INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Sounds JULY 1, 1972 - by Steve Peacock
THE CASE OF THE VANISHING IMAGE
Listening to Roxy Music's first album again this morning, I'm still not quite sure whether I like them or not. There are so many different things on the album that sometimes I get the feeling they're dabblers, playing with various forms without playing much music; other times I get a lot from their music.
That, I have a feeling, is part of what they're after. "The album is really kind of a tracer as to where we could go," says Bryan Ferry. "There are lots of different directions there, and deliberately so, because we never really did want to have one recognisable sound. Being elusive is one of the things we quite like, and being as varied as possible.
"There's one track on there for instance which is a kind of rock revival thing, but we're not a rock revival band - not that at all. That's just a very straightforward track, a period piece, and I think well get further away from that in the future if anything."
Enigmatic and elusive they certainly are. With their flash clothes, dyed and streaked hair, and penchant for posing (see the album cover), it would be easy to mistake them for a British Sha Na Na; but listen to the music and that doesn't fit at all. In fact nothing really fits them, which makes them at least interesting, and at times fascinating.
Eno: "I don't think we'll ever have a smooth, coherent image because we'll always be moving, and there'll always be rough edges to what we do. There's an immediate contrast between what we wear too and what we play - something very incongruous about it. I love that, and I don't think it's a bad thing to confuse people.
I think what gives Roxy that peculiar quality to their music is that quite often on the album they don't really sound like a band - they tend to come over as a bunch of slightly eccentric people who play musical instruments, thrown together in a loose union that's straining at the seams with different ideas. A couple of them have traditional rock-band slogging pedigrees and as Eno says "everyone had been in music in one form or another for a long time" before joining Roxy; but personally and as a group, their history doesn't follow traditional patterns.
When they first came together, they decided to do what they wanted to do they'd have to rehearse the band for as long as possible. Since late 1970, they'd done very few gigs, and it wasn't until a month or to ago that they really started going out on the road seriously. "The idea we had of the music has always been quite a complete one and quite a complex one," says Eno, "and it really wouldn't have been feasible for us to go out on the road a year ago because we just wouldn't have been able to do it any justice.
"We needed mellotrons and synthesizers and tapes and six musicians, otherwise the things we wanted to do just wouldn't have come across. There was no point in doing it on a cheapskate basis."
During the period of rehearsal and trying to get a record contract, they did get into a very familiar rock band pastime - hawking tapes round record companies, trying to get someone to listen. It's given them a rather wry outlook on the music business, and the people who run it.
Eno: "There's a strange thing that happens, because if on take a tape to somebody completely without any advance publicity - without writing about you or saying something - they don't know how to listen to it or react to it; they seem to find it impossible to form an opinion about it. But if someone else has already told them something about you, it doesn't matter if those things were totally invented or not, they're immediately more sympathetic towards you because they've been given some sort of guideline as to what you're about. So when they first took the tapes round they got little joy - now those same people are eager to listen. The tapes were technically absurd, but the music was the same."
There seems to be a similar reaction with audiences, they've found. Bryan: "We've often played with bands that have a very specific appeal, like Quintessence or Rory Gallagher, and their audience came prepared for that sort of music, so to have us as a filler is a bit strange. We don't keep a coherent mood long enough for the audience to get into any particular frame of mind - what we hope to do is put them quickly through a lot of different things."
Eno: "But there seems to be a kind of mass decision with an audience where they decide as soon as you come on stage whether they're going to be cool or enthuse - it really doesn't seem like that sometimes. We've had nights where we've played well and not been particularly well received, and then other times we've made so many mistakes, instruments have been missing from three numbers in a row, and they've really dug it. But then Roxy aren't the easiest band to get to grips with, especially in a support band set. The future, thinks Eno, might give them a more clearly defined shape.
"I think what might happen is well get two nice directions together - one the Re-Make/Re-Model direction where you have a continuous wedge of sound with a lot of complexity inside it, and the other the Ladytron direction, which moves through a whole set of changes in four and a half minutes. There's a '50s spaceship-type opening, then a cowboy song, then a kind of Phil Spector thing where an oboe solo like one of those organ solos they used to do, and a piece with synthesised guitars."
"But", said Bryan, "what we'll probably do is start making the changes fewer, because some people in the audience can't really take sudden changes every thirty seconds or so. I quite like confusing people, but there are limits I suppose.