On their own as the Explorers, post-Roxy Musicians Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay — joined by singer James Wraith and a collection of familiar session cohorts — make polite, sophisticated pop/dance music with no edge. Although superficially not that different from the music Roxy was making towards the end, The Explorers is undistinguished, lacking memorable songs and Ferry’s unique touch. (Wraith’s obvious attempt at imitation on “Venus De Milo” isn’t exactly flattery.) Not bad, just not what you’d hope for from artists of this caliber.
Dispensing with the group name, the American Crack the Whip retrieves three cuts from The Explorers, adding five leftovers from the same ’84 sessions and another five dance-conscious tracks of more recent vintage. Manzanera and Mackay do nice work on the mediocre material, but the dominant character here is Wraith. Where he was mildly annoying on the first album, his mannered singing has turned obnoxious — a pompously melodramatic mixture of vocal styles borrowed from Ferry, Erasure and Spandau Ballet.
The following year, the remaining six songs from The Explorers were coupled with the same number of new recordings and issued as Up in Smoke. With Wraith again being a pompous nuisance. Manzanera and Mackay occasionally chip in with nifty instrumental bits, but the songs and production are so lacking in personality that it’s hardly worth the wait.
The Players are a no-tech instrumental band led by Andy Mackay; Christmas (executive-produced and “co-presented” by Manzanera, who doesn’t play on it) is a delightful folky collection of 33 old-fashioned traditional songs of the season, played with mucho gentle gusto on banjo, fiddle, oboe, clarinet, accordion and acoustic guitar.