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(68:29, 10T Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Block 5:37 2. Mr. Lie 5:50 3. Majestic 4:35 4. Beast Inside 5:27 5. Street Game 5:29 6. What the Canvas Hides 5:16 7. Might Is Right 4:56 8. Curtain Call 6:14 9. Shelter 4:09 10. Love Never Lost 6:14 11. Broken 6:27 12. Habitat 8:15 LINEUP: Jeff Hodges – vocals; keyboards; samples Eric Sands - bass, guitar Rob Sindon - drums With: David Ragsdale - violin Adrian Belew – electric guitar Brent Shelly - acoustic guitar
Prolusion. Based in Atlanta, Georgia in the US, the band MAN ON FIRE released their self-titled debut album in 1998, and at the tail end of 2005 their third album "Habitat" was released by Progrock Records. In 2006 the main members of the group started their own label, 10T Records, which subsequently re-released the CD.
Analysis. The loose concept album "Habitat" is the recording in which Man on Fire seems to have found a sound of their own, creating a recognizable and distinct atmosphere and style. It is also a step away from conventional progressive rock, especially in terms of compositional structure. Rather than writing complex songs demanding the listeners’ attention, the band has chosen to make music with a main foundation in pop, although with some remnants of progressive rock still audible. A highly noticeable element of this is the production and mixing of the album. The guitars are not given a dominant or even prominent place in the arrangements, but most of the time are subdued. Apart from various guitar soloing and some parts where guitar riffs and licks are highlighted briefly, their role and function in these compositions is mostly to underscore the theme by strengthening the main melody line, or to add a certain sound or mood to the overall soundscape. There aren't many instances of guitar-driven segments, but neither are there many where they aren't present. Synthesizers, loops and samples are ever-present in all tunes here, and have on this release been given more space than on previous albums by Man On Fire. Layers of samples, synths and sounds are used to both provide the finer details in the melodies as well as to enrich the moods and atmospheres explored, adding details to the textures and thus fleshing out even the more the basic tunes. The bass guitar further enriches the picture here, especially on the tunes where the fretless bass is used. This rich and vibrant sound, making me think of British pop music from the late 80's as well as jazz, fits the compositions well. Although neither extremely complex nor highly central in the sonic textures, it does provide a nice groove when used. There aren't too many elements left from progressive music here though. Synths, samples and loops provide the only elements of complexity, the tunes where violinist David Ragsdale (of Kansas fame) contributes do add symphonic tendencies to those particular compositions, a few breaks can be found on closer listening and the fact that this is a concept album is a progressive element in itself. But all in all this isn't a release with a foundation in either the classical or the modern definition or progressive rock, and even the tag rock music may not apply in full to this album, which is one of the negative assets of this release. In style and manner it contains too many pop elements to please rock fans, but also too many elements of rock to cater for a pop audience. There are too many progressive elements to satisfy people that like mainstream music, but not enough of the same to suit the tastes of the average prog fan. That the choices made in the production and mixing of the album have led to soundscapes where some individual instruments, the guitar in particular, are subdued to the point of disappearing in the mix is another trait that may alienate listeners of any category, and fans of guest guitarist Adrian Belew in particular. Samples and loops have been mentioned, and the extensive use of those is another facet that may alienate some listeners. They do add some much needed details to the textures, but for some it may disrupt rather than enhance the listening
Conclusion. "Habitat" is a good release for anyone who enjoys slick pop music mixed with elements from progressive rock. The overall sound is modern; the compositions are melodic, well-thought-out and, overall, accessible. However, fans of challenging, complex rock music or aficionados of rougher sounding rock music might not find this release that interesting, and the overall feeling of this being a release made for a mainstream audience makes this an album that needs to be approached with some degree of caution from the potential buyer.
OMB: June 17, 2008
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