Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Jellyfish Family Tree Part 8: Manning's Imagination

After playing the role of sideman and producer for nearly a decade, Jellyfish keyboardist and songwriter Roger Joseph Manning released his solo debut in 2006. This album, The Land of Pure Imagination, showed up in the mailbox early in 2008, probably the result of a somewhat irresponsible Amazon indulgence. Of any of the releases by Jellyfish members after their breakup, it had the clearest relationship to the bittersweet, almost tragic nostalgia that that the band's best work evoked. There were several songs that displayed his significant contribution to the Jellyfish formula, and these were real highlights for me back when I first got The Land of Pure Imagination.

Wish It Would Rain by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on Grooveshark

As a whole, though, I viewed the album as inconsistent, a stance that has changed since reviewing it for this project.  The Land of Pure Imagination is perhaps better described as "varied." In the time since Spilt Milk, Manning was involved in countless projects. The Land of Pure Imagination seems to be his intentional effort to coalesce these explorations into an identifiable style. While I'm not sure if these stylistic variances coalesce into a singular style, they certainly hang together as representative facets of Manning's broadly experienced musical identity.

Clearly, The Land of Pure Imagination was the closest that a Jellyfish fan could get to an album of new material, but it was not really a substitute. Manning clearly played an important creative role in Jellyfish’s songwriting and distinctive vocal arrangements, and as a solo artist, his songcraft overflows with similar creativity and conviction.  As a lead singer, however, his angelic voice didn't deliver Andy Sturmer's appealing, subtle angst, but it did imbue his ruminations on lost innocence with tear-jerking credibility.

Because my past recollections of The Land of Pure Imagination were hampered by a misguided concept, my impressions of the album from 2008 were somewhat vague. A conclusion that I still stand by, however, is that if Jason Falkner was the George Harrison of Jellyfish, then Roger Joseph Manning played the role of Paul McCartney. McCartney's solo work, in comparison to the Beatles, was always more saccharine without Lennon's confrontational wit as a counterbalance. The Land of Pure Imagination is similarly beautiful, but in comparison to Jellyfish, well, it's just not quite the same.

It is, however, an amazing, maybe even magical album, and my recent experiences as I have revisited it have largely overwritten the vague flashes of the Dallas 635 turnpike that dance around in my head when it is playing.  As a result, I am placing it in consideration for the "best of 2013" year-end list.  I have also been inspired to put its follow-up, 2009's Catnip Dynamite, on my wish list.  Only one can qualify, though, so we'll see which is the last to stand.

To check out the previous post in this series, go here.

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