September 3, 2019

In late 1974, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera began thinking that the time might be right for him to record a solo album. When he eventually elected to do so, in December of that year, he did what would perhaps not have been most people’s first idea: he recorded two at the same time. While he was in the studio putting this album together in January of 1975, he was simultaneously masterminding an album entitled Mainstream by his former band Quiet Sun, comprising material they had written before splitting up earlier. Very good it is too, but for now let us focus out attention on the album which actually bore his name as a solo album ‘proper’, Diamond Head.

Of course, it is common knowledge that the heavy metal band Diamond Head tok their name from this, but to imagine any sort of correlation between the two on a musical level would be misleading in the extreme. This album, recorded with a host of guest artists, from Roxy and Elsewhere (bonus Frank Zappa reference there!), is unsurprisingly varied in terms of musical influence. There is Roxy-style sophisticated art-prog, but there is also some funk creeping an and a fair sprinkling of Manzanera’s South American roots into the bargain. There is a distinctly ‘Spanish’ flavoured air about some of this material, a fact remarked upon my Manzanera himself in the excellent accompanying essay contained in the booklet of this excellent reissue.

An early highlight is the instrumental title track. A beautifully melodic guitar-led proggy  piece, as the second song in it immediately puts ears used to Roxy Music at their ease. There are two tracks co-written (and sung, in his inimitable style) by Brian Eno. The first, Big Day, concerns a Peruvian ex-pat planning a move back to his mother country, and interestingly plays into Manzanera’s own roots in that part of the world (though not that exact country) and is either delightfully catch or irritatingly catchy, depending upon your viewpoint! The second of the Eno pieces is much more enigmatic: called Miss Shapiro for some odd reason, Manzanera himself admits that he has still yet to have any clue whatsoever of what the song is actually about! It’s a fascinating lyric though, full of what sound like they could be hidden meanings to which the listener can, and invariably will, add their own interpretation. The imagery is so evocative it is impossible not to get drawn into it. Musically it is an intricately constructed piece as well, unfolding its secrets over six and a half minutes.

The funk gets a look in with the instrumental, bass-driven piece The Flex, and also Same Time Next Week, both featuring John Wetton with the latter also having Doreen Chanter on vocals. Another instrumental East Of Echo also features the other guys from Quiet Sun, as well as the unlikely credit of Ian MacDonald on bagpipes! If you like a little bit of quirky ‘70s eccentricity, and are open to your progressive music drawing on all sources. You could do a lot worse than to check this out. And of course, it goes without saying that the guitar playing is superb throughout.

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