Monday, February 28, 2011

Roxy Music: Avalon

Ten years after their debut, Roxy Music had come a long way from their initial image as “the ‘50s meets the ‘80s in the ‘70s.” Even without the greasy pompadour and space-age costumes, Bryan Ferry was still one of the suavest guys ever to stalk a stage in a rumpled silk suit, looking like he’d hurriedly gotten dressed following a backstage encounter.
The band had always been about style, so their transition to a smooth, post-disco adult contemporary sound wasn’t that surprising. Their journey culminated on Avalon, a lush and classy recording that showcases the band’s strengths—down to a trio with Ferry, Andy Mackay on sax and the inimitable Phil Manzanera on guitar, with well-chosen session guys.
The opening single, “More Than This”, gained a new following after its use in the Bill Murray vehicle Lost In Translation, but that only underscored its reputation as a stirring, enigmatic song. In fact, a good deal of the album puts impressionistic images into grooves, so that the sound is more important than any possible message. “The Space Between” demonstrates this with its mix of drum machines and real drums, saxophones and riff guitars underneath blurry vocals. The title track is perhaps the most overt portrayal of the singer as lounge lizard, accented by the cooing of a female vocalist. “India” doesn’t sound like the country it’s supposed to describe, but just as the music seems about to go somewhere, it’s interrupted by the flourish that opens “While My Heart Is Still Beating”.
The album’s slick production value made it especially popular the year it came out, as the CD format provided a gapless listening experience over the LP—all the better for a yuppie’s makeout session. “The Main Thing” keeps up the tension through to the lengthy introduction that sets up “Take A Chance With Me”, all the way through “To Turn You On”. The heavy tremolo on the synth and vocals makes a nice match for the simple changes of “True To Life”. The closing “Tara”, a quiet sax solo over seashore sound effects, makes for a nice finish.
While Avalon is the last studio album credited to Roxy Music, it still provided a seamless transition into Ferry’s late-‘80s solo work. This itself was no shocker either; after all, he’d been releasing intermittent solo albums, mostly consisting of covers, throughout the band’s tenure. And while Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera have shown up from time to time, if this album was indeed their swansong, it was a great way to go out.

Roxy Music Avalon (1982)—4


  1. If anyone but Roxy Music had made this album, we'd be calling it sonic wallpaper.

    But since the New Wave (rightly) confirmed Roxy's status as underappreciated rock gods, we fell over singing its praises.

    I'm still not impressed.

    1. Good point there. But it was really, really nice wallpaper.

      1982 was a good year for well-recorded, sophisticated pop, coinciding with the spread of digital recording. That's how we ended up with things like this, Tug Of War, The Nylon Curtain, Love Over Gold, The Nightfly, and of course, Nebraska. (Kidding. Just kidding.)