1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 213

Man Alive, by The 4 of Us
Suggested by Sara-Jane Davies

For album 113, exactly one hundred previous, I reviewed Man Alive by Everything Everything. Today, I review Man Alive by the 4 of Us. I’ve checked the masterlist, and can confirm there and no other albums on the list called Man Alive.

There are a few examples of identical (or tangentially similar) album names on the list. I’ve a few albums called “Greatest Hits”, naturally, but I’ve also two separate versions of Dark Side of the Moon (The Flaming Lips version being reviewed as ALBUM 211), and a third album called Dub Side of the Moon. Delightfully, I also have two distinct and separate albums called Doppelganger on the masterlist. I presume they’re not identical, but I can’t be sure.

This particular Man Alive is by Northern Irish pop-rockers The 4 of Us. I presume the band name is ironic, as The 4 of Us consists of two brothers, the wonderfully irish-sounding Brendan and Decln Murphy. Man Alive is their second release, after their debut Songs for the Tempted went double platinum in the Republic of Ireland. It’s also their first, and only, album released on a major record label, as after this they lost momentum and largely faded into obscurity.

The first song I’d like to discuss is She Hits Me. It was their highest-placing UK chart single, peaking at a rather anaemic 35th. But I do remember it, and like it, and it’s my personal favourite today. The lyrics are sweet, and slightly disarming, and the vocal is cultured and delicate. I’m unsure exactly where I know it from, but it’s likely a relic from a mix tape from my University days. My memory is not what it once was, and I’d be hard-pressed to remember albums I reviewed in September, never mind songs I heard some thirty years ago.

The remaining eleven songs on this particular Man Alive are similarly well-crafted. Blending a stylish and concise guitar sound with performative vocals filled with character and personality will always be a winning formula, and this truth is evident here. Every tune’s a highlight. I like the Rolling Stones style I Miss You and the Blur-like title track Man Alive in particular, but there’s the INXS clone Sensual Thing or the EMF-style drumming in Love, Hate and Hope to enjoy too. And the final four tracks, from the hypnotic and downbeat Car Crash at 80mph to the glorious Hymn For Her, send the album off in style.

It’s mystifying to me that The 4 of Us didn’t make more of an impression on the record-buying public, because Man Alive is a deft and assured pop album. Maybe it was the slight vocal lean towards overselling, or maybe it’s the hint of corporate production sheen. Or maybe it’s because a few of the songs stretch the phrase “soundalike” a little too taut to be entirely comfortable, becoming more plagiarism than pure inspiration.

The 4 of Us released many more albums after Man Alive, to limited success. I give it a decent 7/10. It’s a bright and breezy affair, but it failed to propel the band to stardom, as single swallow does not a summer make.

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