Saturday, 3 October 2020

Roxy Music - Far Beyond The Pale Horizon (1972-1975)



Roxy Music (1972)



Re-Make Re-Model/Ladytron/If There Is Something/2HB/The BOB (Medley)/Chance Meeting/Would You Believe?/Sea Breezes/Bitter's End

"Is this a recording session or a cocktail party?" - Dr. Simon Puxley

Like Bryan Ferry's old friend Dr. Simon Puxley, I have always found this debut album from a band that I have loved since 1972 extremely hard to categorise, or indeed analyse, because it was just so very unique. It was recorded in early 1972 at a time when music was populated by interpreters of the blues like Led Zeppelin, Free and The Rolling Stones, prog rock, folk rock, socially aware soul artists like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield and, of course, glam rock. It has to be said, however, that Roxy were as much of an influence on subsequent glam rock as it had been on them.
                         
Into this musical zeigeist, Roxy Music came from, well, nowhere, seemingly. Who were Roxy Music? No-one really knew. The were a disparate bunch of middle class students and down-to-earth drummer Paul Thompson and they looked like Teddy Boys - like 50s revivalist members of Sha Na Na - dressed at times in what seemed like bacofoil suits like Dr. Who extras. They were simultaneously retrospective and futuristic both visually and musically - blaring rock and roll saxophone mixed with odd-sounding tape loops, weird synthesiser noises and powerhouse glammy drumming from Thompson behind Bryan Ferry's bizarre, quavering voice, the like of which had not been heard before. Take their frantically-madcap non-album first single, Virginia Plain and its strange lyrics too as the perfect example, sonically and lyrically:-


"Far beyond the pale horizon
Some place near the desert strand
Where my Studebaker takes me
That's where I'll make my stand
But wait -
Can't you see that Holzer mane?
What's her name?
Virginia Plain"

Exactly. What was that all about. I bought that single in 1972 and was hooked, though, and I remain so. By the way, the track should never, in my opinion, be included as part of the debut album, as it subsequently has been on CD. It just sounds out of place in there, however great a track it undoubtedly is. That said, it should have been on the album anyway, so the only reason I am saying this is because I am familiar with the running order of the original vinyl album.

 

Back to the album. The opening track, Re-Make Re-Model was a fantastic start, with all the individual Roxy members taking solos in Bryan Ferry’s ode to a car number plate (CPL 593H). This track just sort of summed up what early Roxy were all about - exciting, individualistic, innovative, futuristic, revivalist. All those things rolled into one intoxicating whole. After some background chattering noise the track kicks off into a glorious cacophony of blaring saxophones, searing guitar, thumping drums and bleeping, wailing synthesisers, perfectly blending contemporary, upbeat glam rock with classic riffy rock and, notably, a retrospective late fifties rock and roll vibe. It was a magnificently heady maelstrom of exciting sounds and stands as one of the finest first album/first songs in any era. 

Ladytron features the “sound like the moon” that Ferry had asked Brian Eno to create, with its insistent, exciting synthesiser climax. The song is most mysterious, full of weird electronic sounds and those rudimentary but intoxicating synthesiser breaks merged with some Latin castanets and an infectious staccato bass line. It was the first sign that this was a most unusual, creative band. I remember them doing it on The Old Grey Whistle Test to great effect. Roxy Music as the avant-garde retrospective futurists truly arrived with this track. Check out the frantic, instrumental ending - seriously impossible to pigeonhole but stunningly exhilarating.

If There Is Something is something of a mini Roxy classic. Again, all the instrumentalists feature heavily over Ferry’s “acquired taste” unique voice, and romantic lyrics. It is a track of several changes within its six and a half minutes or so. It starts in breezy, slightly country, twangy fashion, before turning slower, heavier and more insistent, the drums becoming more powerful and the saxophone and guitars playing off wonderfully against each other. Finally, the song moves into a third part, with a melancholy but passionate Ferry vocal taking this remarkably innovative song to a close. It is a song that was always done well live, often being considerably extended, and, indeed, Ferry still does it these days. Incidentally, it was covered really well by David Bowie and Tin Machine on their second album.

