Manfred Mann had fronted several bands, in the 1960s he fronted a pop-rock band (simply called Manfred Mann) whose best known hit was "Doo Wah Ditty". By 1969, Manfred Mann himself assembled a band called Chapter III, a brass-rock band no doubt inspired by the likes of Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears (without imitating either groups). After the two albums Chapter III released, that group disintegrated, then by 1971 comes the band people most associate Manfred Mann with: Manfred Mann's Earth Band.
By the time Solar Fire was released, the band already three albums under their belt (1972's Manfred Mann's Earth Band, 1972's Glorified Magnified, and 1973's Messin', known in the U.S. as Get Your Rocks Off). The lineup for Solar Fire was the same as all their previous albums: keyboardist Mann, guitarist/vocalist Mick Rogers, bassist Colin Pattenden, drummer Chris Slade.
Most people associate the Earth Band with their polished hit cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light", which became an FM rock staple. But I really think the finest album they ever done was Solar Fire, this is the one album even people who aren't big Earth Band fans look to, and for good reason. The band was continuing to record for Polydor in the States, but in the UK, they switched from Vertigo to Bronze. This is by far the most progressive album ever did by the Earth Band, and certainly from Mann himself. There's a cosmic theme throughout the album, and was no doubt inspired by their take on Gustav Holst's The Planets from their 1973 single "Joybringer" (which also ended up on the American version of Solar Fire). First you get treated with the monster "Father of Day, Father of Night". You never could imagine a Bob Dylan song taking to such a grandiose prog epic, but these guys pulled it off with that song! I really love those majestic guitar, organ and synth passages, plus nice use of Mellotron (Manfred Mann himself was never credited to the instrument, but you certainly can notice it here, as well as several other Earth Band albums up to 1978's Watch). Mick Rogers certainly dishes out some great lead and heavy guitar riffs. "In the Beginning, Darkness" is a rather heavy rock song, I especially like the drum and spacy synth that's found in the middle part. "Pluto, the Dog" is an instrumental piece, showcasing Mann on his Moog synth, plus the sound of a dog barking. I often wondered how the Disney Company felt of a rock band using the name of one of their cartoon characters for one of their songs? Next is the wonderful title track. I always loved the use of organ and well as synth effects. Plus there's some female backup vocals that are not unlike Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. "Saturn, Lord of the Ring, Mercury, the Winged Messenger" is an all-instrumental piece, dominated by guitar, but then there's a mellow, spacy piece in the middle with a Moog solo, before the band really gets rocking. But here's the problem with reviewing the rest of the album: I am reviewing the American LP version on Polydor, which features "Joybringer" and "Earth, the Circle, Part 1" ("Earth, the Circle, Part 2" is only on the British LP version on the Bronze label, and since I hadn't heard that one, I can't comment). Anyways, "Joybringer" was originally released as a single in the UK in mid 1973, and was based on a Gustav Holst composition. It became a hit there, and for some reason, Polydor in the States thought it would be better to replace "Earth, the Circle Part 2" with this song. That explains why some American LPs mention both "Earth, the Circle Part 1" and "Part 2" even if just "Part 1" was featured. Lastly is "Earth, the Circle, Part 1", which was composed and sung by Mann himself. It's a great catchy little piece with some quirky passages. I especially love this loud, but short synth solo in the middle part, not to mention the drumming from Chris Slade at the end part.
Solar Fire was one of those albums that held dear to me, because I was exposed to this album through my dad when I was a small kid at the end of the '70s/beginning of the '80s, so there's a lot of nostalgia for me attached to this album.
Fans and even non-fans of Manfred Mann's Earth Band regard Solar Fire as one of their crowning achievements. This album might not have that big hit like "Blinded by the Light", but it's full of great material that comes highly recommended!