Record Collector FEBRUARY 2018 - by Oregano Rathbone


A Ferry tale beginning

Even if you weren't yet knocking about on this terminally fucked planetoid at the time, you'll no doubt have heard about Roxy Music's Top Of The Pops debut appearance with Virginia Plain so often that it feels like the anecdote equivalent of a recurring pimple. However, if you'll permit us to run it out just once more, it really was pop's other pivotal moment of 1972, alongside Bowie's Starman visitation. A game-changer and a lifesaver - or a game-saver and a life-changer.

For every young malcontent who felt that he or she was somehow different, the implicit subtext of Roxy's provocative image and sound was, to borrow a significant phrase from Bowie. you're not alone. Suddenly, you could be just like someone who wasn't like everybody else. While The Sweet rather magnificently catered for the lumpen herd with a version of glam rock that was a docker's crane with Baco foil wrapped round the jib, it was down to Roxy, Bolan and Bowie to pipe some actual glamour onto the canvas. Roxy Music were recognisably human, but were just... better, somehow. Art spivs in an enchanted mirror. You could still, in a pinch, imagine them hanging around at the same fairgrounds as us, but they'd have been painting the Waltzers onto a triptych instead of physically spinning them.

The new box set reissue of the band's self-titled 1972 debut album reawakens these observations in a tangled memory knot of sequins, feathers and Brylcreem, and a comely if pricey artefact it is. (Hands up if you work for Virgin/UMe and were clouted with a stapler for suggesting that it should have been called "Boxy Music".) Listening to this heroically strange assemblage now. so boldly sure of itself yet perennially serpentine and chameleonic, it's more blatantly obvious than ever that Roxy weren't so much arbiters of a glitterball-globe future as lounge lizard-kings self-consciously minesweeping champagne flutes on the film sets of a fancifully remade and re-modelled past. When Bryan Ferry wasn't directly referencing Humphrey Bogart with 2 H.B.'s "Here's looking at you, kid" - he was alluding to "last picture shows down the drive-in" (Virginia Plain).

Familiarity hasn't diminished the album's capacity to disconcert, even after forty-five years. An illustrative warscape of musique concrète besets The Bob (Medley), and washes of abstract guitar static erode Sea Breezes - not to mention a drum track that appears to have been recorded while bailiffs repossessed Paul Thompson's kit. Even within the comparatively rod-straight, thudding, Velveteen riffing of Re-Make/Re-Model, Eno's VCS3 synth grouting is an uncongenial affront to tasteful musicality, and all the better for it.

Above all, If There Is Something perches on an evolutionary branch of its own, metamorphosing from anomalous country-rock into a quasi-symphonic glühwein as Ferry leans into the mic with a nanny-goat vibrato that forbids ambivalence. Oh yes, and Ladytron still sounds like Runaway in thick fog if Joe Meek's tulpa had mixed it from a Ouija board.

You can, if you so wish, purchase the album anew on 180g vinyl, or opt for a 2CD set which includes a disc of contemporaneous BBC sessions, or go as all-out as we have with the Super Deluxe iteration which also features a disc of demos and outtakes, plus a DVD with eye-popping 1972 footage and a typically educative 5.1 remix from the "we-never-close" mix magus Steven Wilson.

Those outtakes are a particular treat: songs break down arbitrarily, the band chat back and forth with producer Pete Sinfield, and you genuinely feel as though you're in the studio with them, striving fruitlessly to engineer a headphone mix to everyone's satisfaction. If the album demos and BBC sessions prove that Roxy Music laudably didn't rein in a single second of their early avant-garde proclivities at either end of the album recording process, the footage (from The Old Grey Whistle Test, Top Of The Pops and a live appearance at the Bataclan in Paris) reminds us why so many punters utterly lost their shit over the band's leopard skin, flashbulb charisma - and why so many of Roxy's snootier, proggier peers found the band so offensively simplistic and regressive. Did we really stage a revolution just to end up with bloody quiffs again? And are Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Rik Kenton actually performing unison Shadows dance steps at the Bataclan? Bet your life.