INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Age DECEMBER 29, 2007 - by Shaun Carney
FOR THE RECORD, A LOOK AT ROXY
Michael Bracewell: Re-make/Re-model: Art, Pop Fashion And The Making Of Roxy Music, 1953-1972
This is, in some respects, an utterly silly book. The respected novelist and non-fiction writer Michael Bracewell devotes a tad under four hundred pages to myriad personal, economic, sociological and cultural stories leading up to the creation of a single album of popular music: the self-titled debut by the English group Roxy Music, released in 1972.
That's right. This is not a biography of a group, it's the biography of forty-six minutes of pop music. Depending on how you look at it, that's either a worthy contribution to our understanding of how it is that we come to be entertained, or a straight-out waste of time.
To be able to get all the way through Bracewell's sometimes padded and flatulent prose, one surely has to be convinced about the brilliance and artistic importance of Roxy Music. Full disclosure: I'm not. It was a good album, with some great moments such as the delicate Noel Coward-at-a-seance piece Chance Meetings and the gallumphing, ethereal Ladytron, equal parts rave-up and ballad.
And it did represent an interesting development in the fusion of art-school aesthetics and the pop music "scene" in all of its manifestations, blending futurism and revivalism, and mixing a new type of exaggerated pop art-influenced fashion with a more glamorous - dare it be said aspirational or bourgeois - notion of rock music.
Bracewell is claearly in no doubt that this group and its first release acted as "the portal through which one might glimpse, or even reach, the empyreal world". All these years on, he is still an avid fan and waxes lyrical about singer Bryan Ferry's handsome visage.
Bracewell works tirelessly to sift through every possible influence on Roxy's members, from their art-school experiences (especially the work and teachings of leading exponent of pop art, Richard Hamilton) to their hairdressers. If there's a real strength to this book, it's the amount of effort that Bracewell has made to do his own extensive research; I counted thirty-eight interviews with the main players in the Roxy story.
Unquestionably, the stand-out among all the interviewees is Brian Eno, who lasted for two albums as the band's artistic foil for Ferry. Eno's recollections of his childhood in a family of postal workers and his experiences as a student and non-musical musician (his contribution to the band was in mixing and adding electronic sounds) are filled with a sense of wonder.
In the same way that his work made the first two Roxy albums something special, he saves this book from reading like a turgid series of well-intentioned university lecture notes.
The weakness of Bracewell's effort is that those other glam artists David Bowie and Marc Bolan, who had more hits and drew bigger audiences than Roxy Music in the first half of the '70s, are rather airily dismissed as "old troupers" because they'd both been mods and had experienced varying artistic incarnations during the '60s - shame on them for trying to build a career. Roxy Music were, by contrast, stunningly new, Bracewell contends. He's right, but nothing is new for very long, especially in pop.
And that's the problem here. Roxy Music's story was one of general artistic decline. After scoring an American hit with Love Is The Drug in 1975, the band went into hiatus.
After the punk thing, which was many times more outrageous than Roxy, subsided, the core members regrouped in 1979 dressed in leather jackets and looking like they were off to a wine bar. They scored with a song whose chorus went "Dance away the heartache, dance away the tears", with no irony evident in Ferry's vocals. Two years later they had another hit with a totally foul version of John Lennon's Jealous Guy, and sax-soaked ballads such as More Than This and Avalon followed before the group broke up for good.
Because Bracewell ends the book in 1972, you don't get to read any of this. Roxy Music did make it easier for later acts such as New Romantic-era bands Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran to exist. Was this what Richard Hamilton, with his pop art happenings in the '50s, ultimately was all about?