The opening title track to Roger Joseph Manning Jr.'s first made-it-in-my-home-studio release, The Land of Pure Imagination (Cordless Recordings), works to establish both the scope and limitations of this former Jellyfish songsmith's solo disc.
A collection of sonic fantasies ranging from pristine power-pop heartache ("Too Late for Us Now") to faux spy thriller theme songs (bossa nova track "Dragonfly") to a vaguely creepy children's lullaby ("Sandman") to a Jon Brion-styled slice of psychedelic waltz tempo baroqueness ("Appleby"), Imagination shows Manning to be as surefooted a songwriter as he was collaborating with present day Puffy AmiYumi svengali Andy Sturmer — even if this Jellyfish fan still misses the full-bodied sound a band would've brought to the party. If nuthin' else, the input of some groupmates might've discouraged the inclusion of an Eric Carmen-esque yawner like "In the Name of Romance."
But if RJMJr.'s (full name plastered on the disc presumably to keep the singer from being confused with New York City folkie Roger Manning) disc falls a degree or two below the sublime pop-rock releases his group of origin produced way back in the nineties (Bellybutton and Spilt Milk), it still stands up purty well.
Primo cuts include the aforementioned zipper, "Too Late," with its hard-to-shake chorus, growing sense of urgency and insertion of both sitar and banjo; "Wish It Would Rain," which opens with a Spilt Milk recollection of early childhood and slides into as smooth an old-fashioned stroll this side of Brother Era Beach Boys; "The Loser," which fakes you out with a Yes-styled opener than moves into pure joyous rockery; and "You Were Right," one of those if-only-Supertramp-sounded-this-good tracks that Manning's old band produced with devastating ease.
Emphasis is on keyboards, of course, but like current Britpop darlings Keene, Manning is skilled at making 'em sound like more than they are (points to opening track "Imagination" for layering on the pure moog cheese, though). And, unlike Keene, Manning clearly has a welcome sense of humor. If some of Manning’s lyrics sound too sure of themselves, the songs-as-songs provide plenty of pure pop pleasure.
So — if we must live in a world without Jellyfish (as I suppose we must, given Sturmer's seemingly comfortable niche in Cartoon Networkville), then let's all hope Manning's inspired to produce more than one solo disc per decade. But, Rog', next solo disc, let's get someone else to design the cover, okay? That's gotta be the dorkiest album cover since Bellybutton.