Malibu – Robo Sapiens

Malibu - Robo SapiensEver since I heard the TV Eyes album a few years ago, I’ve been pining for more from that particular side project. Given that it’s a side project for Jellyfish alumni Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner, and Manning’s occasional collaborator Brian Reitzell, it’s a given that it might be a while before we hear these busy musicians reform TV Eyes. Little did I know that Manning and his cohorts basically followed up on that album under a different name, only a year later!

Malibu is a pseudonym for Manning, and Robo Sapiens is Malibu’s debut album of heavily-’80s-influenced dance pop. This isn’t normally a genre I’d spend too much time with, but as with TV Eyes, Manning’s own leanings make sure that the ’80s influence is worn on Malibu’s sleeve for all to see. The opening track, “Yesteryear”, kicks in with arpeggiating keyboards and echoplexed guitar licks courtesy of Jason Falkner, and the retro synths are the real deal, restored for these sessions. It sounds like it should be the background music for a kick-ass TV sports montage.

Other highlights include “Rubber Tubes”, “German Oil” and “Parisian Nights”, latter of which takes a very circa-1980 sound and then flirts with chiptunes in the same track; there are quite a few songs with lyrics here, but almost all of the lyrics are processed through a vocoder or some other means of creating a robotic sound. The best example of this is “Please Don’t Go”, though there are plenty of others. For those looking for a solid TV Eyes connection, there’s an extended version of “She Gets Around” here, which fits in perfectly with the sound of the rest of the album.

3 out of 4Now that we know that these boys aren’t averse to revisiting the ’80s just for the pure musical fun of it, I all but demand a repeat engagement – whether as TV Eyes or as Malibu. Manning and friends have managed to distill all that was cool about ’80s music into two very cool projects. Let’s go for the trifecta.

Order this CD

  1. Yesterday (5:34)
  2. The Bounce (6:19)
  3. German Oil (6:18)
  4. Sidekicks (7:12)
  5. She Gets Around (6:21)
  6. Rubber Tubes (5:33)
  7. Parisian Nights (5:09)
  8. Animal Lovin’ Ken (6:11)
  9. Time To Time (5:05)
  10. D.I.E.T. (6:31)
  11. Please Don’t Go (4:20)

Released by: Expansion Team
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 64:33

TV Eyes

TV EyesAnother project from the trio that brought us the bizarre soundtrack-to-a-nonexistent-movie Logan’s Sanctuary, TV Eyes is nothing less than an ’80s revival band that’s playing brand new songs instead of new wave covers. If anything, it’s more of a stylistic tribute to the early ’80s than anything – in some of the songs, you catch a hint of Duran Duran here, a snippet of Kajagoogoo there, and so on. TV Eyes doesn’t use those bands’ songs, but it does appropriate some of their stylistic maneuvers.

The result is a delirious trip right back to the ’80s – I’d almost swear that this is just some 25-year-old album that I’ve never heard before. Standouts include the unabashed ’80s flashback that is the Falkner-penned “She’s A Study”, whose synth arpeggios bring vintage synth-heavy acts such as Level 42 and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark immediately to mind. Falkner’s also responsible for “Mission: Submission”, a throwback to some of the style of Gary Numan, with lyrics that are pure ’80s material, predicting a world run by computers, and the least synth-oriented song on the entire album, “The Party’s Over”, a Clash-esque rocker with political overtones that are vague enough to be from any era and yet directly address the 2000s.

“Over The City” and “Need To Love” shamelessly sound more like the Duran Duran that everyone remembers than Duran Duran itself does these days. My first impression was that it was a little too “drum ‘n’ bass” modern to fit the stylistic parameters of the album, but the rapid-fire keyboard work and funky bassline seals the deal even before the startlingly LeBon-esque vocals kick in. “She Gets Around” is a dance number with a hypnotic synth loop, while “What She Said” is an ode to that oddity of the ’80s, a non-rap song with spoken lyrics.

All of it adds up to one of the most repeat-listen-worthy CDs I’ve come across in years. This stuff is just impossible to get out of your head – it’s that catchy. It’s got a knack for sounding so familiar that you’d think that you’ve been hearing these songs on countless ’80s compilations down through the years, and yet the album – and the songs – are only a couple of years old as of this writing.

4 out of 4TV Eyes’ debut album is a dandy, and it’s a testament to the sad state of musical tastemaking on this side of the world that this group could only find a label in Japan. (Two of its members, Jellyfish alumni Roger Manning and Jason Falkner, have also released music in Japan that’s unavailable here except as wallet-stranglingly expensive imports.) Someone in America, anyone: pick these guys up, pronto. They really “get” what was so good about some of the music of the 1980s.