At this point in the album we leave futuristic, ground-breaking rock music a long way behind and head for Roxy/Ferry's romantic, stylistic other world. It is here that the album proves itself to be something very different to anything in the mainstream. 

2 H.B. is an understated and attractive tribute to screen legend Humphrey Bogart, driven along by a seductive electric piano and referencing the white jacket that Ferry would come to revere over the subsequent years, and The BOB (Medley) which was, apparently, about the Battle Of Britain. However, only the clumsily-placed and irritating machine gun and siren sound affect noises hold a clue to that one. To be honest, the track is more than a little bit messy. It is a bit odd, to be honest, sitting very incongruously alongside the rest of the album's generally avant-garde ambience. The Battle Of Britain was an heroic affair but did it need commemorating on this album by a strange bunch of seventies ex-students? Probably not. I have never been convinced by the track at all. That said, there are several good points hidden within its many changes of pace - some fine bass, its sonorous introductory synthesiser and electric violin-sounding interjections, for example. A couple more listens and I find myself quite liking it.

 

The evocative Chance Meeting was also inspired by old classic films such as Brief Encounter and the lengthy, plaintive Sea Breezes was also a convincingly atmospheric number, beginning with a soft, delicate and brooding romantic ambience before climaxing with its extended, slow, drum and vocal last part. Roxy, or rather Ferry, explored the romantic and the cinematically melodramatic on songs like these, Ferry's unique quavering and haughty voice perfectly matching the lyrics' beguiling character. The music was a fine accompaniment too, full of theatrical neo-classical style. Just listening to this pair of compositions brings to mind deserted, windswept beaches or walkways out in to the sea, with two tortured lovers meeting there. It was all a million miles from rock and roll at this point. 

Andy Mackay's saxophone is hauntingly beautiful on Sea Breezes, as together wit Ferry's piano and some wave noises we get a superb instrumental middle passage. This really was quality fare. As Mackay himself said of it "we certainly didn't invent eclecticism but we did say and prove that rock and roll could accommodate - well anything, really...". Well, he was right. Just listen to the last part of the song as the drums push their way back in, together with a rubbery bass and searing electric guitar. Bleak romance had turned into aggressive stubbornness and then, just when you had got used to the slow power, it turns quiet and reflective again. As he said, they were accommodating all sorts of musical, lyrical and stylistic themes.



Sandwiched between these two dense, pensive numbers we return to a more familiar rousing glammy rock sound on Would You Believe? which was an upbeat, rock n roll song featuring Andy Mackay’s superb saxophone, doo-wop harmonies and rocking piano but then comes Bitters End, which was an odd, slightly unfinished lounge bar-ish two minute track to finish what was, all things considered, a quite remarkable, but challenging debut album. Once again, some doo-wop was utilised and a rock and roll saxophone. The last line of the song has Ferry saying that it "should make the cognoscenti think....". It certainly did that. 

This was Roxy Music's first outing, remember, David Bowie and Marc Bolan, 1972’s two other great innovators, had been putting out albums for several years by then. It was one of music's more remarkable debuts. I probably listen to the album about once a year these days and whenever I do I am always amazed by it.

 

** Worth mentioning too is the 'b' side to Virginia PlainThe Numberer, which was an odd 'b' side in that, rather than showcasing Roxy's burgeoning new talent, it sounded like a new band's initial clumsy demo. It is an instrumental. Its sound is very rudimentary, particularly Paul Thompson's usually impressive drums, which sound very amateur, and the general sound overall is somewhat tinny and lo-fi. This is quite noticeable in comparison with the excellent sound on Virginia Plain and on the album. The plus points are the weird keyboard sounds, Andy Mackay's crazy saxophone and the break in the middle when the band launch into some late fifties-style rock'n'roll guitar. That seemed to fit in with the whole futuristic/retro vibe expressed in the band's costumes and hairstyles on the album's cover. Maybe I have been a bit harsh, because, several listens later, I am finding it more and more strangely enjoyable. Its problem is that, for such a polished group, it sounds too raw and rough-edged. 



