"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Mojo MARCH 2018 - by Mark Paytress



No album ever defaced the school of rock handbook with such extravagance as Roxy's 1972 debut.

Roxy Music were the unlikely lads of glam. While Bolan and Bowie had been around the block, Roxy were newcomers yet old-timers. Their ace faces were boffins and ex-teachers well into their twenties. Frontman Bryan Ferry was all rictus grin and James Cagney moves. Joystick-wiggling Eno was, he claimed, a non-musician from Planet Xenon.

Roxy were elusive, eschewed denim and synthesised the past, present and future in their work. They painted with sound, and regarded music as fine art. In their wake, cognoscenti faves Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and ELP seemed constrained and uncool by comparison.

Johnny Rotten, Siouxsie Sioux and Sid Vicious all acknowledged Roxy as a key inspiration for punk. But as this eagerly awaited expanded edition of the band's June 1972 debut confirms, that was as much about the band's anything goes attitude than the music.

The centrepiece is the 1999 Bob Ludwig remaster of the album, Ferry's favourite. Alongside an hour's worth of classic 1972 footage on an accompanying DVD, a new 5.1 Steven Wilson remix serves up an immersive, widescreen experience, unmasking several previously unheard vocals in the process. Another disc features the dynamic, if much-bootlegged, BBC radio sessions. And a 136-page book, dominated by a fine Richard Williams essay and numerous photographs, turns up trumps with reproductions of Ferry's typed and annotated lyrics alongside original song-by-song dissections.

Most remarkable of all is an entire disc of hitherto unheard material - demos from April/May 1971 as well as outtakes from the March '72 album sessions. At last, we are able to fully experience and appreciate the genesis and emergence of the unique Roxy sound.

The '71 session, recorded on Eno's big Ferrograph machine, is a revelation. Fledgling takes of Ladytron, 2 H.B., Chance Meeting and The Bob (Medley) confirm Ferry as the dominant force. His voice already distinctive, his piano driving the material, this one-time Otis Redding wannabe was by 1971 a Gatsby-inspired Peter Hammill. Around him, recent recruits oboe player AndyMackay and synthman Eno experiment wildly.

Once Graham Simpson's bass tolls, 2 H.B. takes off on a jazz-rock tangent. Chance Meeting, with its Radha Krishna Temple-style finger-cymbal rhythm, is here more brown rice than Brief Encounter. Ladytron begins all VCS3 sinister then bows out sounding much like a Notting Hill squat party band.

Thanks in part to the endorsement of Williams, who dubbed them 'avant rock' in an August 1971 Melody Maker profile, Roxy entered a proper studio in January 1972, for the first of four BBC sessions that year. The long incubation had served them well. Now with a backbone in drummer Paul Thompson, and Marshall stack-owning guitarist Davy O'List (soon replaced by Phil Manzanera) on board, Roxy added a new muscularity to their instinct for odd structures and sonic surprises.

The standout was a furious-paced Velvets-style stomp-rocker, Re-Make/Re-Model. More in step with the emerging glam rock sound, the song helped define Roxy's reputation, being both revivalist and - with knowing nods to Duane Eddy, Day Tripper and Richard Wagner - a work of pastiche.

Those elements alone were enough to suggest that Roxy had broken with the logic of rock when their debut - recorded over two weeks at Command Studios in London's Piccadilly - appeared that June. The album's oddly clean production and shockingly pink and retro glamour-girl sleeve muddied matters further. Lurking within were a jumble of hitherto unimaginable juxtapositions - prog rock and rock'n'roll, elephantine horns and synth squiggles, cockeyed tempos and schmaltzy crooner songs. At the album's centre, Ferry's songs of loss and heartbreak, delivered tragicomic style, played out against the warm tones of his Hohner Pianet.

There was, and remains, nothing like it. Even those inspired by the commercial success of Virginia Plain - here improperly wedged into the album's belly - to haul the album into the Top 10 had to wait until the follow-up For Your Pleasure to find a more palatable, but no less brilliant, Roxy.