Order this CD

  1. Fade Away (4:33)
  2. She’s A Study (4:55)
  3. Fascinating (5:20)
  4. Love To Need (4:05)
  5. The Party’s Over (4:42)
  6. What She Said (4:14)
  7. Over The City (5:00)
  8. Mission: Submission (4:30)
  9. She Gets Around (5:22)
  10. Time’s Up (4:45)

Released by: Phantom
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 48:26

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. – Catnip Dynamite

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. - Catnip DynamiteWhen I listened to former Jellyfish frontman Roger Manning’s debut solo album, Land Of Pure Imagination, a couple of years ago, I was impressed with his amazing studio technique, his harmonies and performances, but not so much with the songs. I’d almost swear the man read my mind, because his new album puts those worries to rest with a solid string of songs that are just freaking fantastic. Fans of melodic, hooky ’70s power pop with great harmony will find this album’s title incredibly appropriate. To narrow it down a bit – if you like Cheap Trick, you’re going to love this.

The album opens up with “The Quickening”, an anthemic ’70s style rocker with a foot-stomping Gary Glitter-style beat. As cheerful as it is musically, its lyrics bemoan the impatience of youth and the unstoppable, unslowable roller coaster ride of growing older. The vocal harmonies are an awesome wall of sound here, and those who like this song will also get a kick out of “Down In Front” a couple of tracks later. In between is the deceptively cheerful “Love’s Never Half As Good”, a pleasant song that calls to mind a certain breed of well-written, workmanlike ’70s ballad. The description might also apply to “My Girl”, though I find myself liking “Love’s Never Half As Good” much better.

“Imaginary Friend” gets things back onto a rockier course, with a great sonic throwback to the late ’60s/early ’70s rhythm-section-plus-electric-organ sound. “Haunted Henry” is a bit of a ghost of the Jellyfish sound, a catchy story song with a macabre twist – along with Land Of Pure Imagination‘s “Too Late For Us Now”, this is probably the most Jellyfish-esque thing Manning has done since Jellyfish. “Tinseltown” is a nice story song which cautions against seeking fame and fortune at too high a price. As the lyrics chronicle the small-town beginnings of its cast of characters, some very nice pedal steel guitar work starts to creep in, giving the song a vaguely country flavor, though not so much as to completely distract.

“The Turnstile At Heaven’s Gate” features another solid wall of vocal harmony, as well as a brief break for marching band to keep things lively. “Survival Machine” is an epic, nearly eight minutes in length, which is really two songs in one; it’s the kind of anti-war piece that wasn’t at all uncommon in the late 1960s and early ’70s, but seems to be in surprisingly short supply today. The first half of the song is heavy on heavy apocalyptic organ riffs, while the second half gives way to a more bittersweet tone. “Living In End Times” is a sharp-tongued, fast-rocking commentary on folks whose fascination with the Bible seems to begin and end with Revelations. Name-checking everything from “The Late, Great Planet Earth” to “Left Behind”, this is easily the heaviest song – instrumentally speaking – on the whole album, in service of a message that I really wish more people would pick up on.

“Drive Thru Girl” starts out with a mock “live show” intro, and, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, proceeds to turn an amazing number of fast food sales slogans into double entendres set to a cheesy music hall-style accompaniment. This song may not sit well with those who are still waiting for some or all of the former members of Jellyfish to revisit the sound of that group’s glory days, but I found it amusing enough. The album closes with “American Affluenza”, a token anti-consumerist song whose only real disappointment is that the lyrics don’t have much to say. (By contrast, Ben Folds’ “All U Can Eat” is a much more interesting experience lyrically; I also admit to certain built-in skepticism about a song extolling the foibles of American consumer culture when that song has been earmarked as a Japan-exclusive track.)

3 out of 4Catnip Dynamite is a great bunch of songs, but in places it lets go of enough of its energy that it’s hard to get through in a single sitting. Still, for anyone who, like myself, grew up with the ’70s sound reverberating from their radios (back when it was the ’70s and people actually listened to radio because decent songs could be found there), this album more than lives up to its name.

Order this CD

  1. The Quickening (5:06)
  2. Love’s Never Half As Good (5:36)
  3. Down In Front (5:23)
  4. My Girl (4:09)
  5. Imaginary Friend (5:07)
  6. Haunted Henry (4:49)
  7. Tinsel Town (5:23)
  8. The Turnstile At Heaven’s Gate (4:40)
  9. Survival Machine (7:54)
  10. Living In End Times (5:09)
  11. Drive Thru Girl (5:15)
  12. American Affluenza (3:30)

Released by: Phantom
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 62:01

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. – The Land Of Pure Imagination

Roger Manning - The Land Of Pure ImaginationFormerly of early 90s power pop powerhouse Jellyfish, Roger Manning is reinventing the 1970s with this solo project, on which he plays and sings everything (except for a trumpet on one song). Fans of 70s music will probably find at several gems to love here, though those expecting to hear the second coming of Jellyfish may be left scratching their heads in places.

