A review of two albums, by Michael Bloom, from Rolling Stone, 9/21/78, kindly typed up and supplied by Steve.
Phil Manzanera is one of the world's last psychedelic guitarists. His electric hippie asides spiced Bryan Ferry's romantic histrionics in Roxy Music, while his practicality often anchored Brian Eno's ballooning aesthetics. Now, with his own floating 801 entourage, Manzanera has created one of the last - and best - psychedelic bands in the world.
Manzanera as bandleader is a sensitive collaborator, sort of a Frank Zappa with humility. Deciding from the start that 801 was to be a communal project, he found players whose contributions would complement his own and who could expand to fill any available space. He's organized his maverick musicians into a smoking performance unit in much the same way that his cohort, Eno, juggles quixotic hooks and phrases into delectable pop songs. That Manzanera has chosen splendid players helps, of course - drummer Simon Phillips (Jack Bruce), bassist Bill MacCormick (Matching Mole), pianist Francis Monkman (Curved Air), harmonists Lol Creme and Kevin Godley (10cc) and the unfathomable Eno - but most of 801's firepower stems from his own concise direction.
The first record, 801 Live, surfaced in England almost two years ago, as if by accident. 801 was then an ad hoc group Manzanera and Eno formed in order to play a few concerts together. This set, recorded at their third and final show, may well be the most vital live album of the decade. There are no egotistical displays or star wars - even Manzanera's longest solo is a whirlwind two-dozen bars in the intro to "Miss Shapiro." Instead, he teases the performers through momentous changes and tricky offbeats, uniting everyone by ordeal. The band emerges not only tight but spontaneous, and the ensemble texture is rich and explosive, like the finest from the Sixties groups.
Listen Now, a studio LP recorded last year, deals less with group fiber and more with subtler sonic alchemy. Texture is still of paramount importance, but Manzanera achieves it here by carefully manipulating a smorgasbord of sound effects (again with Eno as his lieutenant) into a dark, moody canvas reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Lyrics which might otherwise have seemed simple-minded instead provide a bitter paranoiac focus. A few reminders of virtuosity, like "Initial Speed," brighten the doomy landscape and round out the record.
Throughout, Phil Manzanera proves he's got a singular and profound understanding of rock dynamics. Now all he has to do is gather a permanent touring band and take the world by storm.