I don't review everything that's submitted to me for that purpose, because not everything makes the cut and a few otherwise worthy albums just get lost in the cracks during times I'm focused on my film festival or convention and end up not writing reviews for a while. I have to say here that I wasn't sure if I should review this one, but I decided to because it kept growing on me and I firmly believe that it deserves some publicity.
Manu Reno is the name of the multi-talented musician behind this one man project and I honestly hadn't noticed that he hails from Barcelona before I ate paella tonight. Damn, I miss the insanely fresh cuisine in that city and it's been a couple of decades since I've been there, singing along with a different Manu on the jukebox in some bar. I hear more of Barcelona in that Manu's sound, that Manu being Manu Chao, than in Manu Reno's, but I'm not sure where to place it at all because his voice makes it so inherently unique.
I believe he's primarily a bass player and the bass does lead the way on many of these songs, with the first a good case in point. Eternally kicks off the album in thoroughly playful mood and it's the bass that sets that mood. He also plays every other instrument too, all of them capably, and sings for good measure, which is where the question marks come in. It took me aback immediately but I developed a taste for it under certain circumstances and it fit more and more as I repeat listened through this album.
It reminded me initially of Uli Jon Roth, a great comparison because he's a fantastic musician, just one who people tend to tune into because of his guitarwork rather than his voice. Manu Reno is an accomplished guitarist, even if he favours the bass, and a quite a few songs here reminded me of a Wishbone Ash guitar intro. That delightful intricacy is right there on When I'm Gone and The Land of the Free and Time, among others, but it's just one aspect of his sound. Hiding from the Sun is an acutely Sex Pistols-esque punk song, for example. The instrumentals, Lumina Noctem and the title track, are notably progressive. There's a recognisable Black Sabbath riff in There on the Moon, so it's clear that Reno does not restrict himself to a single genre.
What I found was that his voice fits some but not all of the genres he drifts into. Once I got used to his delivery, which is in heavily accented English that's resistant to the usual directions that voices take, I found that it worked well on up tempo rockers like Eternally, where it becomes just another instrument in the mix. It works well on the punkier material too, like Hiding from the Sun and the bonus track, Rusty Souls' Trilogy, because it's anarchic and under a different sort of control. Yet, a softer ballad like Breakable feels just the wrong sort of material for him.
I don't want to concentrate on Reno's voice because there's so much else to what he does, as both the instrumentals ably highlight, Lumina Noctem being especially evocative, but it's hard to see it as anything but the focus. Put simply, if you don't dig his voice, you're going to hate this album, no doubt. On the other hand, if it gets a grip on you, even if it's to figure out what he's actually doing with it, you may well end up loving this. It seems fair to throw out Shane McGowan of the Pogues or Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello as two comparisons and both those highly talented gentlemen also have instantly recognisable but highly unorthodox voices that don't work for every style.
I actually played a couple of these songs to my son to see what he might think. His initial call was a combination of the deliberate delivery of Billy Idol and the mumbling of Dave Mustaine, which is a weird take for me but I guess I can see it. Reno certainly delivers with relish. His other suggestion was that the voice reminded him of a punk singer who comes on right before the headliners at an otherwise metal gig, having sunk a few beers before getting on stage. I definitely hear that.
Given that I like some of these songs a lot more than others, because of how those vocals fit these many styles, I think I have to go with a 6/10. If you hate that voice, you should shed a few points off that score to the degree that you shouldn't even bother. However, if you find it fascinating, add an extra point on, because it'll draw you in to the point where you'll eventually notice the other cool things he's doing instrumentally and the album will grow on you. So thanks, Manu, for sending me this one for review. I didn't like everything on it but I liked some of it a lot and I always appreciate different approaches. All the best!
And, before I go, I should mention that this is far from Manu's first album. I'm seeing seven on his Bandcamp page and you can pick up the whole lot for only twenty-five euros right now. I'm really intrigued to see what else is in his musical toolbox, even though very few of the songs seem to be sung in Spanish. Given how Manu's accent manifests in English, I really wonder what he sounds like in what I presume is his native language.