Ah pop-prog, that strange little sub-genre that only Electric Light Orchestra, Queen and Supertramp seemed to get right. Each band had their own special way of approaching it, so none of them ever sounded remotely like each other, but most of them enjoyed a certain level of success that allowed them to become household names in one way or another.
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band never quite cracked the whole concept, but on The Roaring Silence they gave it a damn good go. They could do fiddly prog nonsense with almost arrogant ease, although their self-penned material often let them down, but on The Roaring Silence they played to their strengths and married the prog tomfoolery with melodies that were easy on the ear. Another smart move was them recording a couple of covers to kick the album off with, which allowed them to bypass their own lack of lyrical skill a little. Being somewhat smug about their musical abilities, they took it upon themselves to attempt Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light”, one of The Boss’s more wordy songs to date. To everyone’s amazement they managed to pull it off, resulting in a musically pleasing, lyrically obscure, yet nevertheless commercial song which provided them with a hit single and created interest in the album.
The album isn’t just that one song though, the cover of Mike Heron’s “Singing The Dolphin Through” allowed them to show that “Blinded By The Light” wasn’t just a freak moment of inspiration. the other five tracks allowed the band to flex their songwriting muscles and show off their chops, though admittedly by mid-way through “The Road To Babylon” any pop fans taking a chance on the album will have run for cover, what with all the choirs, impenetrable lyrics and layered keyboards. For Prog fans with an ear for commercial sounds there are still some enjoyable moments, such as the guitar solo relay between every member of the band except the drummer that runs throughout “Starbird”, and “Waiter, There’s A Yawn In My Ear” which tries to out-Pink Floyd Pink Floyd.
For those of us with an appreciation for the commercial sounds of prog, The Roaring Silence is something of a hidden gem. If you didn’t like the cover of “Blinded By The Light”, don’t let it put you off as the rest of the album is quite different as this album is packed full of twiddly keyboard moments, solid melodies and strangely enjoyable nonsense. A special mention should also go to a certain Mary Hooper, who gets a credit in the sleevenotes for making 3,736 cups of tea. Now that’s dedication to your job.