In this, Manning's fourth album, the emphasis has shifted yet again, focussing on the particular over the general in its exploration of the variety of human experience. The changes have not been limited to the album's focus, though; Manning's work is always developing, and VOL 4 brings us a number of departures in technique.
Unlike previous albums, where the majority of vocals were sung by Jeff Burstin, this one has Bruce Haymes singing all but one of the sung tracks. His softer, lighter voice gives the album a very different feeling. It is a gentler, slower take on life, and I, personally, prefer his soothing tones to the raw, slightly gravelly energy of Burstin. It seems to me a better fit with the gentle voice of Bernie Manning as he reads his poetry. The two in fact combine in Girl On A Tram, an engaging vignette of a phone conversation eavesdropped on public transport, and the combination of spoken verse and sung refrain works very well.
In another departure from established habit, Song X was the first purely instrumental track I've seen in Manning's albums. I loved its easy, loose-jointed sound, and hope there will be more like it.
Great use has also been made of special effects: beach sounds, thunderstorms, birdsong have been used to great effect, not just shoved in as background but weaving in and through the music and enhancing it. Whoever put this together is very gifted indeed. The special effects were used to particular effect in Tweed Heads 2001.
Worthy of special mention were also Baby Boomers Rap - another delightful piece of social comment, lightened by Manning's wit, which is dry, but never unkind, A Winter's Day, a sorrowful spoken poem at the end of which a beam of hope shines through the clouds, and Smilin', in which the feeling of summer was almost palpable.
Although in general I loved all of the new developments, on a personal level I must say I was sad to see that there were no comic monologues in this album. It is the first time that these have been absent, the previous albums following a course started with the hilarious Secret Men's Business in Volume 1. I'm a great fan of these and I do hope that we may see more of them in Volume 5.
Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits, Volumes One, Two and Three and Four, are available from Bernie's own website.