Collecting Bands I’ve Not Yet Heard – Crazy Or Not?

The Vels: Charles Hanson, Alice DeSoto, Chris Larkin [L-R]

Three years ago I ended up going down a certain path due to a record my friend Ron Kane had given me. I was visiting his Casa De Los Discos® for the first time after knowing him for 29 years [there were records… everywhere]. and he bade me run through his discard pile to see if there was anything I might be interested in. Of course I found more things there than likely in even the best of record stores. One of the dozen or so LPs I picked was the “I never knew that even existed” second album by The Vels. I recalled The Vels. I used to see their far more common debut US LP in every record store in the land.

“Velocity” was released in 1984 and was States-based synthpop of the period. As such, it was not on my radar at the time. I thought I had bigger fish to fry then. The band seemed to have hailed from Philadelphia and represented a parochial local synthpop scene, presumably. Contemporaneously, and even up to now, I had not heard The Vels, so I ignored them’; preferring all of the bright, shiny things I did know…and want! Looking back, it may have been the cover art; a curiously atypical bit of work from the normally slick Manhattan Design [Frank Olinsky]. The garish cover looked like a Sally Cruikshank animated cel. Kind of goofy and playful. Of course, once I became The Post-Punk Monk, it was precisely material like this [recognizable yet never heard stuff from the Post-Punk/New Wave era] that had far more cachet with me going forward.

So now once I had the far more scarce second album by The Vels, 1986’s “House Of Miracles,” I might as well see about making a BSOG of the group’s complete output! I hot-footed it to Discogs and saw that there was not much to collect; two albums and a trio of promo 12″ singles, so I put the material on my want list and hibernated.

It was early this year when The Vels finally came home to roost for me. I purchased the following singles from my favorite record dealer [who perhaps not coincidentally, also hailed from Philly] with all three of the band’s 12″ singles arriving in one fell swoop.

Private World B/W Hieroglyphics
Mercury ‎– 880 138-1 M-1

  1. Privare World
  2. Private World [dub]
  3. Hieroglyphics
  4. Hieroglyphics [dub]

Look My Way B/W Tell Me Something
Mercury ‎– 880 407-1

  1. Look My Way
  2. Look My Way [dub]
  3. Tell Me Something
  4. Tell Me Something [dub]

The Girl Most Likely To
Mercury ‎– 888 132-1-DJ

  1. The Girl Most Likely To [12″ club mix]
  2. The Girl Most Likely To [dub version]
  3. The Girl Most Likely To [7″ remix]

I then acquired a holy grail of sorts… a sealed copy of “Velocity.” Until then it had been the still missing debut album. I paid $8.69 – what was probably full 1984 retail for the pressing, but when mastering from vinyl, a sealed, unplayed copy of an album is worth magnitudes more than a noisy VG copy for $2.00. I may be cheap, but I’m not stupid.

So there will be two stand alone REVO editions with the appropriate 12″ remixes appended to the discs. One may look down one’s nose at mere dub mixes for the first album, but did I mention that the first album [and its remixes] were produced by Tom Tom Club producer/mixer Steven Stanley? You’re welcome. The second album was courtesy of Steve [Culture Club] Levine, so undoubtedly it will be a completely different vibe. Now all I have to do is sit down for several hours and get digitizing. Wish me luck and watch this space.

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Posted in Remastering | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Record Review: Blow Monkeys – Staring At The Sea

F.O.D. Records | UK | CD | 2009 | FODCD8

The Blow Monkeys: Staring At The Sea UK CD [2009]

  1. Steppin’ Down
  2. Hanging On To The Hurt
  3. The Killing Breeze
  4. Seventh Day
  5. Staring At The Sea
  6. What It Takes
  7. Prayin’ For Rain
  8. One Of Us Is Lying
  9. Face In The Rock
  10. All Blown Away
  11. A Lasting Joy
  12. When We Fall Out of Love

While I was right on the first album crowdsource campaign [made in advance of any crowdsource platforms!] for the welcome return of The Blow Monkeys back in 2008 with “The Devil’s Tavern,” I was shamefully remiss in buying anything else the band had released since then! Mea Culpa! Part of it is down to saving for travel and, quite frankly, the workmanlike pace of the band in laying down new tracks. They have been highly active in the last decade. Where their peers may have issued an album every 5 years or so, The Blow Monkeys have released four studio albums, a live album/DVD, and a Dr. Robert solo album. They are making things happen, so last year, when pencilling in items to buy for my occasional birthday spree, I thought it prudent to buy some Blow Monkeys I needed before it started to creep up in price.

