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APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Roxy Music fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Roxy Music fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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One of the best, if not the very best, bands to come out of the Seventies, Roxy Music were probably rock's last great innovators - on an epic scale, I mean; the sound that they developed counts as the Sound Godfather to virtually every new musical genre originated in the white community since then. Their music can be roughly divided in two periods: the first two Brian Eno-dominated albums and everything else after Eno quit and the band's sound became completely dominated by the 'lovely croon' Bryan Ferry. However, this is somewhat of a rough separation: while the Eno albums do strike you on first listen as significantly different from the later stuff, you'll soon realize that this difference has a purely technological character: the real heart of the band has always been Ferry.The first two Roxy Music albums are usually known as the first representatives of the 'electronic revolution' - records that preceded their time by a good eight or ten years, and, in fact, predict everything that was good and everything that was bad about the electronic aspects of New Wave. Anybody who's heavily into synths and all that hi-techno stuff is simply obliged to study their debut, one of the great Synth Milestones. For this alone, Roxy would forever deserve a place in rock history - as one of the biggest (unfortunately, also the worst) influences in the whole movement. But, like I said, Roxy's main strength lies not in the groovy technologic effects fostered by Eno, but in Ferry's staggering voice, outstanding gift for creating catchy, original melodies, and, above all, in his (and the rest of the band's) carefully crafted arrangements. It is his talent, in fact, that does not allow to put Roxy Music neither in the glam nor the prog camp: Roxy is Roxy, a band that defies genre categorization. The band draws heavily from a lot of sources, but primarily from the European ones: if you're looking for bluesy stuff, forget it. Instead, Ferry prefers to rely on stuff like French, German, Latin and other pop styles, clothing his melodies in dreamy, overblown, sentimental dresses; but it's not the fairy-tale sound of the Moody Blues, no sir! This is rock music - there's more guitar on one average Roxy Music song than on a whole Moody Blues album, only it is perfectly complemented by swirling keyboards, string arrangements and weird sound effects, so you can enjoy the beauty and not feel cheesy at the same time. On the other hand, there's enough diversity on every Roxy Music album (at least, on every pre-1979 Roxy Music album) to guarantee a 'non-boredom' pass in almost every case. Ferry was never the one to want to stagnate, and he tries a different groove all the time, which even led to a serious flirtation with disco on Siren - yet this was the case when the artist really beat that wretched style and made it serve his particular purposes (unlike, say, Rod Stewart, who finally got chewed up by disco). And the band never lacked a sense of cohesiveness and a good intuition: during all of their ten years of activity, they rarely put out a mediocre album, wisely splitting two times as spirits were getting low. All of Roxy's major embarrassments come only with its members' solo careers - together, they were good. Of course, they weren't that good after they'd split up and got together again, but I don't know whether one should seriously take their later career... Line-up: Bryan Ferry - vocals, keyboards, all kinds of stuff. His vocal style, with the famous crooney, shakey tone, can be a bit grating at time, but you just have to get over it, because it is indeed quite rich and majestic, and able to express nearly every emotion in existence, and his keyboard playing is always outstanding. Brian Eno - keyboards (the Synth Wiz of the band); Phil Manzanera - guitar; Andy Mackay - saxes, oboes, different kind of brass; Graham Simpson - bass; Paul Thompson - drums. Eno left in 1973, after just two albums, being replaced by Eddie Jobson. The bassist position was never stable: Simpson left even before their debut album was released, and was followed by Rik Kenton (1972), John Porter (1973-74), John Gustafson (1975), John Wetton (1976). Out of the others, particular attention should be paid to Manzanera, whose talent is really a singular one: his guitar style fits in with Ferry's croon amazingly well, and it's as far from that generic Gilmour-style 'heavenly' guitar as can be. And, of course, the fact that the band had a special sax player also says something: these guys weren't just your obvious four-instrument rock combo. In 1979, when Roxy reconvened and Ferry steered them into an even more modernistic direction, the bassist and the second keyboard player were sacked again, replaced by Paul Carrack on keyboards and Gary Tibbs on bass, with Alan Spenner as 'auxiliary' bassist. By this time, though, it was obvious that these two positions just weren't that important for the band, so for their last two studio albums they just employed sessionmen. Which is no surprise, since the basic sound was always provided by just Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay. Of course, Roxy Music aren't without their faults (hey, nobody but the Beatles are without faults, and weren't the Beatles live gods?). Out of all the albums I've heard, only one approaches a true masterpiece, because, while Ferry did have a talent for writing great melodies, sometimes he sacrificed it all in favour of pure atmosphere. On their first records the sound was so unique that sometimes the band was just content with demonstrating their technical skill - amazing at the time, but much of it sounds dated today. And later, when they became less groundbreaking but not less exciting, they were so hugely dependent on Ferry's vocal style that it often all came down to whether Bryan was really inspired during the recordings of the vocal track or whether he was tired or distracted. Which all results in more or less serious percents of filler on most of their later records, actually. But this is nothing, really, compared to those great injections of Roxy Magic that you'll get in spades when you study their catalogue - a catalogue that certainly did not define their era, dominated by glam and prog and disco and metal, but which now stands proudly holding a unique ground of its own. And what about those Playboy album covers, eh?
