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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

801: Listen Now

801: LISTEN NOW (1978)

1) Listen Now; 2) Flight 19; 3) Island; 4) Law And Order; 5) Rude Awakening; 6) Que?; 7) City Of Light; 8) Initial Speed; 9) Postcard Love; 10) That Falling Feeling; 11*) Blue Grey Uniform; 12*) Remote Control.

Although it is fairly hard to categorize the original 801, it is also quite clear that when the tour was complete and Manzanera took the band name with him, his next step was to use it for some­thing quite stylistically different. Essentially, this one and only studio album by 801 is a collabo­ration between Manzanera and Bill McCormick, with the rest of the original band only making sporadic friendly appearances — along with a host of other notables, such as Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, formerly of 10cc, and Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner of Split Enz. Throw in Mel Collins (King Crimson, etc.) on sax; Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, etc.) on violin; Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention) on drums, and you get yourself quite a melting pot of music greats. Usually in such cases the final results do not manage to be particularly impressive — too much confusion, not enough unity — and, as a result, I am almost surprised that Listen Now, true to its name, is con­sistently listenable, though hardly more than that.

Unlike 801 Live, whose mix of crazyass Manzanera and Eno albums made it into a first-rate psychedelic experience for 1976, Listen Now is simpler, poppier, and almost jaw-droppingly straightforward for the usually audacious Manzanera. The songs here do reveal a strong influence on the part of 10cc, as well as Steely Dan, Supertramp, and other intelligent art-pop bands of the decade: vocal hooks are just as important as guitar riffs and keyboard passages, although a key element is genre diversity — the album goes from arena-rock to jazz fusion to disco to soft-pop quite effortlessly, even if none of the selections can really aspire to represent the respective top level in any of these genres. Compared to Diamond Head, Listen Now could even be called an unabashedly «commercial» offering — though, like Eno's pop albums, there is never any feeling that the musicians are trying to entice the listener, so the record never sold particularly well.

Surprisingly, the title track is an eight-minute funky groove, verging on disco, but with a gray, heavy, depressing atmosphere, enhanced by grim melancholic vocals, grim melancholic basslines, and angry bluesy solos. This is the most in-yer-face soulful mood that Phil had allowed himself to generate up to that point, and the mournful arrangement works well, although overall it is too smooth to compete with, say, Pink Floyd — more like late period 10cc (without Godley and Creme, so I am tempted to believe that it was really Stewart and Gouldman, infiltrating Manza­nera's studio by pretending to be Godley and Creme). Another very long number is ʽCity Of Lightʼ, a mope-rocker riding all the way on one ominous piano chord and, in a way, atmospheri­cally presaging Peter Gabriel's ʽIntruderʼ, though the vocals are fairly weak.

Although I have not been paying serious attention to the lyrics, the overall mood of the album is lightly pre-apocalyptic — it is as if Manzanera intentionally ditched the decadent sinner-boy glitz of Roxy Music and completely concentrated on exposing this rotten world for what it really is, instead of reveling in its rottenness. Sad vaudeville numbers like ʽLaw And Orderʼ and particu­larly the near-gorgeous final ballad ʽThat Falling Feelingʼ churn out waves of depression; the only means of escape are occasional instrumentals, such as ʽIslandʼ (a romantic interlude with a good touch of Brian Wilson's SMiLE to it) and the jazz fusion exercise ʽInitial Speedʼ that sounds almost exactly like classic Brand X, despite the lack of Phil Collins on the album. (Jud­ging by the paranoidally fussy style, I'd bet it is Simon Phillips behind the kit).

Does it work? Not on a grand scale, but it does. 801 Live played out like a once-in-a-lifetime concert by The Spiders From Mars — Listen Now is far more grounded in the realities of this here planet, and I am pretty sure that many Eno and Manzanera fans must have received it as a major disappointment back at the time, expecting something completely different. I must confess that I expected something completely different, too, and it took a few listens to warm up to the idea that a «straight» Phil Manzanera could still make a solid artistic statement. What clinched it for me was the odd Seventies mix — from 10cc to Brand X to Steely Dan to Eno to Supertramp to... Little Feat? (ʽPostcard Loveʼ has distinct country-rock elements), it's all there, drenched in clouds of gloominess and Phil's trademark guitar style.

At the very least, this is intriguing, so I heartily invite everyone to try out the record without any prior expectations — thumbs up guaranteed. On a final note, the CD edition adds two bonus tracks from the session, one of which, ʽRemote Controlʼ, is a catchy riff-rocker whose riff is amu­­singly melodically similar to ʽEnter Sandmanʼ, though probably not enough for Manzanera to be able to sue his Californian competition.


  1. Bit sad you couldn't find time to spare a word for the very 10cc-ish "Flight 19" (EARLY period, with DEFINITELY ACTUALLY Kevin and Lol doing backing vocals) or that "Postcard Love" is nearly as pretty as the closer.

    I've seen this album released as a Phil Manzanera solo album or with himself and 801 co-billed, oddly, but that's really the best analog. K-Scope, which he essentially followed this up with, is very similar down to lots of Split Enz vocals turns, disco shuffles, moody fusion instrumentals, and a depressing but gorgeous duo of songs at the end.

    I probably like this more than I should, but it sits right at the balance of 'late 70s pop rockin' good time guy' and 'late 70s tasteful artisan AOR' in the exact center of my comfort zone. Not a gourmet feast but a nice meal kinda thing.

  2. I think you called it right, the way to describe it is “pretty good”, but not more. I have the album. I listen to the songs when they come up on shuffle mode on my iPod, but I rarely make a point of pulling out the CD to listen to it – unlike “801 Live” and “Diamond Head”.