Regarding the BBC cuts on Disc Two of the “deluxe edition”. Fantastic. You get the entire album (apart from the relatively inconsequential "Bitters End") played live in the BBC studio, not sequentially though. They are excellent in sound quality and interesting versions, proof that Roxy could really play. If There Is Something is outstanding. Re-Make Re-Model and Would You Believe? are both just a sheer pleasure to experience. Just listen to Andy Mackay's saxophone on the latter. Roxy Heaven. The fade out to Ladytron is nailed on as well. I was thinking they might have made a bit of a mess of The Bob (Medley) but they pull it off, somehow creating a few synthesised background noises to accompany what always was a most quirky, somewhat bizarre song. They do it again on the Paris Theatre live performance too, with some additional wailing noises too and parping sax. Chance Meeting has a great extended ending on the live takes.

 

The sound quality on the live cuts is not quite as good as on the BBC sessions but it isn't bad, some nice stereo separation. Considering it was from a smallish venue in 1972 it is probably as good as could be expected.

This CD is worth it for the wonderful BBC Sessions alone, add to that the Paris Theatre tracks and I am more than happy to shell out for what is the only official live representation of this truly ground-breaking band from 1972 when they were really cooking.


 

For Your Pleasure (1973)


Do The Strand/Beauty Queen/Strictly Confidential/Editions Of You/In Every Dream Home A Heartache/The Bogus Man/Grey Lagoons/For Your Pleasure 

"You don't ask, you don't ask why" 

Roxy Music's second album, released in early 1973, ironed out just a few of the rough edges of their otherwise stunning debut album with this, another offering of experimental, innovative "art rock" meets fifties rock'n'roll meets glam. It was the last to feature synthesiser and sound specialist Brian Eno. There were increasing tensions in the studio between the innovative Eno and the more poppier instincts of Bryan Ferry and this is clear in the contrasting material on the album. It led to the departure of Eno four months after the album's release.

There are three great "glam", typically Ferry upbeat tracks to be found in the thumping, lyrically oddball opener Do The Strand, the frantic, swirling Editions Of You and the Andy Mackay (saxophone) dominated Grey Lagoons. which was this album's equivalent of the previous one's Would You Believe? All late fifties throwbacks and breathless rocking pace. 

The first two songs mentioned above, Do The Strand and Editions Of You appeared as a US double "A" side single. Surely it would have been a huge hit if released in the UK? Instead, we had the quirky, somewhat short Pyjamarama, which charted, but not as high as I am sure Do The Strand or Editions Of You would have. All these tracks follow in the footsteps of Roxy’s first, ground-breaking huge hit, Virginia Plain - they are lively, catchy, lyrically bewildering and fully representative of the glammy art rock that Roxy burst upon the scene with in 1972-73. There had certainly been nothing like this before, had there? Once more, Roxy were showing themselves to be totally unique in so many ways. 

Anyway, back to Do The Strand - it is another in the collection of killer opening tracks that Roxy albums seemed to specialise in - overflowing with saxophone, Paul Thompson's rolling, glammy drumming and Ferry's hammed-up vocal delivering intriguing, captivating lyrics about rhododendrons, fandangoes, Mona Lisa and the Sphinx among multifarious references. It is up there in the pantheon of Roxy Music off-the-wall classics. Quite how one should dance "the Strand" remains unclear.

Editions Of You gives us more superbly madcap Roxy glam, with Andy Mackay's Farfisa organ taking the lead in driving this breakneck glammed-up fun number on, from its first note. As  said earlier, what a magnificent single pairing these two bizarre beauties would have made.
                                                                                  


The beautifully bassy Beauty Queen (who was Valerie as mentioned in the song, I wonder?) and the ghostly, electric piano-backed Strictly Confidential are two quintessential Ferry slow, intoxicating numbers that eat into your consciousness, as indeed does the extended, insistent and at times almost funky The Bogus Man. Apparently about a sexual stalker, Eno has since said he was influenced on this track’s creation by the “krautrock” band, Can. The song's lengthy, minimalist sound was very representative of the sort of material that Eno was coming up with at the time. It was probably a couple of minutes too long, to be honest and the album would not have suffered if the two minutes or so of Pyjamarama had taken their place - indeed, it would have been enhanced in my opinion. Interestingly, the song was chosen to begin the old "side two" on vinyl whereas often a more upbeat song was selected for this spot, such as Serenade on Stranded.

