These are my thoughts on, ‘Bumper Book of Mystery Stories’, the new album from Reading based outfit I Am The Manic Whale. Following on from 2020’s ‘Things Unseen’, this new collection of eight themed and linked tracks is a strong return to form as ‘Things Unseen’ was a little to unfocused really. Despite having several great tracks, a few others fell a bit short quality wise in parts. This album has redressed that particular issue clearly and the post-lockdown era has enabled the band to strengthen their musicianship to even higher levels. This is especially noticeable in the more focused bass playing of Michael Whiteman and the ever improving fluidity of guitarist David Addis. The keyboards of John Murphy, and Ben Hartley’s drums, add consistently sympathetic and worthy support to the proceedings.
The album is themed as a set of songs inspired by a book Michael found in an old and strange antique shop that was full of stories for boys. He decided to revisit these tales in song, adding mystery and suspense, to make something rather unique and different. The band even created their own tales that are available in a book as a companion piece to the album (not that I’ve read it, but the concept is a great one!). The music is everything that you have come to expect from this massively underrated band, strong melodies, dynamic pieces, class musicianship and interesting and intelligent songs. There is a lot going on here, there is also a marked improvement in confidence, possibly as a result of a higher standing after the collaboration with Ryo Okumoto’s recent solo album that Michael was heavily involved with, and which no doubt improved his own personal belief in his and his band’s abilities and worthiness.
The album has a mixture of styles and song lengths, from short tracks like Ghost Train (part 1) that opens the album, through to the two epics; Nautilus and We Interrupt This Broadcast…
So let’s delve a little deeper shall we?
Ghost Train (part 1) has echoes of John Finnemore’ s Souvenir Programme’s story elements. I know that Michael is a fan of this fine radio programme and went to some special recordings last year, which possibly were part of the inspiration for this track. The song has a suitably sombre tone as we are told that we are going to embark on an unusual and different type of journey, there’s also has some lively guitar work throughout, David Addis proving just what an inventive and tasteful player he truly is. In fact his playing on the whole album is excellent and inspired as he reaches new heights on several songs, enlivening with some truly melodic, flowing and fluidly inventive playing that significantly enhances the tracks with his combination of skill, technique and intelligence. He adds much icing to an already delicious musical cake. Second track, Patient AB, is based on a true story about a lady who was able to self diagnose a brain tumour that was subsequently found and dealt with successfully. Dream Fortune is based on the old folk tale The Pedlar of Swaffham, who travels to London where he believes he will meet a man who would make him rich. Instead, he is mocked by another dreamer who reveals a story of treasure buried under a tree in Swaffam. The dreamer discovering the treasure in his own garden and using it to fund the repair of the local church A great organ and choir are used to create great atmosphere in this track.
Secret Passage is a thrilling track with a strident bass at the forefront. This track blends images of Narnia and the Famous Five, amongst others, it is quite a robust number with another lovely guitar line in the middle section. It’s this level of skill and lightness of touch that really highlights the strength of this material written by the various band members. This song has an extended keyboard solo from John Murphy that is real delight, it’s great to hear him stretching out here, he is a great player and his contributions are invaluable. The Incredible David follows and is inspired by a story in a book John owned as a child, that told the tale of a boy who had insight into ancient history, with knowledge of things he could never have seen or known. The band have updated the tale by telling it from the father’s point of view and it’s an approach that works well, the song is multi layered with great piano and soaring Steve Vai type guitar in places. This is an album that requires time to allow its treasures to emerge slowly, in their own satisfying manner and that will capture your imagination, as they very much deserve to. Nautilus is influenced by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Captain Nemo. This watery tale has some great guitar in its thirteen-plus minute running time, along with keyboard contributions from Ryo Okumoto, who delivers a great synth section. The song is in five sections and is a very interesting track indeed, Michael’s love of science fiction comes across strongly here.
Penultimate song, Ernő’s Magic Cube, is a sort of continuation of a song from ‘Things Unseen’ that extolled the virtues of Lego, this track being about the Rubik’s Cube and is a direct relation to that earlier song, Build It Up. It is a very 80’s sounding song, again this one makes a good impression. We Interrupt This Broadcast… details the strange incident of a spoof radio transmission which detailed Alien activity and interest. This is the longest track of the album and, again, David sizzles on his guitar, playing a great solo. It concludes an album that really delivers, upping the ante considerably from previous releases.
With stronger material and inspired performances that offer a deeply rewarding listen, this is an album that will draw you back repeatedly and one that is a highly recommended release indeed.
Released 7th July, 2023.
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