Ex-Roxy Music guitarist steps out on his own
Phil Manzanera is a man of intelligent musical expressions, a quiet achiever, and one of the finest psychedelic guitarists of his generation. David Gilmour might get the accolades, but Manzanera is right up there, believe me, with a style just as unique and worthy of any of his contemporaries. His main claim to posterity is as the riffmeister of Roxy Music, one of the most original and eccentric of English outfits to arrive out of the early 1970s, who even managed to out-weird Genesis, which is quite an achievement, considering that there was no shortage of such groups strutting their androgynous cross-dressing concepts upon an unsuspecting post-hippie world. But Roxy simply had too much talent to store in the one bottle, so when the band went on hiatus in 1974, it should have come as no surprise to anyone.
Diamond Head, released in 1975, was Manzanera’s first solo project, and consisted of a quality cast of fellow adventurers on this most quirky of space ships. So before you press play, pour yourself a drink, light up a bit of the old Devil’s lettuce, and enjoy the ride.
First we blast off with “Frontera,” with Robert Wyatt (ex Soft Machine) singing in an indecipherable form of Spanish. And he does a damn fine job too, maintaining throughout that quintessential English quirkiness in his voice, one of the qualities for which he is most famous for. Half way through Manzanera throws in a hot guitar solo for good measure, after which the song continues until it rapidly winds down to a percussive conclusion.
And from South America we are now taken into the realms of outer space with the title track, a delightful journey through the stars, the universe beyond, and a song that would not seem out of place on any Pink Floyd record. “Big Day” however doesn’t quite command the listener’s attention in the same way. Written and sung by Eno, it’s as if he was attempting to be a little too peculiar and poppy all at once.
Next is “The Flex”, a saxophone dominated instrumental, and a great party track. “Same Time Next Week” has John Wetton and Doreen Chanter trading vocals over an almost avant jazz-rock foundation. The rhythm section pulls with time, as the guitars and sax dive in and out.
“Miss Shapiro” begins with an almost Kinks-like assortment of guitars before the bass and drums kick in, giving the song a real rock drive. Eno’s lyrics are as clever and idiosyncratic as ever, and quite addictive, in their own eccentric way of course.
The beginning of “East of Echo” is basically a reprise of “Diamond Head”, until about one and a half minutes in, where it changes pace, before transforming into a progressive rock journey for Hendrix heads and general pot smokers alike.
“Lagrima” is a strange Spanish flavoured piece, and something that would not seem out of place on the soundtrack to a spaghetti western, with Morricone on lysergic acid.
The album ends with “Alma,” arguably the most uninteresting inclusion here, one almost bordering on commercial, if such a word can apply. However Manzanera does manage to salvage the proceedings with a superb solo, and so all is not completely lost.
For early fans of Roxy Music who felt left behind by the Bryan Ferry sans Eno incarnation of the group, Diamond Head would have provided them with much cause for celebration, and today remains something of a transitional fossil between the original Roxy line-up and the less experimental post-Eno period.
And for those who need an extra fix, I highly recommend you hunt down a copy of 801 Live, a seminal album in its own right, and further evidence of Manzanera’s unquestionable brilliance. It’s just a shame that in the years following we would not see (or hear) those talents shine so brightly again.