Although never known as being one of the eras key acts, Manfred Mann enjoyed a few sizeable radio hits during the beat boom of the 60s. After the hits dried up, the eponymous keyboard player had flirted with jazz-rock with the ambitious, but dull, Manfred Mann Chapter Three, before deciding to recruit another band and head in a distinctly more progressive rock direction, with something of an emphasis on eco-concerns. The snappily named Manfred Mann’s Earth Band took a few years to get going, but in the latter half of the 70s they too were enjoying sizeable radio play with a clutch of hit single cover versions that still get the occasional spin on classic rock radio stations to this day.
The hits didn’t come straight away of course, but 1973’s Messin’, the band’s third album, was the first one on which they found the sound that they would hone to good effect later in the decade. With ecological concerns to the fore, the album’s title track is a product of its time, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s weighty concerns are still absolutely relevant today (maybe even more so), and at least it has the benefit of avoiding the usual mystical twaddle that blights the very worst early 70s album rock.
Although never boasting the superstar qualities possessed by many of their contemporaries, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band were certainly no slouches as musicians. They were a bunch of talented musos playing the fashionable rock music of the era, they just perhaps lacked that extra bit of the charisma that was being increasingly utilised by their peers. Of course, you could always argue that they were a band that preferred to let the music do the talking, which is fair enough. Messin’ is not an album where the failings are on a technical level, instead it is the unevenness of the material on offer, as beyond the opening title track it is inconsistent, which is a real shame because it’s obvious that they were heading for good things, but they just hadn’t quite got there yet. Where it works, it works well, such as instrumental “Cloudy Eyes”, however there are times when you’re not exactly sure what they were aiming for, such as the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Get Your Rocks Off”, where they seem to want to aspire to good time, groovesome party rock, but their innate professionalism holds them back from cutting loose and rocking out. Elsewhere, things just fall a bit flat, despite the best efforts of everyone involved.
Messin’ is a product of its time. A little obscure, a little inconsistent, but ultimately a memento of a time when the music business expected all but the biggest acts to churn out an album a year at least, and a reminder that, inevitably, not every album could be a drop-dead classic every time. Despite this, if you fancy hearing the moment that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band first hinted that they might one day become the band that would record classic rock radio staples like “Blinded by the Light” and “Davy’s on the Road Again”, then Messin’ is your starting point.