The first album that they released following “The Devil’s Tavern” was the next release “Staring At The Sea.” It was a radically different sounding record but that’s nothing new. TBM were semi-legendary at developing their sound in new directions throughout their career. The biggest change on this outing was that to these ears it seemed more like a Dr. Robert solo album than a band outing. “Steppin’ Down” had a familiar Blow Monkeys swagger, but the very next track was Dr. Robert reclaiming a great solo song from 1999’s “Flatlands” album. “Hanging On To The Hurt” was given a more spirited vocal from The Doctor but otherwise, was not exactly a volte-face from the earlier cut of the song. Only Neville Henry’s sax solo on the fadeout marked this as Blow Monkeys material.

“The Killing Breeze” definitely sported a laidback, seaside vibe and the real star of this song, as in much of the album itself, was the superb string arrangements, courtesy of arranger/producer Bob Rose. After establishing a chilled out beachhead, the fourth song was the one excursion here into the fiery extremes of The Blow Monkeys’ sound. “Seventh Day” was a scorcher of a song with vibrant horns and the one turn where Dr. Robert exercised some of his electric guitar muscles and pulled out some licks that would have been at home on “Animal Magic,” which for me was a real “guitar album.”

Then, as soon as it was over, the mood shifted back dramatically into the introspection of the album’s title track. Henry’s tenor sax really gave this a sophisticated melodic feel akin to peers Black on a comparable track like “The Sweetest Smile.” Then the influences reached much farther back into Fred Neil territory! “What It Takes” had the vibe of the Fred Neil songbook, which doesn’t come as a shock, as Dr. Robert has dropped his name before in his solo career, where he duly covered a pair of Neil tunes on his cover album, “Other Folk.” I have to say that the results here were fully on par with a classic pop song such as “Everybody’s Talking.” Dr. Robert has only strengthened his songwriting muscles in the nearly 40 years he’s been plying his trade.

“Prayin’ For Rain” was a gentle folk tune with some rare backing vocals on this album. The Good Doctor let some Andalusian influences creep into the acoustic Latin number “One Of Us Is Lying.” The Spanish guitar here was nimble and vivid, even as star turns by The Blow Monkeys were thin on this ground this outing. The truth of the matter was that although this had more of a Dr. Robert solo vibe than the Blow Monkeys albums I am familiar with did, the dozen tune here fitted together extremely well, considering that the tempo rarely picked up and ran for this album. The caliber of the songwriting was kept high and the pacing made for a smooth moving 44 minute album that seemed a bit shorter than that.

Another asset that this album has was the production by Bob Rose. It really sounded like the album was recorded live in a studio room. There was a “room feel” with bleed between mics contributing to a whole sounding album that was not piecemeal or isolated too much. Of course, the album listed a ProTools tech, so there was editing going on, but I suspect that it was more a case of integrating the string sessions and b-vox with the band recordings. Take a listen to the title track and it sounds like the band straight to 2-track – bam! So the production on this one sounded very straightforward; almost a deliberate throwback. Then again, the band were not exactly making House music tracks at this point in their career.

Listening to this album was very easy because the songs and performances flow effortlessly and have breathing space and a presence that one can definitely hear. My only caveat regarding this album was that it seemed for all the world a Dr. Robert solo album given that the band were keeping to the margins here on the mostly low-key material, but that didn’t make it a bad album. Far from it. I need to now get the ones that have come after this to see where it all goes to. I have last year’s Dr. Robert solo album, “Out There” and this album seems more of a piece with it than most Blow Monkeys material.