In its brief, two-album heyday, Jellyfish mined almost the entire gamut of well-produced, well-written 70s pop music, with stylistic nods to Queen, Supertramp, ELO and numberous other 70s supergroups, and with Manning in the driver’s seat, Jellyfish still managed to make all of those elements the band’s own unique sound. Manning’s chief inspiration is still the 1970s, though here he seems to be absorbing influences from everyone from Mac Davis to Carole King. Fan of Jellyfish’s decidedly rocked-out sound may find it hard to square these elements with what they were expecting. That doesn’t make Imagination a bad album; but for folks like me who were going “Ooh! Roger Manning! Jellyfish!” like I was may require a little bit of an adjustment period while their expectations hash it out with the reality of what’s on the CD.

What’s on the CD is good stuff, though. The title track and especially “Too Late For Us Now,” which I count as my favorite song on the whole album, wouldn’t have been at all out of place in the Jellyfish set list. “Creeple People” and “The Loser” come close to this category as well. “Sandman” hearkens back to the gorgeous a cappella vocal harmonies of Jellyfish’s “Hush,” and “You Were Right” recalls some of that group’s more low-key numbers (i.e. “Calling Sarah”). Manning’s production and vocals are impeccable – even if you don’t care for a given song, it’s almost impossible not to admire his one-man-band abilities here.

But all of that’s pretty cautious praise. There are a couple of songs that I tend to skip – “Wish It Would Rain” resurrects a particularly vapid flavor of 70s pop that was already overused 30 years ago. And while on a conceptual level I like the ornate intricacy of “Appleby,” I just can’t bring myself to really like the song, and I can’t even put a finger on why. The odd thing is that “Appleby” is one of three tracks that were added to the album, to replace three tracks deleted from its Japanese release under the title of Solid State Warrior. The three deleted tracks were made available as a very-limited-edition bonus CD (~200 copies) during 3 out of 4the album’s launch, and all three of the omitted songs are stunners – why anyone thought they didn’t make the cut for consumption in the English-speaking world is a mystery. (“In The Name Of Romance” and “Pray For The Many” are the other two add-on tracks, the latter being the best of the three.)

Overall, it’s a good album, though it’d be an even better album without the tinkering that went on as it crossed the Pacific.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. The Land Of Pure Imagination (6:01)
  2. Too Late For Us Now (3:23)
  3. Wish It Would Rain (5:42)
  4. The Loser (3:36)
  5. Sandman (3:37)
  6. Pray For The Many (3:02)
  7. Dragonfly (5:19)
  8. Creeple People (5:31)
  9. In The Name Of Romance (5:26)
  10. You Were Right (5:43)
  11. Appleby (5:30)
    Not Lame bonus disc (Solid State Warrior songs omitted in U.S. release):

  1. What You Don’t Know About The Girl (2:49)
  2. Sleep Children (2:47)
  3. ‘Til We Meet Again (3:44)

Released by: Cordless Recordings
Release date: 2006 (originally released in Japan as Solid State Warrior in 2005)
Total running time: 52:55

Logan’s Sanctuary – Brian Reitzell & Roger J. Manning, Jr.

Logan's Sanctuary soundtrackBased on an entirely fictional sequel to the last great pre-Star Wars SF flick of the 70s, Logan’s Run, Logan’s Sanctuary is the equally imaginary musical score, composed by Roger Manning (Jellyfish) and Brian Reitzell (Air) and featuring Jason Falkner as a guest performer. Conceptually, Manning and Reitzell try to create this music as if they were in the 70s.

Musically, your enjoyment of this “soundtrack” from Logan’s Sanctuary (which, by the way, isn’t even trying to be a part of the three-book Logan’s Run cycle written by William F. Nolan) will depend on your tastes in instrumental music. Analog and Moog synthesizers are the order of the day here, all played very much in a 70s style; Falkner contributes appropriately 70s-flavored “wah-chicka” guitar licks to the instrumental track “Metropia”, and plays guitar, bass and sings on the 70s-styled power pop anthem “Search For Tomorrow”. (Unless I’ve completely forgotten what Falkner looks like, he also appears to have been the authentically-costumed “hero” in the CD booklet’s amusing plethora of freshly-shot “movie publicity stills.”) Search is easily the most modern thing on the whole CD, played very much as one of Falkner’s own solo tunes, though Falkner’s own style of writing and performing is so firmly rooted in the 70s aesthetic that this doesn’t put it at odds with the rest of the CD.

