I Am the Manic Whale - Bumper Book of Mystery Stories

I Am the Manic Whale – Bumper Book of Mystery Stories

I Am the Manic Whale are back with their fourth studio album, reuniting once again with Rob Aubrey, who is best known for his work with Big Big Train. I Am the Manic Whale, which started as a solo project by bass playing frontman Michael Whiteman (the band’s name is an anagram of his name) are one of the most interesting new names to enter the prog scene in recent years.

The band strike me as the prog equivalent of Level 42, thanks to their singing bass player and the falsetto vocals from their keyboard player. Like Mark King’s band, they have a strong sense of melody, write killer tunes and know their way around their instruments. I’ve seen them live a few times and they give off the aesthetic of the IT department of a high street bank on their way to a comic convention. That isn’t an insult, by the way, and with songs about Dr Who and skeletons made from yellow plastic tube by a Dutch artist among their work, their geek credentials are well established.

Michael Whiteman collaborated with Ryo Okumoto last year on the excellent The Myth of the Mostrophus (Okumoto guests here in return) and he’s brought that conceptual approach to I Am the Manic Whale’s Bumper Book of Mystery Stories. Not only is this an album themed around a book, there is also an actual 200-page book of sixteen short stores, written by the band, which you can also purchase. Extra geek points and extra prog points all round! The idea behind this project reminds me of Scarred for Life, a book series about growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, surrounded by the scariest pop culture of all time, but with an added slice of ‘Adventure Books for Boys (and Girls)’.

This album has elements of a lot of other bands, not in any form of plagiarism but in essence and tone. There are shades of Big Big Train (layered instruments, epic songs, strong storytelling sensibilities, bass pedals), Tiger Moth Tales (whimsical Englishness and childhood nostalgia), early Genesis (melodic prog, albums with earworm opening tracks and shouty cockney characters) and XTC (more quintessential Englishness and geeky tendencies). Imagine something like all of those bands with the fun dial turned up to eleven and you’ll understand what this album is all about.

Whatever I felt was missing on the third album, Things Unseen, which is by far my least played of their back catalogue to date, has been reinstalled on this one. All of the songs are really strong and they work so well as one themed collection. The circular nature of the record and how it brings things round in a loop, like a ghost train, is inspired. The opening and closing tracks, which form a bookend to the album, would feel at home on a Big Big Train record.

There’s even a piano and guitar section on The Incredible David that could have come from an Avenged Sevenfold album, which isn’t something I anticipated writing. In guitarist David Addis you have someone I love to see play live, and I can’t wait to hear this one at a gig. He sits alongside the likes of Chris Fry, Steve Hackett, Dave Gregory, Menno Goodies and Steve Morse, people who play like they were born to be a guitarist and who love every minute they are on stage. All four members of the band play their hearts out on this record, as you’d expect from a prog band on the rise.

Those geek credentials return on Erno’s Magic Cube, a tale about the creation of the Rubik’s Cube, which follows on from a previous Manic Whale song about Lego. It’s suitably ’80s, as you might hope, in a way that perfectly suits and frames the subject matter. The opening section of We Interrupt This Broadcast is the most Big Big Train moment on the album, it feels like a Greg Spawton epic in lots of ways, until the whole thing gets a bit heavier and more relentless.

This album feels a little bit more grown up and considered than previous ones, but still has that sense of fun and abandonment that the band has become known for. The two long epic tracks Nautilus and We Interrupt This Broadcast are the most noticeable examples of the slight shift, and they are both excellent prog songs. All in all, I enjoyed this album a lot and I’ll be washing it down with lashings of ginger beer. It reminded me why their first two albums were such joyful singalong triumphs.

If you like I Am the Manic Whale, this is another album in their inimitable style, so you’ll enjoy this one too. And if you like any of the bands I mentioned earlier, then the same applies. Give this one a spin and make sure you see them live, they are one of the most interesting bands on the live prog circuit and a must see whenever they tour.

01. Ghost Train (part 1) (4:01)
02. Patient AB (6:08)
03. Dream Fortune (5:12)
04. Secret Passage (7:48)
05. The Incredible David (9:16)
06. Nautilus (13:42)
07. Erno’s Magic Cube (5:20)
08. We Interrupt This Broadcast (14:31)

Total Time – 65:58

Michael Whiteman – Bass, Vocals
David Addis – Guitar
John Murphy – Keyboards
Ben Hartley – Drums
~ With:
Sally Minear – Vocals
Ryo Okumoto – Keyboards
Ella Lloyd – Flute
Simon Whiteman – Guitars

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 7st July 2023

I Am the Manic Whale – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp