The sixteenth studio album by Welsh progressive rock band Man: Reanimated Memories – the band having been in existence, with a seven-year hiatus from 1976-83, since 1968 – is impressively performed, recorded and presented. The current five-piece, occasionally augmented by B J Cole on pedal steel, seem to be having a good time on this, their second recorded outing. Furthermore, this is Man’s third album without the twin guitar/vocal spearheads Deke Leonard and the late Micky Jones.
Two members of the old guard from the 1970s remain: keyboard player/singer Phil Ryan and bass player/singer Martin Ace. Martin’s son Josh makes up the trio of songwriters whose material constitutes ‘Reanimated Memories’ and along with James Beck he continues the dual guitar sound which has characterized the Manband down through the decades. Beck also sings lead, though not on this record. Rene Robrahn’s sympathetic drumming, the lightest touch on the skins since Terry Williams’ departure, makes up the quintet.
The driving force that kept the band going, certainly in the years between 2002 and 2012, when the only constant was change, was Martin Ace. Normally a jokey figure on stage and in the nature of his songs, here a couple of his more serious, substantial and atypical pieces provide the opening and closing tracks. Stylistically, Ace Senior frequently reaches back to the 1950s, more often than not in a rock and roll vein, but on ‘The Ballad of Billy Lee’ he employs a Country and Western narrative. The finale, ‘All the Birds’, is a ballad in the rock sense.
A track which encapsulates this album’s theme would be Phil Ryan’s ‘In Time’. Ryan’s brilliant musicianship is evident throughout the album but on the songs he sings you also get his arrangements and harmonies, which hark back to Man’s notable 1976 LP ‘The Welsh Connection’. The class and energy he brings to the table should not be underestimated.
Something refreshing about this incarnation of Man is that they can make music which is a long way from their psychedelic/progressive roots but still worthy of bearing their name. Josh Ace’s singing and writing style is not a million miles from massively popular acts like Coldplay, but that only serves to enhance the Manband. Strong guitar figures as in ‘No Solution’ may suggest Josh is to the manor born but later we have acoustic songs about atheism (‘God Delusion’) and upbeat indie rockers (‘Thoughts of Yesterday’) which demonstrate Josh’s affective singing and counterbalance the sensibilities of his dad and Phil Ryan.
Like many acts around the world who don’t register on the mass media radar, Man are not economically able to tour and it was probably a struggle for all concerned to finance this record. But after some uncertainty following the last shake-up in 2009 they appear to have consolidated their new musical identity.