INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo SEPTEMBER 2011 - by David Buckley
HOW TO BUY... ROXY MUSIC AND FAMILY
The admired art school pop sophisticates.
On average, it took Rod Stewart, Elton John and David Bowie eight years to become superstars. lt took Bryan Ferry less than eight months. After playing their first show at Christmas 1971, by the following August Roxy Music were on Top Of The Pops.
But then, it was the band's freshly minted aura that made them unique; as John Peel put it, "Roxy Music was about the only completely new band to appear in the first half of the 1970s." Promoted as more of an event than a band, they used synths and distortion in hitherto unimagined ways, making sound collages out of doo-wop, Tin Pan Alley, the classical avantgarde, space-age sonics, and '60s pop. Perhaps more importantly, in their intellectualism they were pop music's most obvious link to Pop Art. And as Roxy progressed almost effortlessly from art rock to the tuxedoed, debonair cool of the mid-'70s, they were unashamedly elitist in the teeth of punk: "standards, often, aren't terribly high", said Ferry in 1978. "The commonplace is often accepted too easily".
Their impact on the pre-punk scene was seismic; Morrissey, The Human League, Madness and others were transfixed by them; in the US, Nile Rodgers of Chic admitted he based his band's look on them. lt's perplexing, then, that Roxy Music never really made it big globally.
After Brian Eno's departure, Ferry took control, and while all of their eight studio albums are consistently good, it was Eno who became the pioneer and Ferry too often dismissed as a corporate smoothie.
Today, the vocalist is just as likely to appear at a handsomely-rewarded private gig - most recently a concert for Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi - and while Roxy Music continue to perform live, the promise of an actual new record so far remains exactly that. Still, what we have is some of the best British pop ever.
10 ROXY MUSIC Manifesto
In 1976 after the fifth Roxy Music album, Siren, Ferry placed the band's activities on hold. Reconvened in Iate 1978, and with future Adam & The Ants bassist Gary Tibbs now on board, Roxy's comeback album, Manifesto, was uneven but frequently inspired. The title track, for example, is a classic. Building like old-school Roxy art rock into Ferry's impassioned vocal, it is the group's statement of intent in the post-punk era. The unjustly maligned Trash, Angel Eyes (later a big UK hit in remixed form) and their Number 2 hit Dance Away show Roxy in top form, as does the Jekyll & Hyde-evoking Still Falls The Rain.
9 PHIL MANZANERA The Music 1972-2008
Guitarist Manzanera's understated playing is an essential part of the Roxy sound. Like Andy Mackay, he's also run a parallel solo career, at one stage in collaboration with Roxy sax man Andy Mackay (check out The Explorers' 1984 single Lorelei, not included on this compilation). Featured here are co-written Roxy tracks such as Amazona and Over You, a selection from his group 801, and excellent and overlooked recent solo material such as Green Spikey Cactus and Technicolor UFO. If a Roxy reunion ever happens, Manzanera has shown he's not lost his songwriting touch.
8 BRYAN FERRY Boys And Girls
Although slightly tarnished by the memory of Ferry performing three tracks from the album at Live Aid - rousing Roxy hits were required rather than the promotion of new product, onlookers thought - Boys And Girls is very much in the image of Avalon. But it is, if anything, even more dreamily seductive in its languid pace and warm embrace. The immaculate Slave To Love is lovelorn, crumpled Ferry in excelsis, Don't Stop The Dance is one of his great grooves, while Windswept is solemn, abstract and haunting. Significantly, Ferry would later claim that this should have been a Roxy album.
7 BRIAN ENO Here Come The Warm Jets
Although Eno would go on to record agenda-setting albums such as Another Green World and Before And After Science later that decade, the first post-Roxy Music solo effort is seminal. Cut from the shackles of his old band, an unbridled enthusiasm is in evidence from Eno, Manzanera and Mackay, plus serious session musicians including the bassist John Wetton and the art-rock guitar maestro Robert Fripp. Needle In The Camel's Eye sounds like a British punk rock record from 1977, while Baby's On Fire shows Eno to be an absurdist lyricist in the making.