Getting back to the liner notes booklet for a moment, the “synopsis” of the movie is knee-slappingly funny (as are the photos of Jason Falkner in full Sandman uniform, dispatching white-hooded villains at futuristic-yet-vaguely-mall-like locales), almost as if we were reading about a Logan’s Run sequel…directed by Ken Russell. This actually enhances the whole experience, as the music on the CD itself isn’t music that’s aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Jerry Goldsmith. It’s music befitting a low-budget 70s cash-in flick. Which, let’s face it, is probably what any cinematic sequel would’ve been, with or without George 4 out of 4Lucas completely rewriting the SF filmmaking book.

Pretty enjoyable stuff, though it’s not going to be up everyone’s alley; fans of 70s power pop or of Jason Falkner might put this one on their list just for “Search For Tomorrow”, however. And the whole “movie that wasn’t” gag is enough to spark one’s imagination (or, at the very least, it worked for Manning and Reitzell).

Order this CD

  1. Islands In The Sky (2:39)
  2. Search For Tomorrow (5:14)
  3. The Game (4:25)
  4. Lara’s Rainbow (5:08)
  5. Metropia (5:56)
  6. Pleasure Dome 12 (4:46)
  7. Ian’s Orbit (6:00)
  8. Escape (3:27)
  9. Endless Tunnels (6:10)
  10. The Silver Garden (5:40)

Released by: Emperor Norton
Release date: 2000
Total running time: 49:25

Jellyfish – Bellybutton

Jellyfish - BellybuttonIt’s really too bad Jellyfish split up, because from the sound of this album and its solitary follow-up, they could have amassed a following as the premiere pop group of the 1990s. These guys really enjoyed making their music, and their joy in doing so is evident just from listening to it. If you need proof, listen to the goofy song “Now She Knows She’s Wrong”. I remember hearing “The King Is Half-Undressed” several years ago on MTV and disregarding the entire song until the bridge, which consists of some absolutely entrancing Beatlesque-going-on-ELO harmonies, and it turns out the rest of Bellybutton was at least as good as that one song, if not better. I have to single out “The Man I Used To Be”, “Bedspring Kiss” and especially the sobering “She Still Loves Him” – about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship – for special 4 out of 4praise. These guys could make some music. Sadly, after one more album, Jellyfish broke up, though some of its members are still active, even if their output is somewhat obscure. I highly recommend this album to you, and it’s hard to miss – it’s got the ultra-colorful, trippy cover featuring the band members looking for all the world like they’re auditioning for a live-action movie about the Smurfs!

Order this CD

  1. The Man I Used To Be (4:34)
  2. That Is Why (4:16)
  3. The King Is Half-Undressed (3:47)
  4. I Wanna Stay Home (4:06)
  5. She Still Loves Him (4:32)
  6. All I Want Is Everything (3:44)
  7. Now She Knows She’s Wrong (2:36)
  8. Bedspring Kiss (5:03)
  9. Baby’s Coming Back (2:57)
  10. Calling Sarah (4:03)

Released by: Charisma
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 39:38

Jellyfish – Spilt Milk

Jellyfish - Spilt MilkJellyfish added a new dimension to their 1970s-inspired pop sound by allowing more than just a little influence from Queen sneak into their second – and, due to the quick breakup of a very promising band, last – album. From the opening lullabye number right into the immensely Queen-esque “Joining A Fan Club”, it’s obvious that Jellyfish assimilated some of the best and most distinctive trademarks of Freddie Mercury and friends. The precision of the vocal harmonies on this album are amazing to hear, as is the hauntingly familiar hard-rock-and-thrashing-vocals approach, also inspired by Queen. The only thing that really tips one off that this is not Queen is the absence of Brian May’s unmistakable guitar 4 out of 4harmonies. Despite the influx of that particular style, Jellyfish didn’t entirely abandon their original sound, as can be heard in “New Mistake” (my personal favorite) and “Ghost At Number One”, though they also demonstrate a great aptitude for good old-fashioned low-tech rock with “Glutton Of Sympathy”. It’s really sad that the band fell apart after this one – it showed more promise than most bands I’ve heard this decade.

Order this CD

  1. Hush (2:10)
  2. Joining a Fan Club (4:03)
  3. Sebrina, Paste and Plato (2:23)
  4. New Mistake (4:03)
  5. Glutton of Sympathy (3:49)
  6. The Ghost at Number One (3:37)
  7. Bye, Bye, Bye (4:02)
  8. All Is Forgiven (4:10)
  9. Russian Hill (4:45)
  10. He’s My Best Friend (3:44)
  11. Too Much, Too Little, Too Late (3:15)
  12. Brighter Day (6:12)

Released by: Charisma
Release date: 1993
Total running time: 46:13