For Your Pleasure is also in the same vein as The Bogus Man - a somewhat bizarre lengthy fade out to the album which has served well as a live show closer, with band members departing one by one. It is dominated by Eno’s messing around with tape loops which, on this track, goes on a few minutes too long, to be honest. It is probably here that the differences between Ferry and Eno occurred because Roxy certainly didn't subsequently record anything else like these two tracks. Incidentally, the "you don't ask, you don't ask why" spoken whisper at the end was provided by the now Dame Judi Dench

Beauty Queen finds Ferry praising his subject in surprisingly everyday fashion as he proclaims “you’re the pride of your street”. For me, any girl Ferry sings about doesn’t hail from your average street, she would come from a large house with its own grounds, surely? Maybe Bryan is remembering his working-class upbringing, something he rarely does/did. It is unusual for him to express such sentiments in his songs, he usually sings of fantasy figures like sirens and Vassar girls, buffeted by sea breezes or flying down to Rio, not of a Diana Dors-style back to back terraced street beauty. There is a brief kitchen-sink reality found here that clashes strongly with the image of those “swimming-pool eyes”. I'm probably completely over-analysing here, in Dylanologist style, but the line had always stuck in my head.

The two ballads use the now trademark Roxy tactic of building a song up slowly and quietly before the second half arrives in far stronger fashion. In the case of Beauty Queen it is in frenetic, speeded-up Ladytron style and for Strictly Confidential it is in a solid drum-powered ending à la Sea Breezes



Then there is the monumental, now iconic In Every Dream Home A Heartache, Ferry's love song to an inflatable sex toy. How did he get away with that in those days? “I blew up your body - but you blew my mind”. The track is also notable for Phil Manzanera's blistering guitar solo at the song's climax, having built up to it with Ferry's slow, evocative and insistent verses. The track is chock full of mystery and atmosphere. 

Personally, I prefer Stranded, but this is right up there as a example of Roxy Music's best work. It was a perplexing, beguiling and challenging album in all ways - musically, lyrically and stylistically. Indeed, at the time, American rock critic Paul Gambaccini stated that that "the bulk of “For Your Pleasure”  is either above us, beneath us, or on another plane altogether." Quite. Roxy Music at this time really were quite unique. 

** The non-album single from this period and its 'b' side was Pyjamarama, which was a most quirky and oddball follow-up to the hugely successful debut single, Virginia Plain. It has no obvious verse/chorus structure, just a few lines of lyrics in between some typically adventurous saxophone/guitar/drum instrumental passages. The song's title is not mentioned in the song, neither does it have any relevance. It was a strange single, totally uncommercial, but it made the top twenty. It has become somewhat forgotten in the Roxy canon.

There were two versions - one on Island Records and one on Polydor. There are said to be differences but I have never been particularly successful in noticing them. The Polydor one seems to have a slightly clearer sound quality to it and the guitar bit at the end has a few different notes.

The Pride And The Pain. Roxy Music seemed to be building up a tradition of putting out instrumental 'b' sides that underplayed their abilities, in many ways. Many people find their 'b' sides interesting in a "cultish" sort of way, unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I just find them not very good! Oddly, on all these 'b' sides, the sound quality is far inferior to that of the albums. Anyway, this track is pretty unremarkable, punctuated at the beginning by some off-putting whiplash noises, presumably put in there to give some vague hint of sado-masochism. To be fair, the track does carry a certain amount of mysterious atmosphere with it. After a few listens, I find myself getting into it. There is something of the ambience David Bowie created on Low, the common denominator, of course, being Brian Eno

The cover photo was by Karl Stoecker. The model is Bryan Ferry's girlfriend at the time, model Amanda Lear.  

