A Judge Victor Valdivia retrospective would also start in 1972—and be so terrible that no one would want it.
"A sense of adventure with no sign of wanting to play it safe, even if it means soaring like an angel one minute, stumbling like a sleepwalker the next."—Phil Manzanera
In the league of '70s British guitar heroes, Phil Manzanera isn't quite a household name like The Who's Pete Townshend, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, or Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Nonetheless, he ranks amongst them as one of the most prominent and gifted musicians of the era. As the guitarist for seminal art-rockers Roxy Music, Manzanera defined a distinctive style of playing that was simultaneously futuristic and retro, one that would influence legions of punk and post-punk bands from the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees to U2 and the Smiths. His unique style was partly due to his Hispanic heritage. The son of a Columbian immigrant, Manzanera regularly incorporated Latin and South American influences into his guitar playing. This gave his sound a more fluid and dexterous quality, even during some of Roxy Music's hardest and heaviest songs like "Out of the Blue," that distinguished it from many of his more blues-influenced contemporaries. It's a crucial reason why his best work still sounds fresh and vibrant years later, while the music of some of his more commercially successful peers has become sadly dated.
Manzanera's biggest success was with Roxy Music, but he also embarked on a solo career that, while never a commercial blockbuster, earned him a devoted critical and cult following. Collaborating with such artists as fellow Roxy alumnus Brian Eno, Soft Machine frontman Robert Wyatt, and King Crimson/Asia bassist/singer John Wetton, Manzanera recorded several albums in the '70s and '80s that were never less than intriguing and sometimes ranked with the best of Roxy's work. Though he has been less prolific in recent years, particularly after Roxy Music broke up in 1983, he remains a musician worth listening to. Unfortunately, this collection, which compiles some of his work both with Roxy Music and as a solo artist, isn't exactly the best way to do so. It includes two CDs and a DVD with a documentary and some rare live and TV footage. Here is the listing for the CDs:
Manzanera handpicked the selections himself, but some of his choices are peculiar, to say the least. The first disc covers the '70s and '80s (completely omitting any of Manzanera's '90s albums like Southern Cross). While it's understandable that he wants to cover his Roxy and solo work equally, his selections aren't really representative. The Roxy songs are all ones that he received co-writer credit on, but only "Amazona," "Prairie Rose," and "Out of the Blue" really show off his guitar skills. The others, especially the songs from Roxy's weakest album, Flesh + Blood (1980), are mostly lightweight pop songs that aren't even typical of Roxy's sound. Manzanera should have instead picked either the churning "Whirlwind" or the gorgeous "Nightingale," both from Siren (1975), one of Roxy's definitive albums. Not only is he listed as a co-writer on those songs, but both also serve as far better showcases for his guitar playing. What's more, the space taken up by the weaker Roxy songs shortchanges some of Manzanera's key solo material, including such pivotal albums as Listen Now (1977) and K-Scope (1978). Of course, it isn't possible to truly sum up two decades of music in the space of one CD, but even taking that into account, this is still not the best introduction to Manzanera's classic years.
If the first disc is problematic, the second is even more frustrating. It consists entirely of selections from his last three albums, Vozero (2001), 6PM (2004), and 50 Minutes Later (2005). Manzanera has stated that these are significant because they're the most personal albums he has ever made, particularly since he actually sings on them for the first time in his career. Still, while some of these songs, such as "La Vida Moderna" and "Technicolor UFO," do indeed rank amongst the best of his work, it seems like overkill that these albums get so many songs here while some of his more important older albums are completely ignored. Why couldn't Manzanera have come up with a more balanced look at his work? His choices are sometimes so ill-considered that they end up making it hard to truly get a handle on his music.
As for the DVD, it contains some important footage and interviews but isn't as thorough as it could be, making it seem like something of an afterthought. The documentary "Revolution to Roxy" (22:59), which originally aired on Spanish TV, is the centerpiece. Manzanera gives an overview of his life and career, and his reminiscences and thoughts are worth hearing. However, at 23 minutes, this is just too short and skimpy to adequately sum up Manzanera's music. You can get a little more insight with the original EPK for the 6PM album (6:49), but it's also too brief to be of much value. Also included are various live performances. The best one is "Diamond Head" (4:22), taken from a concert in Sweden in 1975, that really shows off Manzanera's talents. "Manzanera/Moncada: Mama Hue" (3:35) is a joyous Latin-flavored performance filmed in Havana in 1993 with the Cuban band Moncada. There's a rendition of "6PM" (4:04) taken from the Fender 50th Anniversary Concert at London's Wembley Stadium in 2006 that's a little more laid-back, but Manzanera is still in fine form. "Guitar Legends Seville" (12:51) is a rather irritating excerpt from a 1991 concert in Spain in which Manzanera performs as accompaniment to a dance troupe. His solos are stunning but the camera is focused entirely on the dancers, so you won't get to see him play. The package is rounded out with the music videos for "Guantanamera" (3:50) and "A Million Reasons Why" (4:00). The video and audio transfers are both satisfactory, alternating between full-screen and widescreen depending on the age of the footage but always looking and sounding quite sharp, even on the older material.
Ultimately, this collection, though it has some excellent music and performances, just isn't as representative as it should have been. Manzanera's music is worth hearing, especially in some of the live performances captured on the DVD, but as a sampler of his body of work, The Music isn't complete and focused too narrowly on certain eras at the expense of others. A previous Manzanera anthology, The Manzanera Collection (1995), had its share of problems too but was at least more comprehensive. That one would be more recommended for newcomers, who would also do well to start with any of Roxy Music's first five albums as a way of getting to know Manzanera's music. The DVD makes this worth getting for longtime fans, but otherwise, Manzanera's work deserves a much better showcase than this one.
Guilty of not being as all-inclusive as it should have been, although the DVD is worth a look for fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Expression Records
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