The Explorers: The Explorers UK CD 
- Ship Of Fools
- Breath Of Life
- Venus De Milo
- Soul Fantasy
- Crack The Whip
- Prussian Blue
- Two Worlds Apart
- Robert Louis Stevenson
- You Go Up In Smoke
- Falling For Nightlife [Midnight Mix]
I recall first encountering The Explorers; the Phil Manzanera/Andy MacKay post-Roxy Music project on an episode of MTV’s “London Calling.” They interviewed the band and showed their debut video, “Lorelei,” albeit split in half with an interview segment. The singer was some guy called James Wraith, but wow, did he ever sound like Bryan Ferry! I was intrigued, as I was certainly a Roxy Music fan, though not to the extent I would probably be in a couple of years. As I recall, the reviews all kneecapped the album; particularly in light of the Ferry-by-the-numbers vocals. It was some time in 1985, after entering the CD era, that I ran across a cheap import copy of the Explorer’s album at the then-radical CD-only store in Altamonte Springs, Florida called Digital Sounds. It was around twelve dollars, so being curious to hear it for myself, I took the bait.
I played it when I got home and was immediately floored by the opening track. Following a slow, Manzanera-led buildup in the long intro, “Ship of Fools” began the album with a stormy intensity that had been missing from Roxy Music for at least a decade. The appearance of Tony Levin on Chapman Stick and Jerry Marotta on drums [the classic Peter Gabriel rhythm section] added even more to the lurching, feverish opener. Manzanera’s serpentine guitar licks were a beat behind the darkly roiling rhythm section and seemed only a hair’s breadth away from the vibe on Bowie’s “Beauty + The Beast.” Yeah. His best song. In fact, the song felt like a perfect mix of that “Heroes” number and the attack found on “peter gabriel .” Which is to say that it was devastatingly powerful! Had this been an actual Roxy Music song, pundits in the press would have wilted from the praise, but hearing Manazanera & MacKay turn themselves into a tribute act with a Ferry clone meant that most listeners just shook their heads and moved on [except for myself]. I say they were mad. Listen!
The next song was segued directly out of the fading embers of “Ship Of Fools.” It was the debut single, “Lorelei.” The effervescent number featured a unique sampled hook that featured broken glass sounds used quite memorably as a percussive accent. It’s almost as if Roxy Music had forgotten that there was no title track for “Siren” so this was made instead, a decade later. Except for its mermaid-referenced title, it has less in common with that ’75 Roxy album but played like some transmission from an alternate universe where “Flesh + Blood” had a larger dose of insouciance than what “Oh Yeah” or “Over You” had originally proffered. On the face of it, the light, airy number was probably a good choice for a debut single though it didn’t win on the charts.
Next came a number that seriously upped the drama quotient. While not quite as fervid as the opening track, “Breath Of Life” still managed to best Ferry at his own Post-“Avalon” game. The taut, minimal excursion was held in place largely by MacKay’s dignified oboe with James Wraith’s perfectly mannered vocal getting only occasional support from a surgical lick here and there by Manzanera. The synth bass by keyboardist Guy [Dire Straits] Fletcher contributed to the inexorable pacing of it all, and the overriding, desperate melancholy was profound. It certainly bested Ferry while at anything but the very top of his game. Well played, gents. Well played indeed.
Next: …And Now For Something Completely Different