[16 February 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. couldn’t have chosen a more accurate album title than Catnip Dynamite for his latest solo effort. Even the most particularly finicky pop fan will find it absolutely irresistible as it engenders an explosive sense of euphoria from the first track until the last. This is Manning’s third solo album, and each of the 14 tracks on it could equally be the best of the set—or of the year. The arrangement of “Love’s Never Half as Good” instantly conjures a sunny-day mind movie for the listener. It’s the kind of song that needs its own TV show, like something from a lost Monkees promo or a Partridge Family outtake, only a billion times better!
First single “Down in Front” is an energetic, unstoppable stadium rocker in the best ‘70s tradition. “The Turnstile at Heaven’s Gate” has layers of harmonies that recall Jellyfish, as well as a glittery star child stomp reminiscent of Manning’s work with Imperial Drag, but amazingly, it transcends either of those. The epic “Survival Machine” showcases his gorgeous voice and deft, delicate compositional prowess as he spins a galactic, almost operatic, tale. There’s the charmingly cheeky “Drive Thru Girl” with its sharp, yet silly sing-along lyrics, and a magnificent live recording of the previously released song, “You Were Right”.
Manning also puts his magic touch on a cover of Thomas Dolby’s “Europa and the Pirate Twins” and a truly astounding version Elton John’s “Love Lies Bleeding” recorded live in Japan. Catnip Dynamite is an album that fans of Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., and pop fans in general, will go completely nuts over, just like its title implies. And if this is your first exposure to his music, trust me, it’s a blast!