Album Rating: 4.0
I did listen to it just before posting that.
And I did start with Secrets of the Beehive with which I swiftly and truly fell in love. I listened to Japan beforehand and liked them as well.
Manafon is interesting, and I appreciate it for being an album that no one would be able to call "average," but I can't get how this is sonically effective, and certainly not how it could be enjoyable/entertaining (which I actually wouldn't set as requirements for good music.)
Another thing: It seems like a big deal was made about the improvisation during the recording sessions, that about everything was made up on the spot. What's so special about such improvisation when the bulk of the music is silence and spare, unconnected strums and bloops?
I just can't figure out what I think about this record...
Well I'm not going to even pretend it's an easy listen, in fact the album is so self-indulgent on Sylvian's part it's stupid. I like the album (obviously) and yet I don't give it many listens, it's the sort of thing you have to want to listen to (neither a compliment nor an insult).
Saying this, there is a lot to like, however most of the enjoyment lies within the subtleties of each track: the woodwind segment in Emily Dickinson, the unnatural (compared to most of the music here) rhythmic bassline at the end of Small Metal Gods, and the absolute immediacy of 125 Spheres being personal favorites. In my opinion the whole musical aspect of the album serves to set an effective (if minimalist) atmosphere to carry Sylvian's vocals and in that respect I think it is excellent.
I do also have to mention that the lyrical proficiency throughout is top notch, and while I don't think music should be necessarily judged on lyrical meaning or whatnot I can (and do) appreciate well articulated stanzas.
Of course this is not going to be to everyone's taste, and if you don't like the album I could completely understand, but I would ask you to give it a chance. It is so different compared to the rest of his ouvre, and that could be a stumbling block, especially for someone who loves his earlier works (not saying you can't enjoy both though, I sure do!).