Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Roxy Music 1: Roxy Music

When they emerged, they were just plain goofy looking, and it’s hard to disagree today. Roxy Music was part greasy pompadour, part progressive, part glam, part outer space, and damn catchy. Looks weren’t everything; they had to sound good, and they did.
“Re-Make/Re-Model”, which opens their eponymous debut, might as well be the theme song to their imaginary TV series. After the sounds of a cocktail party, a piano establishes the rhythm before the band pounds it into submission. You can hear Bryan Ferry posing through his vocals, while Phil Manzanera solos like he’s trying to hit every fret on the neck at least five times. Andy Mackay honks his saxophone, and Brian Eno adds wacky synth effects seemingly at random. Everybody gets two bars to solo, including drummer Paul Thompson and bass player Graham Simpson, who would set a standard by leaving the band before the album was released.
The rest of the side does well to live up to the promise. “Ladytron” begins with a space landing and continues with an oboe solo before Ferry starts singing in a different key. Whether or not he’s trying to seduce a robot is just part of the fun, which continues big time on “If There Is Something”. Here the simple piano chording gets processed through a mildly country-western filter, then takes a darker turn through a descending riff wherein Ferry lists all the ways he’d show his affection, from climbing mountains to “growing potatoes by the score.” The music finds its way to a more comfortable resolution, and if you got the album in the US, the wondrous single “Virginia Plain” comes over the hill into Whoville like sleighbells. Elsewhere, “2HB” bubbles in next, with Casablanca references underscoring the actor’s initials in the title.
Side two isn’t quite as classic, and works a little too hard to be as epic. “The Bob (Medley)” is indeed a series of vignettes stuck together, with only the effects strewn throughout seeming to refer to the Battle of Britain (again, a pun of a title). A punk dirge makes up the first part, a heck of a chorus (“Too many times beautiful”) peeks out from somewhere, and peek from the other side of the window to a party we’re not invited to returns us to the dirge, and big tympani to end the suite. The lecherous creep in Ferry returns on “Chance Meeting”, his pitch leering over the piano while Manzanera unrolls sheets of distortion and feedback. “Would You Believe?” is a little more pleasant, a sweeter approach to seduction, even through the rave-up sax solo straight from the car hop. It’s a nice change of pace, since “Sea Breezes” is very slow and spare, Ferry sounding like a cross between Tiny Tim and Jeremy Hilary Boob. Another decent guitar solo sets up the middle section sung over the slowest drum solo you’ll ever hear. And just like closing credits, “Bitters End” sums up the cocktail party, our narrator sadly, drearily alone. Or something.
Until we can think of another word for it, Roxy Music is just plain goofy fun, particularly side one, which gets a major boost from “Virginia Plain”. That tune has gone on and off different reissues of the album, but sits squarely in sequence for the most recent super deluxe edition overseas, along with demos, outtakes, BBC performances, and a DVD with video clips and the obligatory 5.1 surround mix by Steven Wilson.

Roxy Music Roxy Music (1972)—

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