This album moves more into personal territory with most of its songs drawn from Manning's personal experience. It's a mix of spoken poems with musical backing and actual songs. Of the latter, the dominant sound has a retrospective feeling - a lazy, cheerful sound that I associate with the music of the early 1970s. This comes out particularly strongly in Living The Dream and Call Me Crazy.
The spoken poems are all delivered by Manning himself, with sung vocals performed by Bruce Haymes except for a single track (Bluesman) sung by Jeff Burstin. In this we see a continuation of the shift that started in Volume 4, away from the gravelly, masculine sound of Burstin towards the softer tones of Haymes. I will admit to preferring the latter myself.
In a nicely symmetrical arrangement, the first track (Water) is about birth and the last (Dave), a tragic recounting of a friend lost at sea, with death. This was a particular favourite of mine; the wistful recounting of the missing man's disappearance avoids the trap of cloying sentiment and thus is more powerfully sad than any overblown wailing could achieve.
It wouldn't be Bernie Manning without some ironic comment on modern life, and this is most notably given us in The Office Monster. Listening to this wonderfully evocative track, I felt almost faint with relief at having escaped the awfulness that is modern office life, the hermetically sealed, stale-aired environment and the press of bodies crammed into too little space.
Sadly, there were once again no Secret Men's Business tracks. I did rather wish some had been included. Manning shines as an humourist and I don't believe gives himself enough credit for how funny those monologues are. I still hope to see their return in future records.
Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits Volume Five, and also Volumes One, Two and Three and Four, is available from Bernie's own website.