Guitarist Phil Manzanera deserves respect for the quality of his work with Roxy Music and side projects (anyone remember the great 801 Live album?). But this sixth solo album doesn't play to his strengths. It's patchy and a bit indigestible.
The first half showcases songs, with Phil as lead singer. His singing is sincere but average, and his lyrics are unremarkable. He has assembled a stellar cast: Andy Mackay, the great Paul Thompson, Chrissie Hynde, Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt and Dave Gilmour. But it might have been better to hire a tough producer, or a good editor, to cut a path through the ideas.
Too many of the treatments and textures have been heard before (often from Phil himself) and they don't sparkle or surprise. "Wish You Well" is a well-meaning tribute to the late rock writer Ian McDonald (the author of one of pop's bibles "Revolution In The Head"). But it ends with not one but two guitar solos, both of which go on too long and don't say anything interesting.
The second half of the album is a suite "The Cissbury Ring". The first part of this is ambitious, with strong echoes of 70s prog rock and Miles Davis, and it does work. But by the time you get to the psychedelic freak out chant of "Sacred Days" there's just too much to take in. Instead of being uplifted, you feel bogged down.
The best tracks are the simplest. "6 p.m." is a sleek guitar instrumental which grooves along classily. "Manzra" is an intriguing, ambiguous Eno-esque ambient piece. And "Waiting For The Sun To Shine" is far and away the best song, with a straightforward drum machine pulse and fizzing keyboards. It sounds like John Cale's recent solo work.
But while Cale has used new technology to smarten up his obsessions, too much of 6 p.m. seems backward looking. Manzanera needs a fresh framework for his undoubted talents.