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Posted in Core Collection, Record Review | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Record Review: Was (Not Was) – Robot Girl [remix]

Mercury ‎| UK | 12″ | 1986 | WASR 112

Was (Not Was): Robot Girl [remix] UK 12″ [1986]

  1. Robot Girl [Paris Mix]
  2. Earth To Doris
  3. Robot Girl [East Grinstead Mix]
  4. Where Did Your Heart Go

The errant path of Was (Not Was) had been a tale of an album for this label, followed by a break and another album for a different label a few years later. Born on Ze, picked up [and dropped] by Geffen, 1986 found The Brothers testing the waters with Mercury/Phonogram. The first single from their tentative new alliance was the funky R+B of “Robot Girl.” This band knew how to cook a funk groove and perhaps with their fate hanging in the balance, the good this time out were slightly less skewed than could normally be found on their Funkadelic-Meets-Zappa platters. Sir Harry Bowens took the lead vocals here. I bought a promo 12″ of the initial 12″ released in the UK over 11 years ago. I recently purchased this second remix 12″ in January. I have yet to hear the first 12″ I bought, but I was determined not to let nearly a dozen years pass before listening to this latest 12″ single.

The Paris Mix was a hard beat variant on the straight single version with the normal rhythm section ripped out by the roots and replaced with a hyper aggressive 3D beatbox. The Liberace piano solo before the breakdown was deliciously ornate. When the beat finally hit the drop, David Was was given a drop-in voice over that I had not heard on the song before.

“Robot Girl…do these sunglasses go with my shoes?” – David Was

With that the track broke down with a welter of party ad-libs. David Was then took center stage on the hilarious one-night stand psychodrama “Earth To Doris.” This track was one of the best, most twisted B-sides ever! With a music bed that sounded like a psychotic variant on cheese-laden 50’s stripper accompaniment, Was recounted a lo-rent shack-up that made “Third Rate Romance” by The Amazing Rhythm Aces seem like Jane Austen in comparison! This simply must be heard to be believed. David Was related the tale in the first person with a palpable sneer that positively reeked of stale cigarette butts and coffee grounds. Even if the rest of this single were dog meat, I’d treasure it for this track alone.

The East Grinstead Mix of “Robot Girl” indulged in some flavor-of-the-month timeliness in its mix, which was a variation on the “Paris Mix.” Since this record came out in 1986 [a full two years prior to the subsequent Was (Not Was) album, “What Up Dog”] it set its sights on Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” as its archetype. Deceptively, after the opening jazzy horns kicked off the tune, the synth bass and congas fed into Miss Jackson’s familiar “gimme a beat” sampled, chopped, sliced, diced, and practically julienned as the big beat itself [possibly also sampled from “Nasty”] slammed into the listener using EQ for even more harsh impact. I have to admit, that it sounded even more brash that the Paris Mix. The rhythm guitars were up in the mix as well, meaning that the midrange spectrum of the song was strictly for vocals. The music bed was either hard bass or tinkling treble. The beatbox work on this track was extremely in one’s face. I’d not heard anything this vehement since Keith LeBlanc’s tremendous work on “How To Be A Zillionaire,” but this was an ever harder slamming colossus.

Sweetpea Atkinson

Finally, an old Was (Not Was) tune from the archive was dusted off to make this into a 4 track EP. “Where Did Your Heart Go” dated from the band’s primordial Ze Records era. I had wondered if this was a new recording or not, since the copyright information placed the song in 1986 ©-space. But hard listening to both the first Was (Not Was) album track and this cut from 12” revealed that these were the same recordings. The romantic, yet twisted ballad had fun juxtaposing the smooth saxes with the gruff soul vocals of the almighty Sweetpea Atkinson. The man is truly a national treasure, even is The Brothers Was steadfastly refused to write those “bedroom songs” that Sweetpea always hoped for. That’s just not how these wiseguys rolled. David and Don were always trying to see how far they could get in their mission to subvert R+B and funk into something far more disturbing and surreal than was normal in those genres.

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Posted in Record Review, The Great B-Sides | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Record Review: Arlene Philips’ Hot Gossip – I Don’t Depend On You

Dindisc ‎| UK | 12″ | 1982 | DIN 39-12

Arlene Phillips’ Hot Gossip: I Don’t Depend On You UK 12″ [1982]

  1. I Don’t Depend On You [12″ remix]
  2. Depend On Us

I always thought highly of the one-off single by The Human League under the name ‘The Men.’ While I only heard it in the late 80s when the “Travelogue” CD was issued with delightful bonus tracks, it immediately won a place in my heart. In some ways, it prefigured where Martyn Ware would sail the good ship Heaven 17 once he and Ian Craig Marsh left The Human League. When I finally got the CD of the sole Hot Gossip album, “Geisha Boys And Temple Girls,” a few years back, I took an even bigger delight in the remake of “I Don’t Depend On You” that Ware had cut with his terpsichorean crew on that disc. It sounded even more like a great Heaven 17 number with B.E.F. and their secret weapon, John Wilson on bass and guitar. It became intensely funky in its newer form.

