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Roxy Music - Roxy Music CD (album) cover

ROXY MUSIC

Roxy Music

 

Crossover Prog

3.99 | 200 ratings

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seventhsojourn
Special Collaborator
RPI
4 stars Roxy Music blew my mind the first time I saw them when they performed 'Virginia Plain' on Top of the Pops back in 1972. Even from the perspective of early-seventies Glam they arrived like a sexually ambiguous whirlwind - all glitter eye-shadow and Teddy boy quiffs, vintage elegance and futuristic space-age costumes, the grotesque contortions of Bryan Ferry's aloof facies and Paul Thompson's leopard-skin clad caveman look. But they delighted in crossing musical frontiers as much as in cross-dressing; their blending of electronics, fashion and the visual arts with the seriousness of avant-garde and the vigour of pop virtually epitomised the Warholian notion of working in any media. Jazz, rock and roll, music hall and Broadway musicals were all woven together with electronic explorations to create music that was simultaneously primitive and innovative. It's easy to forget just how strange the sound was at the time and you really have to try to listen to 'Roxy Music' with 1972-ears to fully appreciate it.

'Virginia Plain', surely the bane of disc jockeys everywhere with its abrupt trousers-around- the-ankles ending, didn't actually appear on the original UK release of the album of course but appears as the fourth track on the CD version. New York was the place to be if you wanted to 'make the big time' and this song is like a little detour into The American Dream: 'Make me a deal and make it straight / All signed and sealed, I'll take it'. The song- title is a reference to a type of tobacco and was also the name of an early watercolour by Ferry, but the song concerns the Warhol Factory set, with references to Girl of the Year Jane Holzer, and ideas of class and the way in which the art world could 'open up exclusive doors'.

From this viewpoint it's interesting to note the importance of the whole Roxy Music presentation, from the nostalgia and sophistication of the music to the style of the band and the glamour of the album artwork. While Bryan Ferry didn't join King Crimson, his audition for the band was significant because it led to Roxy Music signing with EG Management and ultimately to them securing a recording contract with Island - Chris Blackwell of Island Records only sanctioned the deal after seeing the wonderfully erotic album cover. There can be few more beautiful album covers but 'Roxy Music' also has genuine musical value and the opening panache of 'Re-Make/Re-Model' was something of a declaration of intentions, a collision of past and future where rock and roll abandonment is enveloped by Eno's electronic evocations. And with the inclusion of short instrumental breaks hinting at the band's miscellaneous influences it's like an all-embracing romp through the recent musical past.

The strangely titled 'Ladytron' suggests a blending of eroticism and technology and this notion is reinforced by Ferry's automaton vibrato. The song's calm, mysterious intro features the slow dance of an oboe accompanied by the soft murmur of electronics and Mellotron in the distance. 'You've got me girl on the run around run around' ushers in cool castanets and warm bubbles of synthesized guitar, followed by a brief passage that recalls 'Telstar', and finally the delirium of a vibrating, shuddering outro that must have spawned a whole host of video game sound effects.

In spite of the band's concerns with style and futurism this is actually a very emotional album, an album of flesh and blood if you like. I've been prompted to write this review as a result of having seen the coming-of-age drama 'Flashbacks of a Fool' - a film that I recommend highly, especially to those among us who were in our teens in the seventies. I recently sat up till 1.30 in the morning watching the movie, the BBC's warning about 'scenes of a sexual nature and drug use' having had the desired effect of gaining my full and undivided attention. Anyone remember those red triangles from years ago? The film is a thoroughly enjoyable and nostalgic experience as long as scenes such as teenage boys giving it the old five knuckle shuffle on the ghost train don't shock you! In any case the film relies heavily on the song 'If There Is Something', my own reading of which has it as a journey through elation and depression, from the wet dreams of youth to the quiet reflections of old age. The song starts out optimistically as country-tinged rockabilly spliced with hip-boppin' Bolan boogie guitar licks, although the prime mover is Andy Mackay's extravagant sax solo. At first it sounds like a violin, during the torrid 'I would do anything for you' section, before going into fluid convulsions like a jitterbugging jellyfish. Finally it floats off into the stratosphere and it's only then that you notice the relentless rhythmic pattern underpinning it. Mellotron fades in after 'Shake your hair girl with your ponytail' and then Phil Manzanera tools up and chimes in, his guitar sounding like a Studebaker being gunned along the highway, before the song's poignant fade.

While 'Flashbacks of a Fool' was inspired by a Roxy Music song, '2HB' is a reference to film icon Humphrey Bogart and the movie 'Casablanca'. Musically the song is characterised by the rhythmic murmur of Ferry's electric piano and the lyric 'Here's looking at you kid' transmits Ferry's reverence of the actor and is as much an expression of his nostalgia as it is a line in the film.

The fragmentary nature of 'The Bob (Medley)' - the title being an acronym for Battle of Britain - makes it the album's most experimental piece and it was perhaps inspired by Ferry's early upbringing in the then war-ravaged industrial north-east.

'Chance Meeting' contains none of the warlike sound effects of the previous track but does nevertheless deal with the violent emotions of forbidden love. Inspired by the film 'Brief Encounter' - the main protagonists Alec and Laura feared chance meetings with friends - this fairly simple song is built around a sparse arrangement with Ferry accompanying himself on the piano. It's not long before the other instruments join in and any sense of melody is virtually abandoned. While Ferry continues to pour out his emotions at the keyboard, the guitar and sax (I think, it's hard to judge) wail and chatter like Dolly Messiter, oblivious to the inner turmoil of Alec and Laura as they are about to part forever.

Roxy Music's reliance on archaic devices is ably demonstrated by 'Would You Believe?', a song deeply rooted in fifties rock and roll and cabaret; its originality perhaps lies in its lack of eccentricity or strangeness. Or perhaps not.

'Sea Breezes' is a majestic, if peculiar, ballad of solitude and resignation: 'I've been thinking now for a long time / How to go my own separate way'. It undergoes a total change of character during its hesitant central passage with the rhythm section's irregular patterns. Apart from some intermittent oboe outbursts and chaotic guitar, in the style of Sterling Morrison, the bass and drums often provide the only backing to Ferry's intense vocal: 'Now that we are lonely / Life seems to get hard'.

The album finishes with the aptly titled 'Bitters End', a brief slice of doo-wop and a song that is so typical of Roxy's absurdist spirit.

Unlike so much prog music this album didn't seem like the second pressing of the grape. There's hee-haw I can do if you ignore this review but you really do owe it to yourself to at least give the album a listen. And check out 'Flashbacks of a Fool' while you're at it.

seventhsojourn | 4/5 |

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