Stranded (1973)


Street Life/Just Like You/Amazona/Psalm/Serenade/A Song For Europe/Mother Of Pearl/Sunset  

"Connoisseurs might notice the number of allusions to various brands of chocolate" - Bryan Ferry

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 them. 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. Notably, though, Bryan Ferry, in the autumn of 1973, began to adopt the tuxedo-clad lounge bar look and the group were becoming more of a vehicle for his aspirational chic than a bizarre, disparate melting pot of futuristic/proto-glam characters/images. This resulted in some intra-band tension (Phil Manzanera initially sulking about Jobson's appointment and friend of Eno Andy Mackay considering joining Mott The Hoople, apparently) but it never manifested itself in the studio. Indeed Mackay stated that he and Manzanera were pragmatic people who just got on with it.


                                               
Street Life was a wonderful, upbeat opener, from the opening "fade in" of that strange jangling sound (played by Eddie Jobson and mixed with car horn noises), to Paul Thompson's kick ass drum intro, to its intriguing Virginia Plain-style lyrics ("continental-style Strasse girls might..."), this was, not unsurprisingly, a huge hit single. Slotting in easily to the late 1973 glam zeitgeist, the frantic, shimmering pace never lets up, Bryan Ferry's quavering voice and Paul Thompson's drums are on top form throughout. It was one of Roxy's finest singles, perfect in so many ways.

Interestingly, I read recently that Ferry included the names of three popular chocolate confectionery products in the lyrics - "it will take you higher than the milky way....the weekend starts Friday soon after eight....your jet black magic helps you celebrate...". I disputed this with the author at https://roxymusicsongs.com but he produced evidence from Ferry in an interview to confirm it:-


"....I wanted it to be a high-energy, fun song – buzzy and vibrant – and I hope the words convey some of that joie de vivre. Each verse seems to have its own character, like blocks on a street. And connoisseurs might notice the number of allusions to various brands of chocolate (Milky Way, After Eight, Black Magic), which is rather puzzling, since I never touched the stuff....".



Just as David Bowie's The Jean Genie had brightened up the dark days of December 1972, Street Life did the same for December 1973. Its glammy energy and glamorous US academic references (Harvard, Yale, Vassar girls - pictured below) leant it an intoxicating classy mystery underneath its catchy impact, however. Ferry appearing on Top Of The Pops (pictured above), tuxedo-clad and haughtily clicking his fingers ushered in the creation of the "lounge lizard" persona in place of the previous more glam-styled one. This was, then, the moment when Ferry and Roxy, with a glammy single, moved on from glam, if that doesn't sound too contradictory. Ferry was now becoming seen as a style icon as opposed to a Noddy Holder/Marc Bolan-style glam purveyor of hit singles. This was exactly what he wanted and those finger-clicks would soon morph into the crunching footsteps on the pavement that began the pop/funk single Love Is The Drug in 1975. What was certain, even at the time, was that Ferry was no "bricklayer in make-up" glam poseur such as Steve Priest of The SweetMud's Rob Davis or even "the spider with the platinum hair" Mick Ronson - he was viewed as something much cooler. Ferry wasn't playing for laughs, his look was for real, so much so that you could imagine him lounging around at home in his tuxedo or a smoking jacket, sipping the finest cognac. Ferry's obsession with being the wealthy country squire, connoisseur and bon viveur began right here.



As for Just Like You, initially, one felt this quiet, tender ballad was a bit of a lightweight track. After the glammy power and sheer verve of Street Life, it seemed something of a let-down, particularly for my fourteen year-old self. Dig deeper though and it has hidden qualities, and indeed I even knew this back then - an impressive Phil Manzanera guitar solo mid-way through and some throbbing, melodic bass from John Gustafson 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, completely irrelevant lyrics about an area of Brazil. It is a beguiling, mysterious and typically impossible to categorise piece of work.

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 is packed full of atmosphere and lyrical power. It builds up beautifully - fugue-like piano and organ, 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 sheer beauty of this track. Musically and lyrically, it stands apart from anything else the band did, although its brooding insistence matches the second half of Mother Of Pearl. I loved it back in 1973 and still do today. Those who skip it are missing out in the same way as those who did the same to Bob Dylan's Lily, Rosemary & The Jack Of Hearts.