Now, I finally have sourced a copy of the 12″ single of “I Don’t Depend On You” and once I placed the platter on the record player and fired up Sound Studio to digitize this shortly after buying it this year, I was immediately floored by the dramatic enhancements that the 12″ version sported. To wit, how about the horns of Beggar + Co. added to the mix? In 1981, the horn section of Light Of The World went freelance and immediately caused a stir with the intense “Chant No. 1 [I Don’t Need This Pressure On]” for Spandau Ballet.

Their horn arrangement added to this track took dynamite and ratcheted it up to insane funky brilliance! It was like taking the basic track and squaring [maybe cubing] its grooviness. The syncopation in the middle eight was whole realms more funky and complex than just hearing John Wilson syncopate his bass and guitar off of the Linn Drum. The mix plateaued out at roughly the same length as the album cut, but the 12″ version had definitely become an event with Beggar + Co. invited to the party. Ware wisely let the horns ride the fadeout to the end so that the guest stars had the last word on the 12″ mix.

The B-side was a dub mix that lost the vocals of Roy Gale [but kept the femme b-vox] and  also removed the horns, reminding us of just how much impact they had made with their addition. Upon hearing this mix, and the Linn Drum pattern that the song was built upon, I realized that it was the same pattern that H17 had used on “Penthouse + Pavement.” Waste not, want not, I suppose. This dub mix, in spite of not having the killa horns, earned its wings by giving Wilson’s bass and guitar the spotlight, which they richly deserved! Hearing the solos in the middle eight gave me even more respect for the man’s talents. Especially since he had to lay down those performances separately, against an existing drum track. Can we all just just agree to seek out John Wilson, wherever he is, and conspire to aim the spotlight on him once again, for he was surely the X-factor that made early H17 so over-the-top with groove appeal.

When I ordered this record, I had no idea what I would be getting for my purchase. The entry in the database is sketchy on details like track length, which are helpful in determining whether to buy something or not. Now I know that Mr. Ware made double damn sure that buyers of the 12″ of this single got a feast for their senses! So the obvious thing to do now is to buy the other 12″ single for “Soul Warfare!” Watch this space!

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Record Review: Killing Joke

EG Records | US | CD | 1986 | EGCD 57

Killing Joke: Killing Joke US CD [1986]

  1. Requiem
  2. Wardance
  3. Tomorrow’s World
  4. Bloodsport
  5. The Wait
  6. Complications
  7. Change
  8. S.O. 36
  9. Primitive

I joined the Killing Joke party already in progress. Oh, I’d heard of them fairly early on. The December 1981 issue of Trouser Press had a short article on the then new-ish band, describing them a “punk funk” band. That didn’t push any buttons with me, and it remained until seeing the video for “Eighties” until I actually heard their particular sound, which I’d typify as “industrial Kraut-dub” if I had to. I started buying their albums with “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” and it was on the occasion of a concert by Killing Joke in Orlando, Florida in 1989 that I took it upon myself to buy a few Joke albums that were pre-1984 to “bone up” as it were for the upcoming show. I already had “Night Time,” so I got their 1980 debut and “Fire Dances.”

“Requiem” immediately roped me in with its pulsating synthesizer intro. I learned immediately, that their debut album was all about the rhythm. The methodical and relentless pacing of the song immediately hooked itself into my cranium and the intro has been known to echo in my brain for hours at a time with little to no provocation.

In case the opening track didn’t make it expressly clear, the next song, “Wardance” absolutely did. This was a band that was bending the rigid metal framework of Krautrock in some new and darker directions. Those pounding, martial, yet motorik drums of Paul Ferguson were straight from the Klaus Dinger playbook. You may be aware that we melt before the urgency of Krautrock rhythms here at PPM. But Jaz Coleman’s vocals on the biting “Wardance” were run through a ring modulator, making it sound like a Dalek-led version of Neu! It took a strong vision to imagine this abrasive song as a single, yet it ultimately was.

