Although it took the music world a little while to catch up with what Roxy Music were up to back in the early seventies, by the time of Stranded (1973) they were acknowledged as true rock innovators. Of course any band that spawned both Bryan Ferry, and Brian Eno would be recognized at some point. Strangely enough, it took the departure of Eno before the public really woke up to the beautifully subversive music of Roxy. Sadly, one of the prime architects of their sound – guitarist Phil Manzanera was never really given his due at the time.
It is a shame, because along with other guitar-players extraordinaire of the era, such as Bill Nelson (Be Bop Deluxe) and Mick Ronson (David Bowie), Manzanera defined the British sound that has come to be known as glam. Manzanera’s peers certainly understood however. His debut solo album Diamond Head (1976) is a star-studded event that sounds very much like the great lost Roxy album of the time.
While Ferry and Company were on hiatus, preparing for a North American tour, Manzanera invited some friends to join him in the studio to work on Diamond Head. Vocalists included Brian Eno, John Wetton, and Robert Wyatt. Additional musicians included fellow Roxy-ites Eddie Jobson, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson, plus Iain MacDonald, Dave Jarrett, Bill MacCormack, and many others.
Diamond Head opens up on a surprising note with Soft Machine founder Robert Wyatt singing (in Spanish) “Frontrera” (which he co-wrote with Manzanera and Bill MacCormick). There is a familiarity to the tune, primarily through Phil’s instantly recognizable guitar solo, as well as a bit of a foreign feel. A very nice way for the artist to carve his own space from the outset.
The title track is the first of five instrumental tracks on the album, and it sheds a lot of light on the project. Manzanera is a brilliant guitar player, but in the context of Roxy – that fact was too easily overlooked. Rather than showing off, Manzanera plays the same clean, economical leads he is so well-versed in. The main difference is in this context we do not have the distractions of Ferry’s all too often affected voice to contend with.
“The Flex” is another exceptional instrumental, this time allowing the great Andy Mackay the space to explore his towering saxophone style. “Miss Shapiro” is another Manzanera/Eno composition – again featuring the vocals of Brian Eno. The most interesting elements of this cut are the wildly off-kilter sounds the two open the track with. Maybe Bryan Ferry did not like the “soundscapes” Eno was exploring, but it clearly worked for Manzanera.
There is also a track included from Phil’s earlier group Quiet Sun, which was recorded around the same time. “East Of Echo” is an instrumental – and very “All The Young Dudes,” in the beginning, until the band stretches out into some Pink Floyd-ish experimentalism.
The final track is a CD bonus – another instrumental credited to Manzanera alone. “Carhumba” reaches out in a number of directions. You hear many of the stylistic influences that have touched the artist over the years, a bit of surf/spy, some Caribbean sounds, definite Spanish overtones, even some classic Nugget’s-style psyche/garage rock.
It is no surprise at all that the cognoscenti of the time embraced Diamond Head upon release. It holds up beautifully 36 years later as a matter of fact. For Roxy fans who were never quite satisfied with the direction Bryan Ferry took the band later, or who occasionally got lost in Eno’s experimentations, Diamond Head is something of a missing link.
If (like myself) you find yourself thoroughly enchanted by Manzanera’s solo work, you may want to look into his two-CD, single-DVD collection titled The Music: 1972 – 2008. This moderately priced set is a fantastic overview of the man’s career. To recycle an overused phrase: Phil Manzanera is a guitar player’s guitar player. Without a doubt he is one of the most underrated musicians of the modern rock era. I recommend anything by him without reservation.