INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New Musical Express JULY 1, 1972 - by Tony Tyler
ROXY MUSIC: THE ANSWER TO A MAIDEN'S PRAYER OR TO ANYONE ELSE'S
The cover of the Roxy Music album depicts a smiling, somewhat overripe lady, dressed in a pink-and-silver swimsuit a-la-Hayworth, draped with an antique evening stole and reclining languorously on a large bed of soft, matt material. Her smile, make-up and hairdo are pure '40s kitsch. Her name is Kari-Ann and she is voluptuously, touchingly beautiful.
The only - repeat, the only thing wrong, with Roxy Music is their name. Don't get me wrong. Nothing amiss with the connotations of the sound of it; no fault to be found with the meaning or the evocation of it; no bones to pick with the image it conjures in the fevered brain. The only problem is, printers being as fallible as the rest of us - and Roxy are going to be written about quite a lot - sooner or later must come the inevitable, unavoidable misprint. So let's say it and get it over with. Poxy Music. There. Now we can all relax.
In every other respect Roxy Music is, in my opinion, the biggest breakthrough since frozen pizza. A heavy statement, sez you. Well sez I, I can justify it. How? Sez you. Listen, and I'll tell you, being as you probably won't have heard, had a chance to hear them yet. You will, you will - but in the meantime lets take it from the top.
They're camp, Yes, but that's been done before. Agreed, but not, so outrageously well. They're nostalgic. I know that's been done before but Roxy are progressive with it. Uneasy bedfellows, but they hang together stylishly with Roxy. They're poetic and have a sense of drama. All these virtues - and if you'd seen some of the bands I've seen recently you'd realise what virtues they are - combine to produce a group that is already awesome and potentially breathtaking. As I said, my opinion.
The inside of the Roxy Music album, like the cover, is totally outrageous and heartily in agreement with the contents. The musicians' portraits are ranged like a series of camp playing cards across the full width. Bryan Ferry is third from the right top row. He's tiger-skinned and DA'd. He looks nasty, but, in fact, is a pleasant diffident person, at odds with his vampish photo image. He plays electric piano, mellotron, sings, writes the lyrics, founded the band and is its mainspring.
Ferry's compositions - expounded perfectly by his singing - are poetic and impulsive, displaying an awareness of older cultures than the one he obviously grew up in. He's 26 and a Fine Arts grad from Newcastle. He alway's wanted to go to New York - but music played a disproportionately important part in his post-grad career and, somehow, he never made it. He vows he's disappointed, because he names Warhol and Duchamp as main musical influences. Warhol? Aha, enter The Velvets. Roxy is Bryan's band, and Roxy are the closest thing Britain has ever had to The Velvet Underground (Mark One). Remember how they were? They were never shit-hot musically, but lyrically and emotionally they summed up the '60s in New York like nothing has since or ever will. Roxy, given the right approach, may do the same. But they're far from musically mediocre.
Ferry, although a dabbler with renaissance soul bands when a student, never played an instrument till, in the winter of 70-71, he took to writing songs (he was making ceramics then and his songs have that same glossy toughness). To assist this, he took up piano and you'd never know from listening to the album that he wasn't a hardcore Keyboard King. Try Sea Breezes. It's slow, and melodic, and poetic, and all the other things I said the album was, but there's a, piano phrase gets you THERE... four notes, no more, but they're done just right and you know, having heard them, that there was no other way. Next to Ferry on the inner jacket is the group's main conventional musical force. His name is Andrew Mackay and he, too, is dressed like a rocker queen with either a switchblade or a perfume spray in his inner pocket. You feel it's up to you to find out which...
Mackay is the Oboe Emperor. He also plays tenor, but so do many others and its his chuckling, witty oboe solos that make you cock your ears and ask: "A Bird? A Plane? A Mellotron?" It's just Mackay doing his thing. Oboes are difficult to play, due to the double reed and the infernal system of half-holing. Also, they're dangerous - the continued pressure is bad for the lungs and can induce TB. Sorry, Andy, but you do look a bit tubercular.
Another grad is Mackay, and a veteran of the semi-pro scene. He also studied music at a comparatively early age and switched to a greasier horn tenor - when 19. He forsook reeds for a while and ventured into electronics - when Ferry met him his primary (obvious) virtue was that he possessed a synthesizer. But, when asked to join Roxy, he revealed all... and a friend, also into electronics, was summoned. Or conjured. This is Eno.
Eno is bottom left on the sleeve He's leopard-skinned, smoothly-long-haired and resembles Apollo after some indigestible vine leaves. His real name is Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. You can see why they call him Eno. He operates the synthesizer and manipulates the Revox.
A Revox is a superb tape recorder - probably the world's best big-spool machine. You can record an album on a Revox, provided you've got enough of everything else to go with it (don't tell everybody or the studios will be out of business). Eno, he of the electronic bent, has created a new instrument out of it, and you can hear the result on the album - or better, on a Roxy gig, because you're never sure, on an LP, if someone's cheated.
Synthesizers are monophonic - which means that they can only play one note at a time. No chords. So Eno, bless his heart, decided to tape chordal sequences from his VCS 3, synch them, and operate the Revox as an instrument. Programming, if you like. This meant he was left with a perfectly good synthesizer for onstage use. So he decided to use it for treating existing instrumental sounds with in the group, rather than for singlenote ego trips. He does let his saturnine hair down - especially on Re-Make/Re-Model but you feel it's a treat he allows himself.
Eno was originally asked to design and operate Roxy's electronic equipment, having been in the forefront of avantguarde electronic music for some years beforehand. He's performed works by John Cage, David Tudor and himself and, well, he knows electronic theory. He's a published author and an Arts lecturer. Eno. Oscillate on.
The final three slides on the jacket are of the drummer, Paul Thompson, of a bassist who helped form Roxy with Ferry but who recently left to pursue Sufi-ist ideas and of an insect-eyed guitarist, Manzanera. Eastern disciplines leave little time or inclination for competing thoughts and Graham Simpson was replaced by Rik Kenton, whose picture is not there. But Thompson, who looks like a member of Black Sabbath, and Manzanera, are probably the most conventional of all the members of the group. In other words, they've played in rock bands - something the others haven't done. But it helps. Listen to Sea Breezes. And to Manzanera's work on Re-Make/Re-Model.
The cover of the Roxy Music album is glazed - a sensible measure which deters fingermarks and somehow adds extra lustre to the unmarked gold record tucked coyly behind Kari-Ann's silver-and-blue evening stole. It may be arrogance but it's more likely a prophecy.
Roxy Music, Roxy Music, Roxy Music. Remember where you heard it first.