Roger Joseph Manning Jr. is best known as Beck’s keyboard player, but once upon a time he was one of the founding members of Jellyfish, a short-lived power pop band in the early ’90s that faded with the advent of grunge but heavily influenced bands like the Ben Folds Five.
On his first solo album, Solid State Warrior, Manning pays tribute to ’70s AM radio with intricately arranged pop confections, Queen-esque power ballads, and gorgeous falsetto lullabies. As the gifted multi-instrumentalist rolls out the synth strings, four-part harmonies, and pseudo-jazz chord progressions, you can almost see the fake wood paneling and shag carpeting of a Nixon-era den.
The lyrics, ranging from the acid trip psychedelia of “The Land of Pure Imagination” to the boy-girl heartache of “Wish it Would Rain,” are sometimes unmemorable but the music is so heartfelt and the orchestrations so lush that such shortcomings are easily forgiven.
For years a first-rate studio musician, Manning is a master at layering nuanced keyboard and guitar lines beneath his sunny hooks and multi-tracked vocals, giving his songs a vibrancy lacking from the more minimalist arrangements of ’90s and contemporary rock.
As long as you have an appreciation for uplifting, well-crafted pop music, Solid State Warrior should fit right alongside your Weezer and Matthew Sweet records. And if you like this album, definitely check out Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk, pre-grunge pop’s last hurrah.
Solid State Warrior is available as a Japanese import from Amazon.com and other internet purveyors.
Matt Gajewski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.