[Review] Phil Manzanera: Southern Cross (1990)

If Mike + The Mechanics wrote an album about Cuban politics and hired a proper guitarist, it would probably sound like this.

Kronomyth 11.0: Split menzanera.

This is the studio pop of WettonManzanera crossed with the guitarist’s Cuban past. Southern Cross is a rich-sounding record, elevated by the nearly full-time collaboration of Tim Finn as lyricist and vocalist. It’s also a serious record: “Dr. Fidel,” “A Million Reasons Why,” “Rich And Poor.” They sing of class distinctions, dictators, unscrupulous doctors. I have to imagine that the lyrics on songs like “Venceremos” better reflect the feelings of Phil Manzanera. That or Tim Finn was reading The Motorcycle Diaries that week.

Finn is actually only one of the featured vocalists, Gary Dyson being the other. Dyson has a voice suited to the adult pop market, more flexible than Finn’s sometimes high-pitched pipes. Personally, I think Finn could have done great things with “The Great Leveller,” and maybe he’ll resurrect it for his solo career some day.

Southern Cross is a very smart and professional pop record, if more political than most. However, I don’t know where the market is for it. Roxy Music fans would need to exhaust all of their original works plus everything by Bryan Ferry, the first two proper Brian Eno albums and maybe Diamond Head before arriving at Southern Cross. Tim Finn fans don’t lack suitable side avenues either: Split Enz, Crowded House. As for Phil Manzanera fans, I have to wonder how many exist outside of the Roxy axis. I can imagine maybe Latin Roxy fans aligning with Manzanera, but the weirdos went with Eno while the pretty boys and girls belong to Bryan.

I’ve picked up a few of Phil’s efforts out of curious habit and Southern Cross stands as tall as any of them. It’s south and to the left of my usual tastes, but we all have to leave our little island sometimes.

Original CD Version

1. A Million Reasons Why
2. Tambor
3. The Great Leveller
4. Astrud
5. Southern Cross
6. Blood Brother
7. Guantanamera
8. The Rich And The Poor
9. Dance (Break This Trance)
10. Verde
11. Dr. Field
12. Venceremos

US CD Version
1. A Million Reasons Why (Tim Finn/Phil Manzanera/Gary Dyson) (4:13)
2. Frontera ’91 (Phil Manzanera/Ian MacCormack/William MacCormack) (5:00)
3. The Great Leveller (Phil Manzanera/Tim Finn) (5:15)
4. Tambor (Phil Manzanera/ Ian McCormick) (6:08)
5. Southern Cross (Phil Manzanera) (4:37)
6. Rich And Poor (Phil Manzanera/Tim Finn) (5:46)
7. Dance (Break This Trance) (Phil Manzanera/Tim Finn) (4:26)
8. Verde (Phil Manzanera/Tim Finn) (6:51)
9. Dr. Fidel (Phil Manzanera/Tim Finn) (5:36)
10. Venceremos (Phil Manzanera/Tim Finn) (3:24)

The Players

Phil Manzanera (guitar, keyboards, tiple’, voice, orquestral guitar, electric guitar, cello guitar, bass, sax guitar, guitar synthesizer, drum programming, effects, bass drum programming), Chris Davis (sax, alto sax), Gary Dyson (vocal), Tim Finn (vocals, piano), Phil Todd (sax, alto sax), Suzie Webb (backing vox) with Mauricio Abello (congas, cowbell), Guy Barker (trumpet, trumpet solo), Keith Bessey (drum programming), Livingston (Livingstone) Brown (bass), Mel Collins (soprano sax), Dave Defries (trumpet), Bosco De Oliviera (rain maker, Brazilian percussion, congas, percussion), Rebecca De Ruvo (backing vox), Kevin Dillon (keyboards, strings, percussion, programming), Sandy Loewenthal (piano, organ), Clive Mayuyu (drums), Ian MacCormick (artistic motivation), Val McKenna (backing vox), Chuco Merchan (bass), Zoe Nicholas (backing vox), Mikey Sterges (Sturges) (drums), Sally Ann Triplett (backing vox), Ana Maria Velez (spoken vocal), John Wetton (backing vox), Lisandro Zapata (bass). Produced by Phil Manzanera and Keith Bessey; engineered by Keith Bessey, additional engineering by Kevin Dillon, Ashley Howes, Trevor Smith, Stewart Barry, Noel Harris, John “Trapper” Maile.

The Pictures

Photography by Nicholas DeVille. Art direction and design by The Duke Design Co.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc in 1990 in the UK (Expression, EXPAL/EXPMC/EXPCD 1), Australia (Interfusion/Festival, D30526), France (Expression, VG 406/651) and Japan (Victor, VICP-52) with lyric sleeve.

  1. Re-released on 10-track CD on October 22, 1991 in the US (Agenda, 74707) with unique cover.

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