INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Creem MARCH 1975 - by Wayne Robins
TAKING ROCK'S FUTURE BY ARTIFICE
Women, on Roxy Music covers, are like plants: lush vegetation, only more so. Unlike the reclining femme fatale on the cover of Stranded, who I've met many a lonely moon-lit night (I call her Amazona, as she drops her sarong) these ladies in Penthouse masturbatory pose dare one to fantasize - perhaps it's the red lipstick but they seem to come from the National Lampoon productions of Chained Women or Big Bad Mama. You know, sex is a joke.
Roxy Music is about lifestyle. Stranded might have been titled after its most emphatic song: Street Life, invoking London pinball energy and son-of-Lou Reed desperado stance. Though more urbane than specifically urban,the album was probably incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't spent the five years in a major American city or European capital. The title of the new album is something of a joke too. Country Life, indeed. Do you like eating lobster in bed?
When compared to Stranded's cool, clean lines of sound, Country Life is cluttered, tempestuous. The password is tension, which sometimes transmutes to intensity. It shows itself most splendidly in The Thrill Of It All, a long, whiny, excessive, frightening song that is the antithesis of the blues. When the thrill is gone, Ferry and company will be long gone. Behind Ferry's pop gothic vision here, there is real emotion, and Roxy's idiosyncratic musicians are the ideal complement: Andy Mackay's 2001 King Curtis saxophone riffs, Phil Manzanera's lonely holocaustal guitar, and the best rock rhythm section in England play with a fury that transcends their own philosophy: pop is artifice, so let's make artificial pop, one last time, with feeling. If only the other compositions were less constipated!
Instead we have Bitter Sweet, conceived on the Ferry camp pedestal but executed like a tight Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band's replay of the Dietrich-Brecht-Lotte Lenya-Velvet Underground-Roxy Music-Hogan's Heroes teutonic insolence theme. It took Lou Reed a whole album to get it out of his system as Ferry comments so trenchantly:
Gestrandet an leben und kunst
Und das spiel geht weiter
Wie man weiss
Noch viele schonste
Ferry is equally eloquent in Out Of The Blue, as he notes: I don't mind / If it'sonly a passing craze / Throwaway lines often ring less true. But Triptych is as humorless as anything Yes might endeavor to do, and few things are as foolish as Prairie Rose, which makes sense only if you believe that Suffragette City is really Houston, and David Bowie is really a front for The Doobie Brothers. Texas, that's where I belong, it seems to me. Texas, dah-ling? How very chi-chi, no? One sympathizes with Ferry on If It Takes All Night as he sings: Oh here it comes, that old ennui / I hope it won't stay long. That's a joke too. Without that old ennui, Roxy Music loses its purpose, which is to be the paragon of bored (boring?) rock bands. So far, they have no peer.
Concept albums about Red China may not yet be the rage among the New Rock Guard. Though Matching Mole did an album about Mao's Red Book, and 'Kung Fu Fighting' recently chopped its way to number one, Eno's the first to do an album of pop guerilla warfare: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) comes across like Fritz The Cat Visits Red China. Sometimes it seems that Eno composes the same way William Burroughs writes: with a splicing scissor. He grafts seemingly disparate elements in any way that might be useful to his flow. We have Billy J. Kramer pop, Syd Barrett acid muse, Portsmouth Sinfonia classical confusion, Robert Fripp discipline, Velvet Underground undercurrent, and enough inanimate objects to appease the Gods of the cargo cult; posters, propoganda broadcasts, graffiti, Bryan Ferry, comic books, postcards of a Red Chinese ballet that inspired the title. It sounds like it might be pretentious; it's not, because Eno is comfortable with those pretensions.
The vanity, of course, is that he's a non-musician, therefore able to break the rules, to not be tied to a structure. I'm skeptical about the rationale, since Eno surrounds himself with high intellect musicians on all his records. On this one, Manzanera, Mackay, Robert Wyatt and others add more than a shade of expertise. We give Eno the leeway to indulge his fantasies because he plays the synthesizer like it was invented by The Ventures (Third Uncle), because he mixes nursery rhymes with The Browns' Three Bells (Put A Straw Under Baby), because on The True Wheel, he marries Mott The Hoople to Reparata and The Delrons (here called Randi & The Pyramids). In other words, a man who can write songs like Burning Airlines Give You So Much More, has seen the future, and the future is a sonic Disney named Eno, who makes music you can live with.