“Tomorrow’s World” was a bitterly ironic play on the upbeat futurist BBC science program of the late 70s as it was mated to a slow tempo water-torture beat that was more apt for a death march. There might be upbeat energy levels with this band, but their worldview was certainly nothing but downbeat. Things got as upbeat as they dared venture on “Bloodsport.” It’s the closest that KJ come to a night at the disco on this album, as the factory-whistle synth hook of the intro yields to a cod-Moroder synthpulse vibe over the bass and drums. The instrumental then ventured into Glitter-stomp territory by it’s middle eight as a sustained, yet modulated two-chord industrial grinding brought the song to its terminus.

“The Wait” was an immediately urgent flashpoint on side two of the album. The motorik rhythms were right there with those on Ultravox’s “All Stood Still” as it matched the fast tempo of that other band’s apocalyptic song. The Krautrock rush of energy was largely down to the bass and drums here, with Geirdie’s guitar merely supplying more guitar of the grinding wheel variety when it wasn’t doubling on the rhythm.

For many of these songs, Jaz Coleman’s vocals were just another part of the mix. Often treated in dub, but like on “Requiem,” his turn on “Complications” was able to take the center stage for a time again, even as it was treated with touches of dub on the rare medium tempo song here.

The US CD that I have mirrored the US LP of this album in that it included the “Requiem” B-side “Change,” on it. Why a song that strong was relegated to B-side status is one for greater minds than ours to ponder. The track was an exciting dub/rock hybrid that really did sound like another track had been dubbed in the studio to achieve this result. The powerful trance rhythms and the still powerful vocals of Coleman [even though he was usually in dubspace here] really mark this number as being single-worth material. It fell to the rave era when Youth/Spiral Tribe remixes of this song eventually became A-sides.

The ponderous, leaden paced “S.O. 36” was the longest track here. It built up an impenetrable edifice over its nearly seven minute running time, but by the same token, it would have felt right at home on a copy of “Empires + Dance.” It had the same methodical trance DNA.

Killing Joke’s first album was a keeper. It’s a tight 39 minutes, even with “Change” added and there’s no filler as it explores a damaged, apocalyptic worldview of the sort that Ultravox! had been investigating three years earlier on “Ha! Ha! Ha!” In fact, in my mind’s eye, I can see the teenaged Coleman hunkering down with a copy of “Fear In The Western World” playing on his headphones and some magic mushrooms and a few Crowley tomes as he began building his dark worldview in earnest. But what was an outlier for John Foxx became the central thesis for Killing Joke. Has there ever been a band that has consistently accentuated the negative aspects of this fallen world? It says volumes that they got it all sewed up effectively on their very first album in 1980. It’s the kind of album that can play on repeat very effectively when listened to even 37 years later. It’s got nothing to be embarrassed about.

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REDUX: Record Review – Hot Gossip – Geisha Boys + Temple Girls

June 21, 2013

Repressed | UK | CD | 2007 | repeat4

Repressed | UK | CD | 2007 | repeat4

Arlene Phillips Hot Gossip: Geisha Boys + Temple Girls UK CD [2007]

  1. Circus of Death
  2. Morale
  3. Word Before Last
  4. Geisha Boys + Temple Girls
  5. I Don’t Depend on You
  6. Houses In Motion
  7. Burn For You
  8. Soul Warfare

When you least expected it, it’s time to dive into the B.E.F. bucket again! Back when Martyn Ware was separated from The Human League, his crafty manager, who engineered the split [twice the fees] fed his ego in the maneuvering by saying that he should cut a deal with Virgin as a production company instead of an artist [even more fees for Bob Last!] and Ware took the bait. The upshot of this contract was that Ware could deliver as many as six albums under his B.E.F. production umbrella per year to Virgin. Having been freed from the crashing and burning politics of The Human League, he and Ian Marsh hit the ground, laying rubber. When did they find time to sleep?

hot-gossip-A-zoetropeIn 1981-2, there was the “Music For Stowaways” tape, “Penthouse + Pavement” by Heaven 17, “Music of Quality + Distinction Vol. 1” and this curio, ostensibly by the TV dance troupe Arlene Phillips Hot Gossip. For those not familiar, it’s as if DEVO had produced an album for The Solid Gold Dancers! [note: this almost, sort of, did happen – see “Word Of Mouth” by Toni Basil!] Ware, no chump himself on the royalty front, top loaded the disc with material he had a hand in writing; old Human League songs from the pre-“Travelogue” era. The only holdouts were a pair of songs from Sting and Talking Heads that the group had already recorded in pre-production. Even the odd single by The Men was revisited.

