It seems like only yesterday we were here rooting for the making of Chris mann’s followup to Roads but after a short wait, his new album, Constellation, has dropped digitally to those fantastic Mannfans who have been supporting him throughout his journey. From a disheartening lost album with Sony, to appearing on The Voice and getting a recording contract with Republic Records, Chris Mann is back but doing things his way and on his terms. No longer pandering to the whims of studio execs he is in charge of his sound, his image and his voice as he brings us a new set of stories and tales of love, inspiration and courage. Constellation is all of this and more.
I could do this one of two ways, make a detached, clinical review of the sounds and words that create an album or give you my honest opinion as a fellow Mann fan and music lover. I decided for the latter. Why? Because, just like I’d rather hear the opinions of fellow music lovers and fans of the art, I’m sure you’ll prefer the opinion of someone who has been along for the journey with this artist rather than a corporate persona who speaks what is popular with the “music industry.” So, below I breakdown Constellation song by song, lyrics by lyric, tune by tune.
The first track off of Constellation sets the mood for what is teased to be a soulful and car free journey. The way the drums and piano intertwine weaving a melodic tune backed up by uplifting lyrics have you bopping your head and tapping your feet.
“Rain Like This”
For some reason the first notes take me back to “A Night Like This” from Roads so it almost feels like a follow up of sorts. Then, the chorus kicks in and he isn’t takes an identity of its own with Chris’ vocals front and center. Hitting the highs and lows in a masterfully perfected manner. He knows just when to let go and when to pull back to take listeners to that specific place the story is leading
Between be opening notes of the strings (harps?) to the pounding drums this song is bound to become an anthem to the many Mann fans out there. The violin strings plucking along with Chris’ echoed vocals in the chorus defy you to try and keep still. Try and keep from clapping your hands and singling along. After a few listens a this song quickly became one of the stand outs in the album
This is a perfect follow up to “Echo” as it does a great job of bringing he tempo back down from the high set in the track prior. A beautiful, melodic, romantic song that showcases the control Chris Mann has over his vocals. The soulful, pleading notes glide effortlessly as he inserts vocal runs here and there.
Another song that reminds me of “A Night Like This” for some reason. Maybe it’s the opening notes and the tempo but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you need to remind your listeners of the old to be able to progress to the new. The vocals are so smooth it’s a bit of a mix of r&b and classical music. Maybe it’s just me but I get a bit of a Luther Vandross vibe…and you can never go wrong with violins.
“City on Fire”
I’ve been looking forward to hear this song for a while now. Back in November Chris couldn’t help but gush about the song during our backstage tour at The Phantom of the opera and after a first listen, I can see why. Starting from the lyrics “keep me from fallin’ ’cause now I’m just walking through this city on fire” are nothing short of inspirational. back that up with the melodic piano and haunting choruses done by Chris himself. The song straddles the line between soothing and bringing you chills.
“To the Moon and Back”
Guitars. Vocals. There is nothing better than two instruments coming together in a dance where each knows when to step up into the spotlight, stand back or join in on a beautifully choreographed chorus. This song perfectly showcases Chris Mann’s voice which comes off as crisp and clear. It is a true testament of artistry to stand there with your vocals naked for the world to hear with nothing to hide behind like auto tune, excess noise and chorus. Any imperfection or missed note can be easily detected if you’re not at your best but Chris has proven time and time again that he is indeed a master of his craft.
My #1 favorite of the album close behind “Echo” Something about this song’s arrangement with the guitars and drums alongside Chris’ uplifting vocals do nothing but make you want to clap your hands, move your body or swing around with arms wide open. It’s like Chris is sending a message to all the naysayers who thought he wouldn’t be able to make it in his journey to do music his way, do things on his own terms. “All the hell that I’ve been through…sometimes you’re gonna win, sometimes you’re gonna lose. Don’t you know what a comeback looks like?” Fantastic arrangement and writing on this song.