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 firstly in Latin and then in 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. The bit where Ferry first sings "tous ces moments" still gets my spine tingling.



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. Apparently, it is also Brian Eno's favourite Roxy album, so there you go. 

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.

All that and I forgot to mention cover girl Marilyn Cole's nipples...

** With regard to non-album rarities, the 'b' side of the single Street Life was Hula Kula, which dates from the 1973 sessions for this album and is another inconsequential instrumental 'b' side. It features guitarist Phil Manzanera playing Hawaiian-style guitar while Andy Mackay plays sax and Paul Thompson percussion. It lasts a couple of minutes and, er, that's about it....




Country Life (1974)


The Thrill Of It All/Three And Nine/All I Want Is You/Out Of The Blue/If It Takes All Night/Bitter-Sweet/Triptych/Casanova/A Really Good Time/Prairie Rose 

"Don't want to learn about etiquette from glossy magazines.."           

Not quite as seminal as the first three Roxy Music albums, Country Life was released in 1974 and its cover fascinated me as a 15 year old schoolboy. I wonder why! Women were women in those days. Indeed. Funny how some albums in those days were inextricably linked to their covers, this is one of those. 

Brian Eno was long gone now, and, just as on its predecessor, Stranded, I am not sure his tape loops and so on were particularly missed. Many will disagree with that, of course, but it is indisputable that this album still showcases mid 70s Roxy Music at their very best - alternating between majestic, unsettling art rock and glamorous, elegant pop/rock. The glam accoutrements that still hung around on Stranded's Street Life and Serenade were all but gone by now, however - this was intended to be a cool, serious adult avant-garde rock album. 

 
                      
After the previous album opened with the poppy glam energy of Street Life, here the opener was much different - a six and a half minute intense, inscrutable almost industrial rocker. The Thrill Of It All was a somewhat bloated, but still exciting number, remaining instantly recognisable as Roxy Music. It has an impressive, slow build up intro, great sax and guitar, and the chorus lines supply a bit of catchiness, but overall it is an enigmatic, albeit powerful song. It also suffers a little from a muddy production, something that also affects All I Want Is You. Surprisingly, the track in between these two, Three And Nine, has excellent, clear sound. 

The afore-mentioned Three And Nine is an appealing, melodic and whimsical Bryan Ferry tune containing hidden qualities that tend to get overlooked somewhat (fine saxophone and harmonica and an impressive vocal) and the accompanying single All I Want Is You, with its storming opening guitar riff, is the most underrated of Roxy's excellent singles. It is often not mentioned in the pantheon of great Roxy singles, the attention going to Virginia PlainStreet Life and Love Is The Drug. This is a pity as it bristles with pop rock energy from the first second when that huge dazzling guitar riff opening gives it life. Lyrically, it has its beguiling moments too - "don't want to learn about etiquette from glossy magazines..." has Ferry hinting that his new-found cool style is self-created, not learnt from secondary sources. "An old refrain it lingers on - l'amour, toujours, l'amour..." has Ferry dipping into French once more, echoing A Song For Europe slightly, highlighting his cultured persona - he is a lusty, enthusiastic lover, but an erudite, educated one. Gone was the tuxedo for Top Of The Pops, though, it was plain black t-shirt and jeans, but this was a calculated move to show that Ferry could be "cool/casual" as well as lounge bar smooth. 

The song resurrects the old Virginia Plain abrupt ending too. 



Then there is the stunning Out Of The Blue with its great bass line and stunning Phil Manzanera guitar, augmented by Eddie Jobson’s electric violin. This was probably the album's best track - proper mature Roxy laid-back rock. 

If It Takes All Night is a jazzy, boogie-blues singalong number, with an excellent, upbeat, Andy Mackay saxophone solo in the middle. Ever the Francophile, Ferry dips into French again on the "Madame Claude, d'accord.." line and uses the word "ennui".

