Record Review: The Explorers [part 1]

Virgin | UK | CD | 1985 | CDV 2341

The Explorers: The Explorers UK CD [1985]

  1. Ship Of Fools
  2. Lorelei
  3. Breath Of Life
  4. Venus De Milo
  5. Soul Fantasy
  6. Crack The Whip
  7. Prussian Blue
  8. Two Worlds Apart
  9. Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. You Go Up In Smoke
  11. 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 [1980].” 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

 

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5 Responses to Record Review: The Explorers [part 1]

  1. Echorich says:

    I’m going to have to listen to The Explorers again, because aside from the lead track, I don’t think I’ve paid it much mind for 32 yrs for exactly that reason that it sounded like a pale shadow of Roxy Music – you can certainly blame the vocalist for this. And that it came out in the same year as Ferry’s Boys And Girls did it absolutely NO favors…
    Tony Levin was a busy bass player that year if you add in the Gabriel So sessions.

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  2. I seem to remember that I was less-than-impressed with this originally as well … but for slightly different reasons. It irritated me no end that when presented with the opportunity to write different material for a vocalist that was nothing like Mr. Ferry … they instead got Faux-Ferry in and stuck to a not-dissimilar vibe as though this was just their notebook of songs Ferry had rejected (and in hindsight … perhaps!).

    That said, as Mr. Ferry no longer sounds much like the BF of old, this album is clearly due for a re-appraisal. Heck, Eno’s first album definitely used some material intended for Roxy, so why not these guys?

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  3. SimonH says:

    I’m going to use this as an opportunity to recommend another album from around the same period where MacKay and Manzanera (plus interestingly Tony Mansfield) play a very recognisable part – Yukihiro Takahashi’s, Neuromantic.
    I bought the cd recently after listening to my only YMO cd, a two disc compilation from 2005ish.
    I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t given it the time it clearly deserved, but listening recently lead me to explore more, something which could prove expensive at Japanese import prices…
    People may already know it, but if not its a very nicely textured synth pop album that I would certainly have bought at the time if I’d known about it! Seems it may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of YMO related goodies.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      SimonH – I bought “Neuromantic” when it got released in the US when Alfa Records was trying to establishes US beachhead back in 1981. I found it a somewhat enjoyable Roxy Music pastiche. Certainly Takahashi gave it his best Ferry shot, although in a review I wrote of it at the time I found he hit closer to the mark of sounding like Bob Geldof! I think it went out in the Great Vinyl Purge, but I may have re-bought a cheap copy in the early 90s. I’ll have to check the Record Cell when I’m not at work.
      neuromantic LP
      Yep – it seems that I have it. I have long needed a copy of the material he recorded with Iva Davies! Takahashi sure loved that faux-Roxy action, but don’t we all? Bonus fact: Yukihiro Takahashi was the drummer in the Sadistic Mika Band [Pre-YMO] who opened up for Roxy Music on their “Siren” tour of 1975, so he had ample opportunity to study at the feet of the master!

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