“Love and War”
Take a piano and a superb vocalist and put them together and you get this song. A soldier set adrift at sea, fighting for love, Chris Mann excels as a storyteller taking you on the highs and lows of the depth of feelings. He is able to evoke longing and hope by hitting the right notes and making them last just the right length of time so as not to overpower the melody. He keeps things simple with mellow background vocals and clear moments of just him and the piano. Not necessarily a stand out in the album but not a track to skip either.
“Be Good to Me”
Chris previously teased a bit about this song while the project was being funded on Pledge Music so of course I was curious to hear the finished product. Not often you get t hear a cello be one of the main instruments alongside a piano, at least not in contemporary music. This is most often heard in classical or instrumental tracks but, being as Chris is classically trained it is no surprise to hear the combination at this point in the album.
Picking the pace back up this song takes you into a more smooth jazz/R&B feel. A peek at a saucier side of the operatic singer we are used to. A mix of Tony Braxton and D’Agenlo (in Brown Sugar era) this is a bit of a more grown up tune that surprisingly fits in perfectly in the overall storyline of the album. I can definitely see this track blazing up the adult contemporary charts if it becomes one of the singles. It would perfectly as a featured track in one of the Fifty Shades films just like The Weekend and Beyonce did in the first film it’s that steamy.
“Fly me to the Moon”
You’re probably thinking, “not another remake of this old Sinatra song.” Well, yes it is but Chris Mann manages to change things up by slowing down the tempo and making a snap your fingers rat pack standards classic into more of a waltz. Once again, the cello is a beautiful companion to the piano and the vocals. Can’t help but detect a bit of auto tune on some of the vocals but that could just be due to the “T-Payne” peek we were treated to last year as Chris was producing the track in the studio. Can’t help it coming to mind. Beautiful, beautiful rendition.
“Music of the Night”
Now, everyone knows what a massive Phantom fan I am so I’ll admit I was a bit hesitant to see this very operatic tune would be on the album. I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. Chris not only manages to bring forth the feeling of the song from the theater to the living room but he does so by knowing when to pull back on the operatics that make it a staple of the Broadway production. Gone are many of the overpowering orchestra pieces and you get a piano accompanied by violins, bringing the intricate melody to a more simplified yet moving version. “Floating, falling, sweet intoxication” indeed. This is a fantastic new arrangement that has quickly become a favorite over the original.
No it’s not a dance remix as you would think, rather a reworking of the baseline beats that take the song from motivational anthem to a perfect closing act for Constellation. The lyrics bring the whole album full circle from beginning to end. “I am you voice, I am your echo’ he sings and yes, many of the lyrics in this album are just that, an echo of our thoughts, desires and feelings. This time around however, Chris is our voice and we are the echo.
Overall Constellation impressions? This is an album that, unless marketing goes horribly wrong, will definitely be in the top 10 charts in in the weeks to come. No, the sounds it’s not what’s popular in the top pop radio stations but rather for a more discerning crowd so it would make it’s niche in hthe Adult Contemporary, R&B and Jazz stations easily.Chris Mann managed to produce a concise album that tells a story beginning to end. The way the tracks are laid out take listeners on a well thought out journey of highs and lows (not dramatically “I want to cry until next year” low) but he knows when a mellow song is needed and when an anthem fits in. Planning out how the melodies blend from one track through the other be it through the use of drums, violins, guitars or cello, you can tell he took his time mapping out this journey.
With co-writers like Amy Foster Ryan O’ Neil, Mark Hammond and Justin Tranter Chris Mann has a certified hit on his hands with Constellation. It is all really up to the reception of the fans and how it is promoted, what stations play his songs and most importantly, what songs are selected for the first few singles.
As the album’s booklet states “a constellation is a group of stars; a group of configuration of ideas, feelings, characteristics, that are related in some way; an outstanding group or assemblage. Well, each song is a star in its own right, some shine brighter than others but they each make their mark.
Constellation is currently only available to those that supported Chris Mann through Pledge Music but will be up for pre-order on iTunes as of next Tuesday and will drop on hard disk sometime thereafter. We will definitely share the pre-order link once it is available as we see nothing but greatness for this rising star.
You can also check out our interview with Chris were he discussed a lot of the making of this album and his current role as the Phantom.