Roxy Music were formed in 1971 by vocalist and keyboardist Bryan Ferry who, along with several of his band-mates, came from the same English art school background as The Who and The Rolling Stones. Accordingly, Roxy Music always felt conceptual – they were purposefully experimental, decadent, and futuristic, and there was always a deliberate visual element to their image. The band’s successful integration of synthesisers and electronic treatments into their sound, and Ferry’s detached vocals, made them ahead of their time and extremely influential. The group started their career in the era of glam rock, but like the genre’s other most enduring figure, David Bowie, they covered a lot of other territory during their career.
Along with Ferry’s unsettling lounge-lizard croon, the other constant members of Roxy Music were Andy Mackay on oboe and saxophone and Phil Manzanera on guitar; both collaborated with Ferry on writing material. Powerful drummer Paul Thompson was also a constant during the band’s 1970s tenure, while the group went through a succession of bass players. Most idiosyncratic of all was Brian Eno, who played synthesizer and “treated” the other member’s instruments through his equipment. Eno only lasted two albums before he struck out for a distinguished career as a producer and solo artist. He was replaced by Eddie Jobson, who filled out Roxy Music’s sound on their lush mid-1970s albums with his violin and keyboard parts.
The band’s two albums with Eno – 1972’s self-titled debut and 1973’s For Your Pleasure – are their most experimental, although, apart from the difficult second side of the debut, they’re still largely song-based and hardly inaccessible. The experimental edge mostly came from Eno’s textures and Ferry’s weird croon, although the racy cover photos and boundary-pushing lyrics like 1973’s inflatable doll epic ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ also contributed. Brian Eno singles out 1973’s Stranded, recorded after he left the group, as their high point, and their immediate post-Eno albums are still adventurous, but also lush and gorgeous. The group went on a three year hiatus after 1975’s Siren, but regrouped for 1979’s Manifesto. The group’s first two reunion albums are often disappointingly unimaginative, but 1982’s Avalon is a sleek and dignified swansong.
Roxy Music should be remembered as one of the key bands of the 1970s, balancing accessibility and experimentation, and releasing a string of excellent albums during their initial tenure. Their propensity for slow tempos can irritate some listeners, but I enjoy their rich textures and experimental spirit.
Roxy Music Album Reviews
Favourite Album: For Your Pleasure
Overlooked Gem: Siren
Roxy Music’s debut was produced by King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield – Bryan Ferry had previously unsuccessfully auditioned for the lead singer vacancy in King Crimson. Roxy Music is the band’s most difficult and most experimental effort – there’s a brilliant side one, where Eno’s weird sound processing and Ferry’s songwriting coalesce to create intoxicating pop music that’s ground-breaking and enjoyable.
Opener ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ is a brilliant title that succinctly describes Roxy’s approach, and it’s a terrific opener. Paul Thompson pounds away powerfully, while Manzanera’s stinging lead guitar and Mackay’s saxophone are treated by Eno to create a sound palette that must have been downright revolutionary in 1972. There’s also a memorable section where each member gets a brief solo: Manzanera plays rhythm guitar for his solo, after playing lead for the entire song, the bass plays the riff from The Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’, while Eno makes some strange whirring noises with his synth. ‘Ladytron’ is a moody, synth-filled ballad, The Humphrey Bogart tribute ‘2 H.B.’ is pretty, while ‘If There Is Something’ starts off as upbeat country before veering off all over the place. The upbeat ‘Virginia Plain’ was the single, and with Ferry’s decadent irony and Eno’s weird sound treatments, it’s invigorating.
Side two of Roxy Music, however, is a lot more difficult, with moody material that relies on atmosphere. Roxy Music has an amazing and revolutionary first side, but the difficult second side makes it the weakest album from Roxy Music’s first phase.
For Your Pleasure
For Your Pleasure stands as Roxy Music’s quintessential album, with its atmosphere of sleek European glamour and decadence. It’s the band’s last album to feature Brian Eno – reportedly Bryan Ferry was jealous of his success with women. For Your Pleasure is just as creative as Roxy Music’s debut, but the songs are much more consistent and it maintains interest throughout the disc.
The two pivotal tracks are both lengthy; ‘The Bogus Man’ rides a groove for nine minutes, reminiscent of what German bands like Can were producing at the time, while ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ is a dark tale of debauchery, tense and brooding until Ferry delivers the line “You blew up my body/But you blew my mind” and Manzanera launches into an epic solo. There are also some great upbeat pieces like the hyper ‘Editions of You’, with a great synth solo from Eno, and the opening ‘Do The Strand’ where Ferry turns on the glamour. ‘Beauty Queen’ is pretty and atmospheric, with Ferry’s croon especially effective.
While the tensions between Eno and Ferry meant that For Your Pleasure was Eno’s last album with Roxy Music, their final creation together produced Roxy Music’s quintessential album.
Brian Eno left Roxy Music before Stranded was recorded, but still nominates it as his favourite album from the band. Without Eno’s synthesisers and sound processing, Stranded more conventional than Roxy Music’s first two albums, but Ferry’s still the same intelligent, suave, and creepy vocalist, and Manzanera is still a creative guitarist, while new recruit Eddie Jobson helps the group fill out their sound with lushness.
Again, there are tantalising rockers – ‘Street Life’ starts the album confidently, while ‘Amazona’ is driven by Manzanera’s riffing. The centre-piece is ‘Mother of Pearl’, which starts off in overdrive before settling down into a beautiful piece driven by Ferry’s piano. There’s also eight minutes of God-rock on ‘Psalm’, where Ferry begins accompanied by organ; it’s a little draggy, and the most interesting part if trying to figure out whether Ferry is sincere. The lesser tracks are all strong, with tuneful and pretty songs like ‘Serenade’ and ‘Just Like You’, while ‘Sunset’ is an elegant and elegaic closer.
