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Solar Fire
Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Polydor PD-6019
Released: February 1974
Chart Peak: #96
Weeks Charted: 15

Although it purports to be a magical mystery tour of the solar system, an updating of Gustav Holst, Solar Fire has a tough time achieving lift-off. Either Chris Slade or Colin Pattenden (drums and bass, respectively) are dullards, or Mann is down on rhythm. All the tracks sound pretty much the same, like the Moody Blues gone heavy, Uriah Heep, or a muted Black Sabbath.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Solar Fire
Original album advertising art.
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But the hirelings are less to blame than Mann himself, who, whatever his other talents, has never been able to write particularly well. Mann's earlier editions were successful because they relied on outside writers and in-house material supplied by the likes of Mike Hugg and Michael D'Abo. The Earth Band boasts no one of comparable caliber, yet Mann and his current cohorts, rarely to their credit, authored six of Solar Fire's seven cuts. And Mick Rogers' nondescript vocals do nothing for that needed spark.

Still, Mann's skills are such that the album almost works. He is, after all, one of rock's great journeymen. His arrangement of Dylan's "Father of Day, Father of Night" combines an adroit blend of Procol Harum, the Moodies, and an imaginative synthesizer. On this last instrument Mann is impressive and versatile. Whereas most rock musicians use the synthesizer as merely another keyboard or simply for eldritch effects, Mann plays it as a supple instrument in its own right, producing an extraordinary variety of sounds which are always integrated into the business at hand. Moreover, Mann's synthesizer meshes effectively with Rogers' guitar, both in unison and alternation, and this duo is responsible for the album's better moments (especially the paean to Saturn and Mercury). However, despite sympathetic and adept frontmen, Solar Fire remains earthbound and the Earth Band somewhat short on snap.

- Ken Emerson, Rolling Stone, 3/14/74.

Bonus Review!

As this group moves closer to the jazzy style it no doubt covets, it begins to show the corners of its rhythmic box. As well as minimal self-knowledge -- Mann's strength has always been song interpretation, after all. Yo think that's why this album has no writer's credits, not even for a familiar-sounding extravaganza called (here) "Father of Day, Father of Night"? I bet they wrote this silly stuff themselves. Ah, self-expression. C+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

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