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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

50 Minutes Later by Phil Manzanera

The man in the shades has just played a blinder!

What can happen in 50 minutes? Technicolor UFO, Phil Manzanera’s barnstorming look-back to 1968 gives us a clue.

Telling the tale of a young man just over from South America and itching to get into the “tripped out scene, Burroughs, Soft Machine” it’s clear that 50 minutes in such psychedelic-tinted company was enough to change the course of his life forever.

And all these years later, here he is telling us about it in an absurdly contemporary style, maturely reflecting on his life but devoid of mawkish nostalgia.

Blessed with a thumping straight-ahead beat provided by Paul Thompson, catchy “oo-oo” backing vocals borrowed from The Stones, and a writhing guitar so strangulated as to be in danger of splintering the neck, this has to be one of the best songs Roxy Music never recorded.

50 Minutos Mas Tadre, co-written by Phil, Robert Wyatt and Eno during a 90 minute after-dinner jam sessionwhilst the trio were making Wyatt's Cuckooland, sweeps off the streets into a shadow-laden ballroom. With spoken Spanish, glistening arco bass and the bitter-sweet rumination of Wyatt’s cornet and vocals, it waltzes darkly between the Buenos Vista Social Club and David Lynch.

Maintaining the Latin tinge, Desparecido begins life as an implausible noir-ish pot-boiler but by the time the astonishingly crisp ascending major/ minor chords clash on the chorus, we’re propelled to a sumptuous pop finale topped improbably perhaps by some rippling accordion. The ending is as unexpected as it is uplifting.

Despite the familiarity of some of the territory there are one or two surprises that are well off the beaten track. Of course we should expect nothing less from someone as culturally and geographically well-travelled as Manzanera. The album is seeded with as many eclectic influences as the visa stamps in a dog-eared passport.

Paying close attention to the intricate craft of actually writing real songs with hooks and middle-eights, it’s peppered with smart and tart solos that have the knack of lifting otherwise ordinary material to greater things. The lilting One Step and Till The End Of The Line (Phil’s Comfortably Numb moment) benefit from and highlight this expressive and incredibly useful gift.

Whilst the amiable singalong of Swimming owes more than a casual skinnydip into Ray Davies’ back catalogue, Manzanera has lost none of the noise-terror credentials that made him a potent and distinctive force in Roxy’s early heyday. The creepy Bible Black begins with some Mellotron-style samples slowly edging into a picture dominated by Yaron Stavi’s stark double bass motif. An uneasy song about that never-ending night that waits for us all, it drips a pervasive disquiet quicker than you can say In Every Dream Home A Heartache.

Appropriately perhaps, it’s resurrected as a ten and a half minute bonus track. With added Enotonik treatment (mucho mucking about with loops, filters and kaos pad crash edits), sax from Andy MacKay and a whole bunch of noise, it’s not so much a guitar solo as a guitar scrambled and smeared across the sonic spectrum.

In the poker match of musical influence that may constitute the making of the new Roxy Music album, 50 Minutes Later has just dramatically raised the stakes. If a reformed Roxy Music can come up with something half as good as this then they’ll be well ahead of the game.

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