Listenability: 4/5. There
ARE problems (sometimes they're too damn slow and sometimes they're too
damn dancey), but generally Roxy are accessible. Which is one of their
Resonance: 3/5. Yes, they are kinda glammy, but the dark, decadent overtones in Ferry's voice make their style more authentic and genuinely scary and gripping than most other glam bands.
Originality: 3/5. The early period is overtly revolutionary - they end up predicting lots of genres, from New Wave to Electronica. The later period (after Eno's departure), unfortunately, is far more conservative.
Adequacy: 4/5. Sometimes Bryan Ferry can get overbearing, but for the most part, his impeccable vocal techniques prevent the music from sounding corny or over-pathetic.
Diversity: 3/5. Good, but it's always Roxy.
Overall: 3.4 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Well, I guess it did kinda revolutionize rock music, although the combination 'croon+loon' really starts getting on your nerves after a while...Best song: IF THERE IS SOMETHING
Track listing: 1) Re-make/Re-model; 2) Ladytron; 3) If There Is Something; 4) Virginia Plain; 5) 2 H.B.; 6) The Bob (medley); 7) Chance Meeting; 8) Would You Believe; 9) Sea Breezes; 10) Bitters End.
Wow, what a curious record. This initial period of Roxy Music's existence, when the main drive of the band was split in two between keyboard player/lead vocalist Bryan Ferry and electronics wizard Brian Eno, from what I've heard is not the most beloved among fans - but it certainly is their historically most important one. Of course, use of synthesizers and all that electronic gimmickry was already not that unusual by the early Seventies - after all, didn't the Monkees play (ahem) the first synth in 1967? The problem was - in what way and how much. Basically, before Roxy Music came on stage, synths were used either as substitutes for pianos (see ELP or Who's Next) or as just stupid and crazy studio toys (Pink Floyd's earliest brand of 'experimentation'). Brian Eno showed the world that electronic instruments could be easily transformed from auxiliary instruments into a self-sustained, powerful music machine - and he created that machine, accidentally becoming the Godfather of New Wave electronic bands in the process. All right, I know that New Wave electronic bands didn't really take their cue until eight or nine years later, and that all that crap like Ultravox stank like horseshit (that's my personal opinion, of course - if you think horseshit does not stink, you're entitled to that opinion as well), but you know how good events can have bad consequences. Not all is bad, though - for example, Eno's later collaborations with Robert Fripp, though mostly fruitless by themselves, were a necessary must for the apparition of such a terrific band as 80's King Crimson. But I digress...What Eno does on most of the record is grabbing a large percent of the band's sound (especially guitarist Phil Manzanera's) and processing it with his magical boxes so that the guitars sound like nothing else - in fact, they rarely sound like guitars at all. No need to mention that he does this in a very creative way, and the sound is really as diverse as possible, though you can still always tell a guitar when you hear it. The best, however, is not the very fact that the music is processed that way, but the combination of Eno's treatments with Bryan Ferry's songwriting. Ferry is by no means a 'revolutionary' - just your typical pop guy with a tendency to write catchy, traditional numbers with a slight soul and sometimes even doo-wop influence, and this combination of a bop-pop approach with the artsiness of Manzanera (whose guitar parts quite often remind me of Steve Hackett) and the gimmickry of Eno is what makes the record so fascinating - at least, in parts. Yeah. Roxy Music announce their arrival on the scene with a little home-brewed tempest - the furious 'Re-make/Re-model', a fast, rebellious rocker that sounds heavy without actually being heavy, and it bears all the trademarks of this record - Ferry's enthralling croon, Manzanera's angry soloing and Eno's loads of weird noises over rather pedestrian lyrics. The feeling is quite unique, and the heat is impressively sustained throughout all of the first side - 'Ladytron' is a beautiful ballad, maybe Ferry's best vocal showcase on the whole album, and on 'Virginia Plain' the successful marriage of Eno's wizardry and Ferry's pop instincts are complete - this is one of the points where pop lovers and prog lovers will be able to shake hands. The