memorable moments, with the amusing Stripper Vicar standing out, but most of the album is simply dreary, making it hard to find anything very positive to say about it.
A teeny-style book written on the band during their brief stab at success quotes a band member as saying that they owned a broken-down Mellotron which they kept in their kitchen, so I don't think there's any doubt that the 'Tron is real. However... where is it? It seems likely that they (probably played by Paul Draper) used it chiefly for its sound effects, with familiar-sounding church bells and air-raid sirens popping up here and there, particularly between tracks. As a result, much of my highlighting is guesswork; is that harp glissando on Taxloss 'Tron? If you like that Britpop thing, you might like this album, but on no account buy it for the Mellotron. Oh, and guess what? A hidden track (yawn), An Open Letter To The Lyrical Trainspotter. I've knocked the requisite two minute gap off the album's length; at least it wasn't a ten-minute wait...
It's rumoured that Mansun used their 'Tron on their other two albums, Six (***) and Little Kix, but if there's anything on Six, it's even less audible than here. Avoid.