Ferry continues his European tour, this time heading for Germany - Bitter Sweet is more than a little clunky, however, with its "sturm und drang" Teutonic chorus (the German lyrics for which Ferry was assisted on by the two German models who appeared on the cover), while Triptych is quasi-religious and more than a little odd. Some Elizabethan-style keyboards are an innovative presence. Despite its somewhat clumsy chorus part, it is appealing, in an inexplicable sort of way. These are two "challenging" tracks that require several listens to fully appreciate. The exemplify the accentuated "seriousness" of the album. 

 

The urgent, slightly mysterious rock of Casanova sees a return to the Roxy of old, sniping, slightly tartly, at the contemporary “jet set” that Ferry so wanted to belong to (although I prefer the more mellow, funkier version that appeared on Ferry's Let's Stick Together album in 1976). It is one of the album's more instantly appealing numbers, full of punch and a great bass line from John Gustafson

The underrated A Really Good Time is classic laid-back Roxy rock with Ferry's voice to the fore and another great bass line, and Prairie Rose signs off in true Roxy overblown rock style. Again, Phil Manzanera’s guitar on this is spectacular as is the bass (again). Incidentally, although the song is a homage to the state of Texas, it was written before Ferry met Texan Jerry Hall, long thought to be the inspiration for the song.



This was not a bad album at all, but at the time I was a tiny bit underwhelmed, which is a little bit unfair. For many, this is seen as the most artistically complete Roxy Music album. I can understand why they may think that, but I prefer the previous three outings overall. There was just more quirky creativity on those offerings than on the slightly impenetrable, obtuse vibe of this one. 

** The non-album 'b' side from the recording sessions for this album was Your Application's Failed1974's 'b' side, from the All I Want Is You single was yet another instrumental. It was slightly longer than the previous ones, clocking in at over four minutes. It is a saxophone and guitar-driven number and is probably my favourite of the ''b' sides (not that any of them were up to much). It was a shame, though, that Roxy's 'b' sides did not reflect the top quality of their albums. The track is notable for drummer Paul Thompson's only vocal contribution to Roxy's songs - he says the title once, half way through, in his Geordie accent.

The track has the feeling of being an instrumental written for lyrics that never arrived, with a definite verse/chorus structure. 




Siren (1975)


Love Is The Drug/The End Of The Line/Sentimental Fool/Whirlwind/She Sells/Could It Happen To Me?/Both Ends Burning/Nightingale/Just Another High  

"Ferry's imagery is focused - and there's less synthesised clutter" - Simon Frith - Rolling Stone

By 1975, the cracks were appearing in the hull of the good ship Roxy Music. Bryan Ferry had already begun his successful solo career. The time was probably right for a break. 1974's Country Life had certainly not been a bad album, indeed many thought it was their best, but in many ways it was no innovative classic either. It seemed, even then, that this was to be something of a transitional album, in terms of sound, style and approach. Like The Faces and Rod Stewart, Roxy Music were starting to look a bit more like a vehicle for Bryan Ferry. Like Stewart too, Ferry was allowing more transatlantic influences to enter his music, and they are apparent here, on a Roxy Music album for the first time. 

Siren trod water, quite well, as it happened, and flirted with the burgeoning disco genre too. Ferry's imagery is focused, and there's less synthesized clutter, fewer sound effects, more straight, almost Ferry solo material. In many ways it can sound like a Ferry solo album. It is definitely the least "Roxy" of the five phase one albums. Art rock and avant-garde glam stylings are now long gone and the sound and accompanying image from Ferry are very much in the slick, lush, cultured, suave, sophisti-pop vein. It drops several levels of quirky creativity - sacrificed in favour of quality balladry and dabbling in disco. There is nothing fascinating or perplexing to be found on this album, but it is not without its intoxicating moments. 

   

There is certainly weight to the argument that claims that, starting in parts of Country Life and certainly continuing throughout nearly all of Siren (apart from the opening to Sentimental Fool) the actual fabric of Roxy's sound gets steadily more conventional and tame. Anyway, on to the songs - the opener and big hit single Love Is The Drug with its "footsteps on gravel" intro sounded great then and over forty years later it still does. It never sounds out of date. This track had the first of those afore-mentioned transatlantic influences in its New York City or Paris after dark vibe and disco-ish bass line. Its release saw the first moment that Roxy started to gain new fans, the sort who would go on to consider this album one of their best offerings, a bit like those who love Springsteen for Born In The USA, Dire Straits for Brothers In Arms or Queen for Its A Kind Of Magic.

