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Roxy Music - Country Life CD (album) cover

COUNTRY LIFE

Roxy Music

 

Crossover Prog

3.67 | 209 ratings

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Peter
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars By the time of their fourth album, 1974's COUNTRY LIFE, English art rock originals Roxy Music were a fully-seasoned band in their strongest incarnation. The addition of string and synth man extraordinaire Edwin (Eddie) Jobson to the lineup was nothing short of inspired, and a virtual godsend for the group's burgeoning fan base. Jobson's violin, by turns soaring and driving, added an extra artful and sophisticated element, and lifted the Roxy sound to intoxicating, rarefied new heights. Meanwhile, laying down a muscular foundation on the four-string was John Gustafson, who was as close as the group ever came to having a fulltime bassist. (Gustafson would remain with the band for their highly successful fifth album, SIREN.)

The remainder of the band is in top form here, led by charismatic front man and songwriter Bryan Ferry, who serves up some of the best vocals and material of his impressive career. Co-founders Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay, on guitar, and sax and oboe, respectively, are vital as ever on the album's harder tracks, but also stretch themselves artistically on moodier selections such as "Bitter-Sweet" and "Triptych" -- the latter of which is a poetic and sonically ambitious depiction of the crucifixion. Behind the skins, drummer Paul Thompson is nothing short of fabulous. He provides the thumping heartbeat that propels the album's infectious and danceable rockers along, but displays subtle finesse when the occasion suits, as on "A Really Good Time" -- a hard-hitting portrait of an archetypical Ferry character: a jaded beauty and "good time" girl for whom former pleasures have lost their appeal: "All the things you used to do - a trip to the movies, a drink or two - they don't satisfy you; they don't tell you anything new."

Track for track, this is perhaps my favourite Roxy Music recording (though it faces some strong competition in the debut album, and the also superlative SIREN). The proceedings get off to a stirring start with "The Thrill of It All," a rocker that convincingly showcases Jobson's powerful presence on the violin, with the added bonus of some of Manzanera's strongest axe work yet.

Next up, "Three and Nine" is an unobtrusive little number with some nice sax work from former music teacher Mackay, and even a smattering of harmonica. (I believe the versatile Ferry handles the "harp," though the instrument is not credited).

"All I Want Is You" features an infectious, chugging beat, and more terrific lead - if this one doesn't at least get your toes tapping, you're likely already dead.

What is arguably the most memorable track on this excellent album follows next: "Out of the Blue" soon became a concert favourite, and the interplay between the rollicking piano, and phase-shifted strings and guitar here is awesome. If this one doesn't stir you, then you just don't like Roxy! (But I know you'll love it!)

"If It Takes All Night" is another fun-time number that flies past with pseudo "barrelhouse" piano reminiscent of that of the band's contemporaries Mott the Hoople.

"Bitter Sweet," as its title hints, is part sensitive confession, and part nightmarish chorus line motif. Replete with a verse in German, this one is evocative of the gritty "Three Penny Opera" of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, and the cabarets of Weimar Republic Berlin.

"Casanova" is another outstanding, up-tempo song, and one of my favourites of the set. The acerbic lyrics find Ferry confronting a Lothario-like acquaintance: "You - the hero. So many times you've loved, and didn't linger. Casanova - Is that your name, or do you live there?" Great stuff - turn it up!

The session comes to a thundering climax with a truly monumental serving of rock and roll ecstasy: "Prairie Rose" was written for Ferry's then "significant other," leggy Texan model Jerry Hall. (Later featured on the cover of SIREN, Hall would all too soon leave Ferry for a bigger star - a certain Mr. Mick Jagger). From the opening, irresistible strumming of Manzanera's guitar, to Mackay's sweaty, sexy sax, to the throbbing, pounding bass and drums, this orgasmic ode just begs to be enjoyed often, unabashedly and loudly. "Texas" (or is it love?): "Oh what a state to be in!"

In closing, COUNTRY LIFE is absolutely essential listening for the true (or would-be) Roxy fan. Their last release before the disco element started to slink in, this one really kicks! That's right, you lethargic, pasty-skinned, city-dwelling progholes: give COUNTRY LIFE a go - I'm sure it will get your rock and roll "juices" flowing again!

Oh... regarding that oft-censored cover (my original LP jacket only gave me the greenery - no buxom "come hither" models to trouble my teenaged daydreams!): How very uplifting to see you again, ladies! I'll start with the one on the right....

Rock on, Roxy fans!

Peter | 4/5 |

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