"Just no place to run and hide, Time is right for quittin' time."
The sixth and final album recorded by the original Manfred Mann’s Earth Band quartet, Nightingales and Bombers was also released prior to the new line up’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” pushed them towards greater commercial acceptance. Despite the change of vocalist from Mick Rogers to Chris Thompson and the addition of a further guitarist, Dave Flett, to expand the line up between the two albums, Nightingales and Bombers is the most similar stylistically to its follow up, The Roaring Silence, their breakthrough album, and home to their most famous Springsteen cover version.
Another link between Nightingales and Bombers and The Roaring Silence was that both of them opened with a cover version of a song from Bruce Springsteen’s debut album. While “Blinded by the Light” remains a staple of classic rock radio due to its commercial success, “Spirits in the Night” has also become one of the band’s most played tracks, both in the version on Nightingales and Bombers, and the version the band released to capitalise on “Blinded by the Light’s” success, with Thompson vocals being dubbed over Rogers’. It’s a song that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band make their own, nailing their cover by way of their patented radio-friendly accessible prog-pop, and the fact that it was re-released when the band finally achieved a bigger audience is no surprise.
“Spirits in the Night” is the undoubted highlight of Nightingales and Bombers, with the rest of the album doing its best to find a happy balance between cover versions and their own instrumental compositions which could verge on jazz rock. This reliance on cover versions to achieve airplay throughout their career emphasises the fact that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band never really had a top line lyricist in the line up. But hey, at least they identified this weakness early on, which is why the majority of their hit singles have been cover versions, and why they are so synonymous with re-workings of the material of others, and why so much of their self-penned material are instrumentals or have extended instrumental passages.
These passages make up a large portion of Nightingales and Bombers, from the heads-down instrumental progressive rock lunacy of “Countdown” and the keyboard widdling of “Crossfade”, to the longer passages throughout the rest of the album. Just how much you enjoy Nightingales and Bombers is pretty much down to how much you get out of instrumental prog rock. With the musical passages being led by Rogers’ guitar work and Manfred Mann’s keyboards, neither over power proceedings to the point where the album starts to drag, but you do sometimes wish that they’d quit with the jamming and just find the hooks again. It was on one of Nightingales and Bombers few self-penned numbers with lyrics, “Time is Right”, that I realised just how much Rogers’ vocals owe to the frontmen of 60s beat groups, which given the lineage of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, is perhaps no surprise, and goes a long way to giving their pre-Roaring Silence material such a unique feel.
The second side of Nightingales and Bombers opens with “Visionary Mountains”, yet another cover version, this time one co-penned by Joan Armatrading prior to her own rise to prominence. It is less immediate than “Spirits in the Night”, but it really does confirm that at this stage in their career, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a real knack for identifying the lyrical qualities of up and coming artists before they reached mainstream acceptance. “Visionary Mountains” is another song with a lengthy instrumental passage, once again demonstrating that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band were under no illusions as to where their strengths lie.
Actually, much like the first half, the majority of Nightingales and Bombers’ second side is made up of instrumental passages, which is great if you like vaguely jazzy prog-rock, but a bit of a slog if you just want something more like the hits that get played on the radio. And while “Fat Nelly” shows some impressive musicianship, its lyrical content and title has dated really, really badly, to the point where it is a number that should probably best be forgotten.
Nightingales and Bombers closes with “As Above So Below” a live number which confirms that the band’s musical shops weren’t just restricted to the studio. Indeed, it has a great dynamic feeling, and demonstrates the fact that there was always an element of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band which they never really managed to capture in the studio. It worked so well, that they pulled the same trick on The Roaring Silence.
If you like The Roaring Silence, but have wondered why Manfred Mann’s Earth Band didn’t make more of their obvious musical chops in the studio, then Nightingales and Bombers is definitely worth seeking out. If you’re more a fan of the band’s radio hits and want to hear more of that sort of thing, then it’s very much a try before you buy album.