Even without the strong creative force of Brian Eno, Roxy Music have plenty of interesting ideas, and the lushness of Stranded is another triumph in their strong 1970’s catalogue.
Roxy Music continued their excellent sequence of 1970’s albums with their fourth album, Country Life. It’s a continuation of the lush, sophisticated sound of Stranded, although the group are gradually becoming less experimental and there are no long multi-part tracks on the album. But Country Life is Roxy Music’s most diverse album, taking in country influences (‘Prairie Rose’), psychedelia (‘Out Of The Blue’), a funk groove (‘Casanova’), a German pub song (‘Bittersweet’), and most bizarrely a medieval styled number about the crucifixion of Jesus (‘Triptych’).
The best song though, is the six minute opener ‘The Thrill of It All’, with a lush and vibrant arrangement, with Phil Manzanera’s guitar shredding, Eddie Jobson’s violin, and Andy Mackay’s saxophone all vying for attention. When Country Life was released nobody really noticed the music, because of the controversial cover artwork; the original American release removed the two semi-naked women from the cover, leaving some grass and trees.
Country Life is the last stand of the glam-rock Roxy Music; on their next album, 1975’s Siren, they would explore dance beats, before returning with a more stripped back sound in their second phase.
There’s a school of thought that 1975’s Siren is a step down from Roxy Music’s first four albums, and lyrically it’s less sharp, as Ferry dwells on clichés of cocktail bars and broken hearts. But they’re mining the same sophisticated and lush textures from the last couple of albums; even as the bass lines are becoming more dance oriented, Roxy Music remain a classy unit. Paul Thompson in particular shines; he propels the otherwise limpid ‘Nightingale’, while ‘Just Another High’ hits the stratosphere when his drums kick in,
The lead off song and single ‘Love Is The Drug’ is the only song from Roxy Music’s first phase that I’ve ever heard on the radio, and its vibrant and catchy. ‘Sentimental Fool’ opens with two minutes of atmospheric synths and guitar before Ferry’s gorgeous falsetto hits, while ‘She Sells’ bops along on a Ferry’s old timey piano and Thompson’s propulsive drumming. Manzanera’s guitar takes centre stage on ‘Whirlwind’ while ‘Just Another High’ is a climactic closer.
After Siren, Roxy Music took a three year hiatus – they made some good music after they reformed, but nothing that reached the heady excitement of their initial period.
Roxy Music reformed after a three year hiatus, with Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, and Paul Thompson. Roxy Music Mark II is much more sleek and radio friendly than the first iteration, playing blue eyed soul songs with gentle disco beats. Thompson’s drumming is toned down and Manzanera’s guitar is much less aggressive, although Ferry’s croon is still majestic. The rough edges are smoothed out, and the result is effectively British Yacht Rock; it’s good, but it can’t help disappointing given their ground-breaking early work.
There is material to like; the slow building title track opens Manifestonicely, while ‘Spin Me Round’ is a likeable closer. The hits were ‘Angel Eyes’, although versions of Manifesto vary between the original version and the disco oriented single re-recording, and the pretty ‘Dance Away’.
It’s difficult to rate Manifesto highly, given Roxy Music’s exhilarating earlier catalogue, but it’s a competent pop album nonetheless.
Flesh + Blood
The general consensus among Roxy Music fans is that Flesh + Blood is vying with its predecessor Manifesto as Roxy Music’s weakest album. It’s basically more of the same slick dance-pop as Manifesto; it has three very strong singles, but the album tracks are largely forgettable, and the two bizarre covers arguably indicate that the band were running short on ideas.
The two covers are an arch reading of the soul chestnut ‘In The Midnight Hour’, and a weird remake of The Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’; if you want to hear a great 1980s’ version of the latter, try Hüsker Dü’s. The best of the singles is ‘Same Old Scene’, which backs Ferry’s smooth falsetto with a slick dance beat and Andy Mackay’s memorable horn riffs. ‘Oh Yeah’ is a terrific piece of blue eyed soul, with its refrain of “There’s a band playing on the radio/And it’s drowning the sound of my tears,” while ‘Over You’ is elegant and simple.
Flesh + Blood is my pick for Roxy Music’s weakest album, but its three strong singles make it worth salvaging.
After a couple of albums of accomplished but uninspiring dance pop, Roxy Music refocused for a fitting swansong to their career. Avalon isn’t a return to their wild younger years, but it’s a mature and elegant album. It’s slow and languid, with the atmosphere provided by Bryan Ferry’s tasteful synths, while Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera support him with gentle melodies.
Opener ‘More Than This’ is a classy pop single with a beautiful melody, easily the most significant recording from Roxy Music’s second phase. The rest of the album doesn’t quite meet the same high bar, but it’s a consistent set; the gently pulsing ‘True To Life’ has always been a favourite, ‘To Turn You On’ is writhing and elegant, while Andy Mackay’s yearning saxophone on ‘Tara’ is a fitting farewell to a great band.
I don’t think that it surpasses any of the albums from Roxy Music’s initial run, but Avalon is a surprisingly fulfilling final chapter in their story.
Ten Favourite Roxy Music Songs
Mother of Pearl
The Thrill Of It All
In Every Dream Home a Heartache
More Than This
If There Is Something