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.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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