Friday, 4 June 2021

Bite-sized Roxy

Collected here are all Roxy Music's studio albums, together with brief snippets from my longer reviews (those can be accessed by clicking here) :-

Roxy Music (1972)

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.

For Your Pleasure (1973)

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. 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. 

Stranded (1973)

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. 

Country Life (1974)

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. 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. 

Siren (1975)

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. 

Manifesto (1979)

For many people, this is Roxy Music's worst album, many finding it introspective and possibly, at times, a bit more like a Bryan Ferry solo album. In some respects I agree, but there are also good points to be found on this album and some surprisingly retrospective and also contemporary sounds floating around. It is an album that quite successfully merges Roxy's past with its future and perhaps deserves a bit more warmth than it has garnered over subsequent years. It is in characteristics like this that it loses its Bryan Ferry solo album qualities and becomes very much a Roxy Music album, albeit one for 1979. When Roxy Music reconvened after a four-year hiatus, it still must be stressed that Roxy Music "Phase Two" were a radically different beast to the avant-garde art-rock experimentalists of 1972 and 1973. The emphasis was far more on a polished, adult-oriented rock sound. Certainly tracks like Ain't That So and Still Falls The Rain can be viewed as fitting that particular bill. So there you go, certainly not the wine bar sound that many have dismissed it as being, it is, as far as I'm concerned a 1979 album that could fit in to any time slot. I guess it goes down as Roxy's post punk/new wave album and, thinking about, I guess it was. It still sounds great today, though. I urge you to rediscover its understated, hard to get charms.

Flesh & Blood (1980)

After the under-rated post punk/new wave offering that was 1979's Manifesto, 1980's generally more popular Flesh And Blood is actually my least favourite Roxy Music album, despite there still being some good material on it. It seems very much a "treading water", "good in parts" piece of work. It contains typically immaculate sound, of course, but it is not an album I come back to very often. It was this one, as opposed to Manifesto, that rally launched the now somewhat critically-clich├ęd Roxy Music Phase Two sound. In so many was this is like a Bryan Ferry solo album. As I said, it is sonically perfect and washes over you like a warm bath, it doesn't ask anything of you as a listener, like, say, For Your Pleasure did, but it can give you a perfect background soundscape, should that be what you want. Indeed, the first seven tracks are a pretty rewarding listen. There you have it. Solid, slick, polished, professional and all that but ultimately unspectacular - Roxy Phase Two by numbers in many ways. 

Avalon (1982)

This, Roxy Music's valedictory 1982 album, is, to be honest, probably as much a Bryan Ferry solo album with Roxy members guesting on it as it is a Roxy Music one - far more so than either of the other Roxy Phase Two offerings. It is, however, a masterpiece of easy listening - full of immaculately recorded laid-back lounge bar rock of the highest order. For many people, this is the only Roxy Music album they own. It is strange how the band's last album of a ten year career proved to be the one that really crossed boundaries and was bought by a wide spectrum of people. It is a fine album, and is certainly their most sonically perfect, but if you are looking for the true essence of Roxy Music it sure won't be found here. That said, for Roxy Music Phase Two it certainly is their pinnacle. This is nothing like For Your Pleasure or Roxy's ground-breaking debut album and they definitely lost quite a few fans along the way, but they also gained thousands more. My wife, for example, wouldn't know The Bogus Man from Bitters End, but she knows this album back to front. She considers herself a Roxy Music fan. She has seen them live. Maybe she is. I shouldn't be such a pompous purist. This is definitely a good album, quality and polish oozes from its every pore. After all, a good album is a good album, isn't it?

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