The old Human League material benefits the most from the re-recording here if one is looking for new kinds of kicks in these interpretations. Three songs from “Reproduction” get a new coat of paint right up front. “Circus Of Death” get’s a new whipcrack beat and environmental sound effects added into the mix. The vocals are handled by the dancers gamely, but the material is so weirdly contrived, the cognitive dissonance the whole thing generates is considerable. The lyrics are so deeply enmeshed with the strange mind of Phil Oakey, the notion of a cover version seems ridiculous.

“Morale” appears here shorn of its partner, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” The arrangement differs the least of all of these songs. It just has a new vocalist, Kim Leeson. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same track you know and love. “Word Before Last” is transformed by the addition of Synclavier and Linn Drum to the trusty Roland System 100 and Jupiter 4 that Ware and Marsh used on the original cut. Once again, the sound of anyone but Phil Oakey singing this deeply weird music is jarring.

The title track was ripped screaming from the then current Heaven 17 album and the Wendy Carlos styled intro is intact, but for this track only, live drummer to the stars, Simon Phillips is added to the mix. Vocalist Richard Lloyd King does better at standing in for Glenn Gregory, but the killer revision here is the revisit of the odd one-off single by The Men [Human League operating incognito out of embarrassment]. I always liked “I Don’t Depend On You” and here it gets a big makeover that only serves to make it sparkle more brightly. The vocalists are much better suited for this song since it’s reasonably conventional in terms of its lyrics. Roy Gale actually sounds pretty good here! He’s definitely an improvement over Phil Oakey on the original. The addition of Linn Drum makes the syncopation pretty funky but the funk-o-meter seriously pegs with the addition of bass and guitar from Heaven 17’s secret weapon, John Wilson. He adds tremendously to this cut and it manages to outshine the already great original version handily.

“Houses In Motion” also works well since Richard Lloyd-King stays within the parameters set by David Byrne. Geoff Westley produced this track instead of B.E.F. because it was recorded before Ware became attached to the project. It’s out of sorts to the rest of the album in sound, but it’s all so weirdly eclectic, it doesn’t matter much. The brief version actually ends before you expect it to. A cover of Sting’s “Burn For You,” from the “Brimstone + Treacle” soundtrack goes on for what seems forever! It actually manages to become even more pretentious here. Finally, Heaven 17’s “Soul Warfare” ends the album in a version not very dissimilar from the Heaven 17 version, save for the vocals.

This album is an odd curio that I can recommend to Human League/B.E.F. fans with an open mind. I know I saw this album but once in my life, in a record store used bin some time in 1981-1983. After taking a look at the cover, I demurred. It just didn’t look like a record that would give me any pleasure. It wasn’t until Cherry Red’s Repressed sub label rose to the occasion, that I decided to put it on my want list. Having finally purchased it, I can state that it’s worth having for the curiosity factor alone. About half of it is a fascinating take on an alternate universe version of H17/Human League. Even the worst of it is better than several Human League albums that followed.

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Record Review: The Explorers [part 2]

[…continued from last post]

The playful “Venus De Milo” was superficially a stab at the same vibe of an early Roxy Music classic like “Virginia Plain,” but where the Roxy debut single was by turns playful and witty, it also had a seriously post-modern undercurrent that made it startling and new. It was clearly the work of serious minds [with all of their advanced theories] at play. “Venus De Milo”, by comparison, is at best a pastiche of that approach, but at least it proved that Manzanera and MacKay weren’t dour sticks in the mud. How could they be with lyrics [presumably by vocalist James Wraith] featuring howlers like:

“When I saw you standing in the Louv-ré
I coundn’t say I just wanna talk to-ya” – “Venus De Milo”

Well, you try to rhyme “Louvre.” Nevertheless, they did go there.

“Soul Fantasy” was driven by MOR sax maneuvers overlaid on a retro 50s bobbysox pastiche replete with “shoop dooby do-wahs.” If it does not recall any specific Roxy number, then at the very least it comes within striking distance of Ferry’s cover of “It’s My Party” minus his earth shattering sense of irony. More than anything, it was probably an outgrowth of MacKay’s covering “Wild Weekend” on his “In Search Of Eddie Riff” solo album.

