Fronted by Andreas Johansson, Swedish outfit The Man began life as a three-piece band, bought together by their love of 70s pop. Their debut album ‘A Space Waltz’ was picked up for release in Japan by Philter Records. By the time of the recording of this sophomore disc, The Man had slimmed down to a duo, with various other musicians dropping by to lend a hand. ‘Lake, Ocean or Sea’ has plenty in the way of 70s vibes, but those expecting the usual ELO, 10cc and Wings type influences (as per Oranjuly or the rather wondrous Silver Seas) are likely to find themselves feeling a sense of indifference, if not disappointment.
After an intro, ‘Hold On To Nothing’ begins an ambling journey across four minutes, threatening to build to a climax without ever getting anywhere. The vocal is clear but uninspired, and while the use of drums and glockenspiels add occasional depth, it’s never quite dramatic enough to create a long-lasting impression. ‘It’s a Fever’ is a little more instant, but while it’s well-arranged chimes of bells and ringing guitars do their best to recreate a retro-pop sound, The Man have clearly forgotten to write anything memorable by way of a hook – a weak attempt at a chorus would have made a great pre-chorus, but there’s nothing to follow that and take things to the next (necessary) level. ‘What I’d Do’ has a dreamy pleasant vibe, combining Teenage Fanclub styled retro grooves with a gentle trippiness. The swooning sound evokes summer days, but far too much of a drowsy slant means that a track which started out as pleasant and almost other-worldly drifts into dullness by its end.
‘A New Song’ presents a far more upbeat slant to The Man’s sound. Moving away from previous melancholy atmospheres, this number has a more throwaway pop feel. The verses are jaunty with a huge focus on stabbing keyboards; though their sound is a little harsh. Rather than being those of a Jellyfish and 10cc variety, these have the air of a hastily hammered tack piano, and as such, can become grating. Even so, there’s a sense during the verse that we’re building up to a big chorus – and it’s one which doesn’t disappoint, with harmony vocals and bells a-plenty. On its own, it would certainly be a winner, but somehow, The Man have decided that an ugly new-wavish synth would be the icing on the power-pop cake…and it damn near kills the good elements.
‘These Streets’ presents mid-paced singer/songwriter pop with a heavy seventies slant. It’s one of the times The Man’s melancholic pop truly works. The harmony vocals are smooth and the piano playing understated. The main riff is used to bring together the elements, which in the middle section, build up a gentle, yet brilliantly arranged atmosphere. By the time of the vocal reprise, you’ll be left wanting more. Even Johannson’s lead vocal here is among the album’s best. ‘At Home In Water’ comes almost as close to being as good, with atmospheres and keyboard loops which feature a strong influence from Mercury Rev at their peak – an influence reinforced by slight reverb across the vocals.
By the tail end of the album, though, things tail off again. ‘Thinking About Leaving’ lollops along in a disinterested manner; its ringing guitars as dull as its uninspired vocal. The sound of harp strings and harpsichords of ‘Never Grown Up’ should have provided a good closing statement; had it been left as an instrumental, it still might’ve been. Once Johansson starts to sing (again, singing in his oft-used twee style that carries little to no weight), his voice masks the musical layers.
Some of The Man’s atmospheres can be enjoyable (especially, when they settle into their occasional Mercury Rev inspired stuff), but the songs themselves are often left in need of those vital, recurring and instant melodies. While a couple of songs are more than worth seeking out, when approached as a whole album, ‘Lake, Ocean or Sea’ is a little too downbeat. Too much reliance on chill-out summery atmospheres and a distinct lack memorable choruses leads to a mostly wishy-washy, rather forgettable experience.
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