Roxy Music (1972)
The frenetic Bryan Ferry along with the frenetic jazz fusion is very unsettling and not in an adverse sense it must be said, not in the first three tracks anyway. “Re-Make/Re-Model” has a solo from every instrument taking part, and though Brian Eno’s wibbly-wobbly synthesiser is the chef that spoiled the vegetable broth, I can’t help but slightly acknowledge it in its obscene obnoxiousness, especially in its introduction in “Ladytron”.
The guitar work of Phil Manzanera is to be admired, especially when he has sexual sax, omnipotent oboe and sickly-sweet synth to contend with. “Next time is the best time, we all know” in its simple observational account of life is a neat line, i.e. don’t hang back, go for it. With the first three tracks catching my ear, I can’t help but long for more Manzanera cock-rock solos and thrashing drums thereafter, but Eno’s gone all Kraftwerk and I only want Kraftwerk with my Kraftwerk (get a load of “The Bob (Medley)” intro).
There’s something laughably sonic about the chaotic “Would You Believe?” and I adore the electronic surrounds and disconsolate vocals in the intro/outro of “Sea Breezes”, but as for the rest…
For Your Pleasure (1973)
In its salacious attempt to come off as raunchy and art-like, I cannot ignore the spastic up-and-down vocal tones hitting us from the off, although I am in love with Phil Manzanera’s guitar saving the day on more than one occasion, the first being “Strictly Confidential”.
I do like “Editions of You” when it’s punk (Manzanera guitar, again…) and only slightly less of everything else in the universe converged into one musical tornado. “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” has this – “Your skin is like vinyl/The perfect companion” – yeah Bryan, yea… it’s about a sex doll. Fine… wait… That guitar solo… Philip you saved it, absolutely saved it; I don’t give a shit about the rest of the weirdness and inflatable sexual innuendos. The instrumentation in this record as a whole is more experimental than their opener but this isn’t a turn-off in any way as the debut supplied us with a flood of instruments battling for the foreground, at times ostentatiously.
The first side, in spots, floats my rather flimsy boat (just). The experimental floppiness of “The Bogus Man”, the hazy harmonica in “Grey Lagoons” (Manzanera guitar, again…) and the atmospheric (not really) “For Your Pleasure” have me somewhat agog, somewhat.
“Education is an important key – yes/But the good life’s never won by degrees – no/Pointless passing through Harvard or Yale/Only window shopping, it’s strictly no sale” is more than enough to perk you up from your laborious life. That lyrical life lesson will kick you in the genitals nicely.
Brian Eno has jumped ship (or was thrown off) and the synthesisers are wholesome goodies; just listen to the second half of “Amazona” with of course some Phil Manzanera wah-wah “treatments”. Lyrically, it’s Bryan Ferry’s most omniscient thus far, and his, as well as the band’s, less ambitious abrasiveness is a welcome sound as their jazzy/arty/rocky/glamy gifts are thrust upon us.
A change from their usual pretentiousness is repose until you hear the French finale of “A Song for Europe” which is not at all a bore if you hang in there. Although “Mother of Pearl” is a bouncy trudge, I do love its traditional rock band feel with jazz Andy Mackay, and for the world of me (though it’s welcome) I’m struggling to comprehend some clear bass.
Country Life (1974)
As I sat there pondering over the potential déjà vu from the first record when met with the whirlwind opener “The Thrill of It All” and then into the initially not so unassuming “Three and Nine”, I feel absolutely relieved at the instant likeability of this record – why? – I know, Phil Manzanera.
As we’re stranded in the country, let’s divulge, for our pleasure, into some Southern rock blues of “If It Takes All Night” and set sail on some Ferry harmonica. Let’s. Though Roxy Music are known as the forerunners in British art rock, I like Country Life‘s minus-the-art aesthetic and its unpretentious just rock for the most part. The screechy guitar in “Bitter-Sweet” (some bilingual beauty also), the throbbing “Casanova”, the aforementioned blues, the spasmodic jazz of “Prairie Rose” (Talking Heads, anyone?) and that violin solo in “Out of the Blue” have me reflecting over their undoubted rock credentials, art or otherwise. Even Ferry’s individual instrumentation adds a heap.