End Of The Line is an appealing Ferry piano-driven ballad and Sentimental Fool's extended intro seems to want to hark back to the old "experimental" days of Brian Eno and 1973's For Your Pleasure before ending up as a drawn out Ferry ballad. 1973 certainly seemed along time ago, now, though.

Whirlwind is typical Stranded-era Roxy, rather like that album's Serenade, full of crashing, swirling guitar. 

She Sells is quirky and catchy, but ultimately inconsequential and the melodic slowie Could It Happen To Me pleasant enough, but neither really pull up any trees.

Both Ends Burning is five minutes or so of percussive transatlantic disco influenced funky rock and excellent it is too, although many fans from the 1972-73 days hated it. It very much tapped into the US disco thing that was prevalent at the time, with its infectious rhythms and funky percussion. Once again, it showed that Roxy were evolving, musically and stylistically, as were artists as diverse as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and T. Rex at the same time. Eno must have hated it though, although it wouldn't be long before he too started dabbling in world music and dance rhythms.

Nightingale is back to riffy Whirlwind territory, while Just Another High is an extended, rather sad farewell to Roxy Music Part One. The great innovators had become balladeers. Good ones, mind. The tone was set here for the type of material that Roxy Music Part Two would release.

See you again in 1979.

 

** The 'b' sides from the era were firstly Sultanesque - continuing the tradition of instrumental 'b' sides, 1975's Love Is The Drug was paired with this sparse, Eno-eque instrumental that appears to feature a didgeridoo, deep and reverberating over a rhythm box automated beat, with a bit of guitar swirling around and some ambient keyboards. It is far more atmospheric than the tracks on the album and definitely harks back to Roxy's early days.

Then we got For Your Pleasure (Live)Both Ends Burning was backed by a live recording of For Your Pleasure. It is less than five minutes long, so I imagine it has been edited. Phil Manzanera's guitar part is excellent as is Paul Thompson's drumming, particularly at the end. It is a powerful rendition of what is a slightly less dramatic track in its studio incarnation.

Below is Jerry Hall and Ferry on the shoot for the cover. 



Viva! (1976)


Out Of The Blue/Pyjamarama/The Bogus Man/Chance Meeting/Both Ends Burning/If There Is Something/In Every Dream Home A Heartache/Do The Strand  

"Arabs at oases - Eskimoes and Geordies..." 
                                             
Released after Roxy Music's first incarnation had taken their four year sojourn, in 1976, this is a good, but a little frustrating live album, in that it only contains eight songs, one of which is the extended mono-paced The Bogus Man. I do feel more tracks should have been included, to be honest. 1979's Showing Out is a much better live album, however, this is the only official release from this period. That album's sound is much worse, being one of these recent semi-official bootleg, this one has a much better sound as I said, the material is comparatively sparse.

Out Of The Blue is a killing opener, with a great bass, drums and Phil Manzanera's brilliant guitar solo, then we get a slow-paced, atmospheric Pyjamarama - featuring two great Andy Mackay saxophone solos (the second admittedly drowned out a bit the guitar) - before the afore-mentioned menacing but thoroughly groovy shuffle of Bogus Man. The highly evocative, ghostly Chance Meeting is beautiful and Both Ends Burning with its frantic, disco-influenced groove has a lively, crowd-pleasing appeal.



The extended, ten-minute If There Is Something from the band's debut album is one of this album's highspots, along with the old blow-up doll song In Every Dream Home A Heartache, again, enhanced thrillingly by a killer Manzanera guitar solo. Do The Strand is a pumped-up, madcap closer with it's "Eskimos and Geordies" line for Ferry's home-town Newcastle audience and also the appropriate instrumental additions to the "fandango" and "tango" references. It is all over, however, before it has begun. Surely a double album should have served us better. The only other live material from the early period of the band can be found on the 'deluxe edition' of the debut album.

The sound quality is excellent on this 1999 remaster too.

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