Saturday, 26 May 2018
Roxy Music - Stranded (1973)
Released November 1973
Recorded at AIR Studios, London
Roxy Music's third album, and the first since the departure of electronic muse Brian Eno, saw a slight streamlining of their sound - less synthesisers and tape loops, a heavier guitar sound, a greater emphasis on more melodic piano sound. The employment of multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson in Eno's place certainly helped in this. There are many who think that the only credible Roxy Music albums were the first two, the Eno ones, but this is really up there with the. Indeed, in many ways it could be considered superior. Listen to it as a whole, it gets better and better. The vaguely unsettling, difficult to categorise nature of their music is still clearly in evidence. This is still very much a "Roxy Music Phase One" (1972-1975) album.
1. Street Life
2. Just Like You
6. A Song For Europe
7. Mother Of Pearl
"Street Life" was a wonderful, upbeat opener, from the opening "fade in" of that strange jangling sound to its intriguing "Virginia Plain"- style lyrics, this was, not unsurprisingly, a huge hit single. The frantic pace never lets up and Bryan Ferry's voice and Paul Thompson's drums are on top form throughout. One of Roxy's finest singles. Perfect in so many ways. As for "Just Like You", initially, one felt this quiet, tender ballad was a bit of a lightweight track. Dig deeper though and it has hidden qualities - an impressive Phil Manzanera guitar solo mid-way through and some throbbing, melodic bass provides a foundation to a most underrated Roxy song.
"Amazona" was sampled by rapper Ice-T on "That's How I'm Living It", this could have been on either of the first two albums. It is very much an "early Roxy" style track. Fast paced, lots of weird noises as if Eno was back with the band, some very affected Ferry vocals, searing Manzanera guitar, great drums and some bizarre, irrelevant lyrics about an area of Brazil.
For many, "Psalm" was the album's low point - a eight minute, slow burning dirge full of quasi-religious lyrics and none of that madcap Roxy creativity, such as on "Street Life" and "Amazona". That is to do the song a disservice though. It builds up beautifully - a lovely, warm vocal from Ferry, insistent thumping drums from Thompson, Manzanera's guitar chopping in and out behind the vocal and Andy Mackay's saxophone getting increasingly involved as the verses progress. Then, about four and a half minutes in, a Welsh male voice choir joins in on massed backing vocals, Ferry picks up his harmonica, Manzanera turns up the guitar licks and what you get is something rather special. Ferry returns with an ever-strengthening vocal to lift the song to to its climax and Mackay helps him with some wailing saxophone. Do not underestimate the beauty of this track.
"Serenade" was another "fade in" song that quickly launches into a quintessential Roxy mid-70s rocker, as was "Whirlwind" on 1975's "Siren". The usual ingredients of a vibrating Ferry vocal and some killer Manzanera guitar. There is a nice, slower, piano-based "bridge" before the drums kick back in as the song reaches its climax.
"Song For Europe" is a true Roxy classic. Atmospheric, evocative, beautiful, dramatic. All of those and more. Every member doing what they do best to the max. A lovely tinkling piano introduction sonically reflects the waters of Venice's canals before Ferry croons his way in to sing the slow, seductive verses. Thompson's drums and Mackay's soaring saxophone come in for each "chorus" part (although there is no obvious chorus, as such, just the louder bits). A beautiful piano and bass passage build up to the song's tumultuous climax as Ferry starts singing in Spanish, Latin and finally French, finishing it off with one of his affecting whistling passages. Just what other band, in 1973, could come up with something like this? Simply magnificent.
With the sumptuous "Mother Of Pearl" Roxy heaven continues - first with with the frenetic first one and a half minutes of breakneck guitar driven rock, before the tempo instantly drops to a slow, plaintive drum beat and high-pitched background guitar interventions as the tension builds up again, rather like it did in "Psalm" and, bit by bit we slowly reach a climax again. The pace gets just a bit faster, Ferry's delivery gets more urgent, the bass becomes more obvious, the drums more insistent, the guitar parts more intricate. Why, its just bloody wonderful. It is here that I realise that, for me, this is the best Roxy Music album of all. No question.
The last unaccompanied fade-out lines of "Mother Of Pearl" segue into the beautiful, melodic piano intro to the lovely, low-key send off for this great album - "Sunset". Ferry croons in classic style over a piano and deep, vibrating string bass backing (that sounds just like a cello). Just approaching the three minute mark, Ferry is gone for a while and a simply mesmeric piano and drum passage builds up to the song's closing movements with one more extended verse from Ferry before an intoxicating instrumental fade out.