6 ROXY MUSIC Country Life
The first Roxy Music album to break the US Top 40, the band's fourth album is arguably more famous for its racy cover (two German models, Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald, photographed in their underwear) than for its eclectic music. This is to underestimate the glorious contents: The Thrill Of lt All, Casanova, and the only single, All I Want Is You, show a new aggression in the music, but this is undercut by the playful Three And Nine, the Elizabethan-stately melody of Triptych and the breath-taking Out Of The Blue, possessed of a classic bass line and Jobson's standout live violin solo.
5 BRYAN FERRY / ROXY MUSIC The Platinum Collection
Starting with their Greatest Hits as early as 1977, Roxy and Ferry have, over the years, suffered death by anthology. Yet there should be room for one best-of in any record collection. Ferry's own albums have veered from the excellent (2002's overlooked Frantic) to the half-cocked, but every album has at least two or three corkers. So, Goddess Of Love, Sign Of The Times and other solo tracks rub shoulders with Roxy classics such as early non-album singles, Virginia Plain and Pyjamarama, and late achievements such as Oh Yeah and Same Old Scene.
4 ROXY MUSIC For Your Pleasure
Much admired by Ferry himself, For Your Pleasure was hailed by Morrissey as Britain's only truly great album. Live favourites Do The Strand and Editions Of You provide the pop chops, while The Bogus Man was, as Eno remarked, in much the same territory as Can. However, it is on In Every Dream Home A Heartache that Roxy Mark One produce their signature song - an eerie confessional sung over a repeating Farfisa organ pattern, it begins by critiquing '70s opulence and alienation before switching into a paean to the dehumanised delights of sex with a blow up doll. Astonishing.
3 ROXY MUSIC Avalon
With Avalon at Number 1 in Britain, Roxy were at their commercial height. Dismissed by some as overly safe wallpaper, this is music surely ripe for rediscovery. An intricately nuanced album, Avalon glides, with Ferry's words now half-heard and less important than the sonic shapes created as he sings them. The title track, lead-off single More Than This, and Mackay's brief but beautiful instrumental Tara are Roxy at their best, and with it they went out at the height of their powers. That this record has now become the template for every subsequent Bryan Ferry album is part of its legacy.
2 ROXY MUSIC Stranded
Eno's favourite Roxy LP is the first one he doesn't appear on. Roxy had replaced him with "proper musician" Eddie Jobson and their character had changed, with their core strangeness augmented by a new musicality. Stranded has the best songwriting of any Roxy album; Street Life is in the tradition of the first two albums, but elsewhere the music is rich, romantic, with stand-out A Song For Europe possessing a piano melody that was, according to Jobson, of "European Classical mixed with a little Charles Aznavour Lounge". Mother Of Pearl is unarguably one of Ferry's greatest.
1 ROXY MUSIC Roxy Music
Michael Stipe once affectionately referred to "the car wreck that was Roxy Music," and nowhere is that better evidenced than on the first track on their debut. Re-Make/Re-Model was a new type of music, parodying rock virtuosity as if to signal that music had now entered a postmodern stage of appropriation and playfulness. Throughout there's an intriguing genre instability - If There Is Something starts country then morphs into ghostly prog, Ladytron begins eerie electro-ballad and ends a thunderous rock/jazz freak-out, whilst 2 H.B. is a crooner's tribute to Humphrey Bogart. Bursting with imagination and ideas, Roxy's first has a strong claim to be the best debut ever.
All of the albums in the Roxy Music canon are worthy of exploration, and it's evident that Bryan Ferry's best work has been done with the band. Less immediately enthralling, though, are the singer's more recent covers albums. 1999's As Time Goes By saw him take on standards from the 1930s and 1940s including I'm In The Mood For Love and September Song, and while it's tasteful enough, it lacks the spirit of reinvention shown in his earlier reworkings. Meanwhile, 2007's Dylanesque, his homage to the Bobhead, really sounds pallid. Furthermore, Roxy's live albums - the best being 1976's Viva! - are distinctly underwhelming.