all-time best, though, is without a doubt the gorgeous, multi-part 'symphony' that's placed as the centerpiece on the first side, which is, as you might guess, the magnificent 'If There Is Something'. My main admiration is caused by the way the parts smoothly and seamlessly evolve into one another - it begins as a bouncy, sing-along-style pop ditty, then crashes into the emotional, broken-hearted pleads of the second part where Bryan promises his lady that he is going to 'grow potatoes by the score', and finally transforms into an echoey, complicated chant with prog elements linked in. All three parts are top-knotch, and the six-and-a-half minute length of the song is perfectly justified, ooh, I wish I could write a song like this... Still, there is a big problem with this record. Yeah, the songs are all catchy and easy-going, and taken individually every one of them is probably a small masterpiece - but the album as a whole doesn't go down that easily even after quite a few listens. Most of the songs set the same mood - 'electro-romantic', should I call it? And all the best material seems to have been put on the first side - a bad mistake, because this makes the second one sound excruciatingly dull in places, especially the nearly-instrumental 'The Bob (Medley)' and the never-ending, hypnotic mantra of 'Sea Breezes'. I'll admit that it was probably mighty interesting to record the tune - listen, for instance, to that crazyass section where Manzanera plays a chaotic, wild guitar solo to Ferry's slow, rhythmic keyboard pattern - kinda like a storm amidst the calm, eh? But after one listen this becomes unbearable: such things are good to witness once and forget about them afterwards. In fact, they seem to get out of the pattern only once - on the jazzy, saxophone-heavy 'Would You Believe?' that presages some of Roxy's later work (but not quite). However, it's not a very good song, so it doesn't save us from the monotonous atmosphere. If anything, they push the experimental edge a wee bit too far - unlike, of course, the later records, where they push the other edge too far. But I guess one has to grow some kind of appreciation for these things.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Dark, goofy, scary and sooooo decadent... oh man, what an atmosphere.Best song: THE BOGUS MAN
Track listing: 1) Do The Strand; 2) Beauty Queen; 3) Strictly Confidential; 4) Editions Of You; 5) In Every Dream Home A Heartache; 6) The Bogus Man; 7) Grey Lagoons; 8) For Your Pleasure.
For my pleasure indeed. But not for everybody's - I must really warn you about that. Roxy's second album is definitely an improvement over their debut in terms of atmosphere and song tightness (not to mention that the technical level of performances has certainly got better as well), but it comes at the expense of such rich, luxuriant and emotional melodies as featured on, say, 'If There Is Something'. There are few real highlights on this album: mostly, it's quite even, and hey, Ferry doesn't even sing about going to grow potatoes by the score! (He does sing about inflatable dolls, though).The reason I enjoy the album so much is that it's a genuine atmospheric masterpiece. For starters, the album just perfectly matches the cover - featuring yet another in Roxy's endless stream of models with a panther on the leash over a dark, nighttime city background (and if you flip it over, you'll see Ferry greeting her disguised as a cab driver). For me, that symbolizes something dangerous, voluptuous and aristocratic at the same time - and that's what this album is: decadent. Though that sound and mood wouldn't be truly perfected until the next album, already after Eno had quit, For Your Pleasure maybe just misses the mark by a few points, if at all. Speaking of Eno, his presence is already not as notable on this album as on the previous one: while songs like 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache' or 'Bogus Man' do owe him most of their schtick, he's far less obvious on rockers like 'Do The Strand' and 'Editions Of You' (if you don't count that famous synth solo on the latter, of course), as well as on other ballads. It's no secret that the level of tension was at the highest during the recording sessions, so Eno just had to quit finally - after all, there was no way Bryan Ferry could quit, right, when he wrote all the songs? The sound also gets thicker - it seems as if they've been busy spending their studio time on other things than just messing around with Eno's synths. Overdubs, saxes, distorted