Not everything here was informed by their own past. A few Roxy contemporaries got the treatment as well. “Crack The Whip” was the B-side of the non-LP single “Falling For Nightlife” and was included  [with its 12″ A-side] as a bonus track on the CD of this album. The glamrock DNA of T-Rex was given a try with Manzanera’s boogie riffs not miles away from those on “Get It On [Band A Gong].” The phasing on Wraith’s vocals in the intro gave it a little something more exotic. Maybe Bowie-esque with hints of the boogie woogie swagger of “TVC15” or even the intro to “Changes” informing the vibe here.

Roxy fans pining for the sequel to “A Song For Europe” need have looked no further than the dignified and ornate “Prussian Blue.” This one held up to some scrutiny. Along with “Ship Of Fools” and “Breath Of Life” it was one of the clear and uncompromised successes that this album had to offer. Roxy alumnus Alan Spenner’s smoky fretless bass meant that this time out the band could go toe to toe with their bastard scions like Japan and not get egg on their faces. The poise and restraint of this number as it marched along to its preordained doom was clearly the work of adults at the top of their field.

Sadly, the single “Two Worlds Apart,” in spite of its garish, post New Romantic cover art [see right – courtesy of Visage mainstays Robin Beeche and Phyllis Cohen] completely failed to live up to the promise of its florid visuals. It was definitely the most leaden, MOR song on the album. Only the coda, with Guy Fletcher’s plaintive synths juxtaposed by a tasteful Manzanera solo managed to recall some of the class inherent in an album like “Flesh + Blood.”

“You Go Up In Smoke” was another dip into the Ferry themebook of fatalistic, doomed romance. With Wraith pulling every possible nuance of an actual Ferry performance out of his bag of tricks, it could have been a B-side from a “Boys + Girls” single. At the end of the day, MacKay’s pained oboe managed to take center stage to bring the LP edition of the album to a sombre climax.

Finally, the non-LP 12″ mix of “Falling For Nightlife” closed out the CD version of this album on a wildly upbeat note. Listen to the spectacle of members of Roxy Music beating Duran Duran at their own game! Or: members of Roxy Music imitating younger musicians imitating Roxy Music!! Did the top of your head just pop off? At the end of the day, my biggest concern is that while the makers of this single were clearly aware of “The Reflex,” the end results were actually better [such as they were] so I’m fine with it. The mix by John [“Sensoria”] Potoker used the same Fairlight®-centric mixing techniques that Nile Rodgers and Duran explored on “The Reflex.” They even had the cheek to use a sample of a man saying “here is the sound of a tiger” with tiger’s roar. I’ll bet when Duran Duran heard this [and you know they did], they were kicking themselves that they were not this obvious back in 1983, a year of blatancy.

I won’t mince words. When I bought this in 1985, I was clearly smitten with this album. It’s unerring sense of self-pastiche was musical catnip to my much younger ears and the fact that critics of the era snubbed it as mere sub-Ferry also-rans probably contributed to my overarching sense of standing up for this record. Besides, I have never shied away from faux Ferry action of any kind! Even in now, it still has some currency with me, but heard critically today, it was clearly the work of Roxy second bananas slumming in the wake of yet another Roxy Music rupture. I would not be surprised if much of the proceedings had actually been comprised of rejected Roxy Music demos.  As we can see, Ferry was very protective of Roxy publishing space with Manzanera and MacKay allowed scant opportunities to write. This album may have represented six years worth of pent up Roxy Music demos from the pens of Manzanera + MacKay. Maybe even more.

I’ve painted Wraith as a Ferry-clone without peer, and when he puts his mind to it, none come closer to the mark than Wraith on this album, but the fact is that he has a higher top end than Mr. Ferry, who can’t quite belt in the higher register as Wraith does in places here. Alternatively, his playful insouciance, as evidenced on his frisky emphasis on the word “horizons” in the final chorus of “Robert Louis Stevenson” was a move that Ferry would not have made in a million years. Ultimately, The Explorers one shot fell on deaf ears, leaving the group’s second album unreleased as they were dropped from Virgin after the non-event status of “Falling For Nightlife.” Of course, all of the sophomore album material eventually surfaced a few years later, but that’s another story for another day.

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