[Review] Phil Manzanera/801: Listen Now (1977)

A highly listenable collection of left-of-center songs from Manzanera and the MacCormick Brothers.

Kronomyth 3.0: Eight o’ wonderful.

This is probably the best of the 801 albums. I write “probably” because I have no way of quantifying that, let alone proving it. But Listen Now is the best showcase for the pairing of Phil Manzanera and the MacCormick brothers, Bill and Ian, who represent the core of 801. Their songs are generally dystopian, tuneful in a sneaky sort of way (think Brian Eno) and yet too experimental to comfortably fall into the pop format (simon says think of Godley and Creme).

Most of the songs on Listen Now are actual songs: that is, they have vocals. Lots of vocals. It’s a wordy record that often uses two or three vocalists to get the job done. The lyrics are quite good (e.g., Listen Now, Postcard Love, Law and Order). The vocals are decent enough, although both Simon Ainley and Bill MacCormick are more in line with Brian Eno than Bryan Ferry. More than a few times, Listen Now felt like being in L, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Although Flight 19 was released as a single, nothing on here stood a reasonable chance of being played on the radio. Maybe “Postcard Love,” so long as no one listened closely to then lyrics. Island would have made for a lovely instrumental single, should such a thing exist outside of novelties and film themes. The rest of the record—the whole thing, really—is too smart for the radio. And the fact that it all sounded very little like Roxy Music made it a more difficult sell, especially since Ferry was selling his own wares successfully at the same time.

Personally, I prefer this to some of Ferry’s solo albums. Listen Now rewards repeated listenings, with enough interesting twists and turns to give it a slight edge over the other Manzanera solo albums, which otherwise deliver the same goods with more or less the same people. All the albums from Diamond Head to K-Scope have their share of pleasant discoveries, so I wouldn’t warn you away from any of them. But I might encourage you to start with Listen Now before you listen to the other 801-era albums.

Original elpee version

A1. Listen Now (Phil Manzanera/Ian MacCormick/Bill MacCormick) (7:58)
A2. Flight 19 (Phil Manzanera/Ian MacCormick) (5:31)
A3. Island (Phil Manzanera) (5:18)
A4. Law and Order (Phil Manzanera/Bill MacCormick) (4:04)
B1. ¿Que? (Phil Manzanera) (1:18)
B2. City of Light (Phil Manzanera/Bill MacCormick) (7:09)
B3. Initial Speed (Phil Manzanera) (4:45)
B4. Postcard Love (Phil Manzanera/Bill MacCormick) (4:31)
B5. That Falling Feeling (Phil Manzanera/Ian MacCormick) (5:09)

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Rude Awakening
11. Blue Gray Uniform
12. Remote Control

The Players

Phil Manzanera (guitars, Hammond organ, acoustic piano), Simon Ainley (lead vocals), Eno (guitar treatment, synthesizer, chorus piano), Bill MacCormick (bass, vocals, Wurlitzer bass, lead vocals, chorus vocals), Simon Phillips (drums, percussion) with Mel Collins (saxes and big band on A1, soprano sax on B3), Lol Creme (chorus vocals and gizmo on A2, gizmo on B3), Rhett Davies (Hammond organ on B1, frog on B2), Tim Finn (backing vocals on A2, chorus vocals on B5), Kevin Godley (vocals, percussion, chorus, heavenly voices), Eddie Jobson (acoustic piano, Fender piano), Alan Lee (chorus vocals on A4), Billy Livsey (Wurlitzer piano on A1, Fender Rhodes and clarinet on A4), Ian MacCormick (vocals on A1, harmonica on B2), Dave Mattacks (drums on A1/A4/B2), Francis Monkman (Fender Rhodes and synthesiser on B3), Eddie Rayner (acoustic piano on B5), John White (tuba on A4). Produced by Phil Manzanera; engineered by Rhett Davies, Martin Lawrence.

The Pictures

Design and concept cover by Philip Castle, based on an idea by Ian MacCormick. Artwork by Cream.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on September 23, 1977 in the UK and France (Polydor, 2302 074/3100-408), the US (Polydor, PD/8T-1-6147) and Japan (Polydor, MPF-1117) with lyrics innersleeve.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 (EG, EGCD-30).
  2. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on December 11, 2000 (Expression, EXPCD-17) with 3 bonus tracks.

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