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John Phillips - Andy Warhol Presents Man on the Moon

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Artist: John Phillips

Album: Andy Warhol Presents Man on the Moon

Label: Varese Vintage

Review date: Dec. 1, 2009

According to the liner notes of Verese Sarabande’s Man on the Moon release, John Phillips spent more time developing this doomed astro-musical than any other project in his career. It’s a shame, and indicative of the creative k-hole in which Phillips spent much of the ‘70s. While it is often admirable to observe an artist attempting to broaden his horizons, success rates frequently dive. Man on the Moon is no exception: Phillips’ stage dreams would better have been forgotten.

In 1969, following the touch-down of Apollo 11, Phillips set to work on a suite of tracks concerned with "space exploration." By 1975 the project had morphed into a full-blown off-Broadway musical. Phillips and his third wife, singer/actress Genevieve Waite developed the project—by all accounts aided by a blizzard of cocaine—gathered Andy Warhol as backer and debuted the production at NYC’s Little Theater in January 1975.

Despite opening night interest from a cast of New York artists and celebutantes, the show was a disaster. Critics dissed Phillips’ content and Warhol’s backing and the production clattered to a halt after a meager five days.

The failure of this long-brewed pet project devastated Phillips. Rumor has it this set back was a of prime responsibility in propelling him towards the worst of his drug addiction.

The question, really, becomes whether the material is actually poor, or whether the circumstances into which the production arrived (irresponsible doping, a cascade of producers/directors) ensured the project was stillborn. Unfortunately, here the former is true. While other after-the-fall Phillips reissues, such as Jack of Diamonds and Pussycat contained enough promise to warrant a slog through the sloppier elements, Man on the Moon features little of worth. There are flashes of Phillips’ songwriting wit throughout the disc’s 38 tracks but they are too few to be remotely charming. The tin-eared Waite is a grating vocalist—Phillips’ decision to plant her in the lead role should be viewed as suspiciously as McCartney giving Linda the mic in Wings. A series of six live tracks recorded by an audience member at one of the ill-fated Little Theater shows reveals a flat production punctuated only by the crowd’s muted laughter.

Man on the Moon may well have been ill-fated from the start, the result of too much time, too many drugs and too little creative focus. This release’s attempt to rescue the music from footnoted obscurity falls decidedly flat—there is nothing here but documentation of one of the lowest points in the career of a frustratingly talented artist.

By Ethan Covey

Other Reviews of John Phillips

Jack of Diamonds


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