The female belittling album covers which I have not been ignoring all along are indeed lascivious. Sexist…?
Their catchy more approachable music is far more attainable for the listener and I don’t think you’d miss their erratic selves from previous endeavours. “Love Is the Drug” may be the case but your pessimistic optimism will struggle to find it in a bar full of singles, Bryan.
Although I’ve never taken fully to Ferry’s lovelorn lyricism, I can’t help but notice they read better as almost a short story, case in point “Sentimental Fool”. Just when I have an inkling to dislike a track, something happens; a catchy piece of instrumentation, atmospheric jazz, or just Eddie Jobson.
As I stated frustratingly a few paragraphs back their lack of consistent tracks (not songs) haven’t done enough to tickle my testes, this is more like it in an affable sense. I dare you to repel from the luscious “Both Ends Burning”, I dare you, you can’t, and the forceful, persuasive ending to “Sentimental Fool” cannot be ignored. Ferry’s lyrical loquaciousness is absolutely astute no question, be his verbal tone and individualism off-putting or not.
Their easily relatable music continues even in this dark-wave, occasionally sombre manifesto. The first side, geographically known as the “East Side”, though not fully devoid of the erratic palpitations of old, is not as haywire – this is of course in relation to their usual “art”. It still possesses glimpses of juxtaposing jazz (“Trash”) and I think I’m finally consuming Bryan Ferry’s ever-sounding David Byrne vocal tones ahead of the barrage of instrumentation; give me some of that “Angel Eyes”.
Like the album cover, which is bereft of the female flesh exhibition of yesteryear, this record lacks (I think thankfully) the overbearing… well… everything. The tracks feel far more consistent, are free of the avant-garde artistic experiments of before (“Stronger Through the Years”) and the “West Side” shows off their rhythmical funk/jazz which I knew they had in there somewhere (“Ain’t That So”).
I can see why the Roxy diehards will be tearing their leopard-print vests off and beating their skeletal chests in frustrated artistic angst at this polished monster, but surely even they were getting sick of the unattainable manifestations previously, though I must say the “West Side”, beautifully serene, isn’t grasping me as much as the middle of the record.
Flesh + Blood (1980)
Right, you should never have a problem with easy-listening and salubrious melodies but with a lack of creativity it gets boring, tiresome, dreary and even depressing. This record possesses some danceable qualities such as “Same Old Scene” but even the up-tempo synthpop surroundings are enough to make you wince, and though I’ve always more than admired Andy Mackay’s jazz input he’s lost amongst the plastic pop.
Could someone tell me what the clunky guitar is doing on the outro of “Flesh and Blood”? I’d be very appreciative, I really would. Manzanera is always up for some redemption; “My Only Love” will do, I think. The electro-funk throbbing of “Rain, Rain, Rain” is actually childishly endearing, “Over You” is downtown Vomitville, “Running Wild” is not so.
“There’s that melody again”, yes, Bryan… again, and again, and again. “Is there no strange delight?” – Only tiny glints.
Their swansong packed with arguably their most recognisable and pellucid hits has me waltzing through the Louvre when before I was glaring at “contemporary art”… well, for the majority of the early 1970s. The glitzy (synth)pop isn’t as sickly and the band wish to right the wrongs of Flesh + Blood. Mackay has his jazz boots back with “The Space Between”; I love the rollicking funk basslines and in-and-out Manzanera guitar sprinkles.
Oh “Avalon” – I’ve never been, but it felt like I had. I can’t speak enough of the complete understated genius of Phil Manzanera, I really can’t, and Ferry, although distancing himself from his past (and maybe a few fans), has more than earned his stripes in doing so with his latest soft rock reverentials. His forlorn lyrics seem far more approachable and even more positively forthright. The laborious lagging of Avalon, though monotonous in spots, is a joyous experience, but like Manifesto, however, I think I need one complete blow-up where I can question something for its madcap state.
I do admire Roxy fans for not running mascara down their cheeks in despair at this change in direction, they recognise the stature of this record, rightly so.