Mojo MAY 2015 - by Jim Irvin


From rowdy oddness to poised sophistication in eight compelling steps.

Unzipping the deluxe and delightful vinyl box Roxy Music 1-8 (Island/Universal), it all comes flooding back.

There was no precedent or explanation for debut single Virginia Plain, an alien gumbo of synth, oboe and delinquent guitar, topped with Bryan Ferry's almost Kenneth Williams vocal delivery. 1972's impressionable young brains had to process the audio-visual clues and assess: is this cool or stupid, sexy or repellent? Do I want to be in their gang? Roxy felt distant rather than clubbable and were tough to emulate - especially if you were a tiny twelve-year-old. At that age it was hard to see what all the fuss was about regarding the LP sleeve ("There's a lady on it"), but the band photos were riveting, those aloof, space-rocker looks off-camera as compelling as the music's eerie rockabilly echoes from a music hall, everything was teasingly asexual, wryly portentous.

That was the self-titled debut (re-pressed here in its original form, without Virginia Plain), but even better was follow-up For Your Pleasure - dizzyingly sassy, practically perfect. For many years after, if anyone asked, I'd say it was my all-time favourite album. Chris Thomas's production is faultless: the jittery thrill of Do The Strand and its cataract of Phil Manzanera guitar, the supercharged Editions Of You, like doo wop from Alpha Centauri, Ferry playing a blinder on electric piano and waspish lyric into a great solo relay - Andy Mackay squonks, Eno hoots and Phil shreds - before Paul Thompson (surely UK rock's finest drummer) employs an industrial-strength ll to take us to the bridge. Plus creepy epic Bogus Man and unsettling boy-meets-doll tale In Every Dream Home A Heartache - you can't imagine what that did to a thirteen-year-old in the early '70s. "I blew up your body, but you blew my mind"? We didn't know where to look.

Stranded was rather more controlled - no Eno, see - but stuffed with Roxy highlights, Street Life, Mother Of Pearl, A Song For Europe. They achieved a near-perfect blend of waywardness and refinement on the superb fourth album Country Life (no trouble decoding that sleeve), but Siren had something tired about it. Manifesto, the self-produced return after a three-year gap, is sorely undervalued, though they'd definitely turned a corner onto Glossy Boulevard. The '80s brought Flesh + Blood and Avalon, luxury spas for the ears, producer Rhett Davies working only with beeswax and angel breath, sonic shocks resigned to history.

Few bands were as witty, exploratory and rewarding as Roxy in their pomp. This claret cloth box is a fitting monument: warm, taut, half-speed mastered music in heavy-duty sleeves with lashings of laminate. Every dream home should have one.