guitar solos, etc., abound, and they're all much more tight and under control than the musical chaos of songs like 'Re-make/Re-model'. This can be good or bad for you, but it certainly adds to the memorability of the songs. While some of them, like the draggy ballad 'Grey Lagoons', may not really hold up to the standard, most are swell. The album opens with the dark beat of 'Do The Strand', a song about a 'new dance' that later served as a blueprint for the inferior 'Whirlwind' - a song both danceable and weird at the time. It's supposed to be something like an avant-garde version of 'Twistin' The Night Away' and stuff like that, but it's just much, much too weird. From there, we go onto the dark, tragic beauty of 'Beauty Queen', a song of an almost princely stature - and don't you bypass Manzanera's frantic solo on that one. 'Strictly Confidential' has Ferry's best singing on the album - wow, I do love that falsetto on the opening lines... ...but then again, all of these songs are just good. They're all good, but not enough to guarantee the album's quality. It's the next triad of songs that really does it for me - maybe the most impressive successive trio you'll find on a Roxy album. First, there's the fabulous rocker 'Editions Of You' - it has much in common with 'Re-make', but ain't nowhere near as aggressive until the solo part steps in: Mackay, Manzanera and particularly Eno deliver a frantic set of solos which is still, as far as I know, the most head-whirling experience one can get from Roxy. Then, to calm you down, there are two lengthy, dreary 'wankfests', both in the prime league as well. 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache' (yeah, amazingly it is the one about the inflatable doll) has Ferry delivering some stern, almost medieval vocals over a creepy, chill-sending synth background: Eno really makes the song sound as a cross between a funeral march and an extract from a vampire flick. And nevertheless, not for a single moment does it sound banal or overblown or disbalanced or disgusting: on the contrary, the effect is quite majestic. Who could pull off something like that and not make an ass of themselves? Nobody! I don't know, though, if my choice for best song on this album will satisfy anybody. Yeah, I know that 'The Bogus Man' could be considered a stupid, monotonous, repetitive nine-minute 'jam' that doesn't even have any discernible solos, not to mention that the last five minutes hardly feature any vocals at all, if you don't count Ferry's panting. But, if you ask me, it's such a cool jam! For starters, I feel totally hypnotized by that primitive rhythm that pounds and pounds and pounds on your nerve system - a trick Roxy probably borrowed from the Velvet Underground, but perfected and adopted to their own style. The lyrics are creepy, paranoid and effective, and all these weird noises, like you know, guitars coming in and out, thousands of bleeps and beeps from Eno, all that stuff - I never feel bored even for a second. Maybe it's just me, of course. The All-Music Guide reviewer obviously hated this song, as he said something like that it perfectly reflected the state of tension between Eno and Ferry at the time. I'm still dumbfounded about what that was supposed to mean. Works for me, and worth a whole additional point. By the way, the live version on Viva! is not that bad either. It's useless to guess, though, what this band could have turned into had Eno not left - judging by this album, he was doomed from the very beginning. It's not that the music here is controversial or contradictory: on both albums, Eno's sounds fitted perfectly into the whole pattern. It's just that I don't feel his influence on Pleasure as much as on their debut album, because he did not suit Ferry at all with his avant-garde pretentions. Or, wait, maybe that's what it is? Maybe this whole dark, creepy, ghoulish atmosphere here is delivered courtesy of Eno? In which case his departure certainly did make a huge difference - Roxy's further career was all pessimistic and tragic romantic, but never 'gothic'. If you like 'goth', you'll want this album, and you'll love this album. I, for one, hate 'goth', but I still dig this record. That should probably tell you something.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
Roxy's masterpiece, and Ferry's best attempt at that luxuriant, decadent sound...Best song: AMAZONA
Track listing: 1) Street Life; 2) Just Like You; 3) Amazona; 4) Psalm; 5) Serenade; 6) A Song For Europe; 7) Mother Of Pearl; 8) Sunset.
