Mojo APRIL 2003 - by David Buckley


No.16: Roxy Music ROXY MUSIC

Label Island
Producer Pete Sinfield
Recorded Command Studios, London, March 1972
Released June 1972
Personnel Bryan Ferry (vocals, piano), Graham Simpson (bass), Andy Mackay (oboe, saxophone), Eno (synthesizers, tapes), Paul Thompson (drums), Phil Manzanera (guitar)
Currently available EG/Virgin

It shouldn't have worked. An ex-art school Geordie with a wobbly voice, a balding 'non-musician' playing squelchy synth, a bequiffed ex-teacher soloing on oboe, a tragically-bearded guitarist who'd failed a first audition, a salt-of-the-earth drummer whose previous day job was humping bags of spuds, and a bassist in a pullover. This was Roxy Music, a group that bypassed the larval stage of grotty club gigs to arrive on our TV screens and hi-fis as fully formed butterflies. They played a few dates at private parties and one at the Tate Gallery, impressed an influential Melody Maker journo (Richard Williams) and a BBC DJ (john Peel), got signed, and got famous. It pissed people off. On Old Grey Whistle Test, Bob Harris voiced his disaffection even before the band played their live set. This was pop-art terrorism... four years before The Sex Pistols.

Their debut album, recorded in two weeks in March 1972, was one of the strongest, and strangest, ever made by a British rock act. True, there was a certain dissatisfaction with the production of King Crimson's Pete Sinfield, who found Eno a handful: Initially I thought Brian was a nuisance, but later I recognised he's a man doing most of my act and, Lord love 'im, frequently doing it better.

Here, British pop was introduced to prototype electronica. Eno's burps, bleats and farts, and his treatment of the rest of the instrumentation, gave the record a sound unlike any other in 1972. Mackay's mournful oboe, Ferry's astonishingly tortured vocal delivery, and the rock'n'roll, doo wop and cabaret all looked back, while their sense of piss-take and irony captured the present. The album's opener, the discordant Re-Make/Re-Model, joyously celebrated the malleability of the personality while sending up the counterculture in the calamitous, almost Bonzo-style ending, as these six not-terribly-good musicians solo in a sideswipe at bogus prog-rock virtuosity.

With snook cocked at 1972's denim-clad anonymity, Ferry was the harbinger of a wonderfully confusing and stylish future. Described by one of his friends as gay in every aspect other than sexuality, Bryan Ferry's songwriting - witty, poised, reflective, ironic - was a joy. UK single Virginia Plain, now included on the CD reissue, is, with its pop-art-meets-pop-song rationale, one of the most important singles ever recorded. The future Mrs Chris Jagger, Kari-Ann Moller, was the first in the long line of glamour-babes to grace Roxy sleeves.

It all went sour for the Ferry/Eno duopoly, and Eno left Roxy in the summer of '73. We started to tone things down, says Ferry, after we saw The Sweet and Slade on the scene. I guess we were a bit snooty, we thought our music was a lot deeper. We didn't see ourselves as part of that glam rock movement at all.