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Terry Manning - Home Sweet Home

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Artist: Terry Manning

Album: Home Sweet Home

Label: Sunbeam

Review date: Jan. 23, 2007

Terry Manning was an engineer for Alex Chilton’s Box Tops, and, by all accounts, a prankster, a goofball and a wiseass. In the late ‘60s, he recorded his own absurdly overdone version of “Choo Choo Train,” a song the Tops were working on, and, to fuck with Chilton’s handlers, blasted it in the studio before a session. Producer Al Bell liked Manning’s gleeful pastiche so well, he demanded an entire album of this sort of stuff. And that’s how Home Sweet Home, a swirl of rock and soul conventions played to the ridiculous hilt, was hatched. It was mismanaged into oblivion, of course, but remained a talked-about curio for Big Star geeks (along with a few lucky cover-tune geeks). The mighty Sunbeam reissued it in time to fare conspicuously well on Idolator’s inaugural Jackin’ Pop Critics’ Poll.

No big surprise there. Anyone who’s ever been helplessly immersed in late ‘60s pop (particularly of the sort that reveled in its symbiosis with rugged R&B) can dig Manning’s action. He’s not the sort of dude Paul Westerberg would write a song about. But what he lacks in Chilton/Bell’s dreamy sentimentality, he makes up for in his broad comprehension of, and visceral love for, the “Memphis sound” itself, the greasy soul hybrid that congealed so tightly with Big Star.

But Home Sweet Home is no mere “forgotten gem,” an ultimately frivolous accessory for Chilton completists. It’s, among other things, a remarkably prescient work of simultaneous satire and function. It takes a good eye to see camp right in front of you, and a good ear to hear the subtleties of overstatement. If anyone currently has as wide an awareness of pop as Manning had circa Home Sweet Home, that person is probably making mash-ups.

Well before rock’s Dionysian absurdity became fodder for sketch-comic derision, Manning brought an irresistible self-awareness into his wild, protracted experiments. Before prog’s cannibalization of space-age fads reached critical mass, he added the plastic snarl of the Moog into his 10-minute reconfiguration of “Savoy Truffle,” reading George Harrison’s sinister surrealism as a bracing mock epic. His default vocal setting echoes “teenage wasteland”-era Roger Daltrey, albeit with bullish swagger in lieu of Daltrey’s parched desperation. But he’s a gifted mimic, spoofing Chilton (“I Ain’t Got You”), young Elvis (“Guess Things Happen That Way”) and Archie Bell (“Trashy Dog”) with consistent confidence and depth. And he’s never afraid to utilize the entire scope of his day’s popular music, often in the course of one song. Even the dance-craze bid “Trashy Dog,” arguably Manning’s silliest creation, includes a blistering, Hendrix-y guitar solo, in glorious defiance of memesis. This may be Home Sweet Home, but Manning doesn't give a fuck where he's bound.

Take a drink every time the harmonica comes in.

By Emerson Dameron

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