Yeah, 'Amazona' strikes me more than most of the other stuff here, but what the hell - there ain't a weak tune nowhere, no matter how hard you try to find it (well, I personally find 'Sunset' a slightly feeble choice for the album closer, but that's just an insignificant quibble). After For Your Pleasure, Brian Eno finally quit the band, never to return again, and spent the last days of his life (which seems to drag up to the present days, actually) in goofy collaborations with Robert Fripp and David Bowie, some of which were atrocious and some of which were phantasmagoric, but anyway, this is where we say goodbye to Eno. Bye, Brian!Without Eno, Roxy's sound does change - but not as crucially as one could have expected. Come to think of it, why should one expect a crucial change of sound? Even at the beginning of Roxy's career, the heart of their sound still coincided with the heart of Bryan Ferry: Eno was just a coaster, who always made sure Roxy would sound weird, exotic and electronically groundbreaking, but the songs were still reflecting the spirit of Ferry. And on Stranded, Ferry has finally nothing and no-one to restrain him, so he models the sound after his own wishes. But wait, don't you go and think that this is the start of Roxy turning into a half-interesting pop machine - no, no and no; there was nothing like Stranded before its time. What Ferry does here is take that moody, generic soft cabaret jazz/pop sound that's so typical of Fourties/Fifties French pubs and German beerhouses, marries it to rocking arrangements, adds melancholy, soft lyrics, some mild psychedelia, throws in a couple of searing solos from Manzanera, and comes out with an absolute winner. The songs are diverse enough to hold your attention throughout; disco music doesn't yet have its hold on the band members; and Ferry's singing is at an all-time high - really, I haven't heard all of Roxy's albums yet, but I don't remember any song collection on which Bryan sounded more diverse, emotional, sincere, or just fun. The falsetto on 'Just Like You' and the crooning on 'A Song For Europe' are simply miraculous, adorable: if you haven't heard them, go and buy this now, just for the vocals. I mean it. This is also Roxy's most 'decadent' album in the direct sense of this word - just look at the album cover, their most sensuous up to date, although the one of For Your Pleasure really came close; however, I mighty dislike the almost child pornography on Country Life. However, unlike contemporary David Bowie who seemed to revel in that decadence and describe it as, er, an active participant, if you know what I mean (tongue-in-cheek, of course), Bryan seems to act more like an outsider and a romantic, with all this luxuriant, surrealistic imagery of 'Amazona' and the bitter pessimism of 'A Song Of Europe'. Add to this Roxy's being far superior to contemporary Bowie in creating original, mindblowing song arrangements, and you'll see why this one is able to trample, say, Aladdin Sane into the dirt. Not to say that this album is slow, moody, and boring. It has its share of ripping fast rockers, like the catchy opener 'Street Life', and the aggressive introduction to 'Mother Of Pearl'. But, of course, its strength lies in the bizarre rather than in the adrenaliney. Thus, 'Amazona', which happens to be my biggest moment of fun on the album, is Bryan's tribute to Eldorado, with its weird world beat and the wonderful rhyme 'Amazona/Is a zone where', ingeniously diluted by what seems to be Manzanera's peak moment on the album: a bunch of ominous guitar noises, followed by a thrilling high solo. And that's not to mention that the song, though it's only a four minute long one, is actually multipart, running from the bizarre to the sentimental to the energetic. Classic, and a stunning one at that. This is but one of the highlights, though. 'A Song For Europe' is the other one: a moody, dark and dreary chant of loss and nostalgia (in that 'oh cruel world' sense, I mean), where Ferry's French cabaret roots show out most obviously; I mean, this seems to recall Joe Dassin and Yves Montand, doesn't it? Only it's better than most of the stuff these whacky dudes ever pulled off. I'm not terribly pleased with Bryan singing his 'moments lost in wonder never to come back' lines in Latin, and his French pronunciation leaves a lot to be desired, but at least he's trying, and he almost succeeds to get it right. If you're not offended for phonetical reasons, or try to forget the offense, this songs stands as one of the greatest odes to melancholy in rock music (Mike Pinder's 'Melancholy Man' comes close, in my opinion, although, strange enough, that one is usually hated by all Moody Blues fans). And even without these two, beautiful moments abound. The eight-minute 'Psalm' is not a second too long in its grandiose beauty, 'Just Like You' simply defines the word 'luxuriant' with its incredible falsetto and resplendent guitar solo, 'Mother Of Pearl' will get you singing the 'I wouldn't trade you for another girl' refrain for weeks, and, like I said, only the closing 'Sunset' is rather weak - an Elton John-ish piano ballad with a diluted, inessential melody. Nevertheless, it's still a decent, moody album closer - it just wouldn't have worked on an individual level. Yeah, I mean, this is art - you know, that kind of it which is considered upper-class, elitist, etc. Indeed, I feel somewhat small listening to this album - I'd bet you anything it's most enjoyable when you're sailing your own yacht, with some beautiful model and a bottle of Napoleon... As it is, you'll just have your imagination produce the rest. That Bryan Ferry sure could create.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
A little more 'conventional', but also more diverse - like, you know, heavy metal meets country...Best song: THE THRILL OF IT ALL
Track listing: 1) The Thrill Of It All; 2) Three And Nine; 3) All I Want Is You; 4) Out Of The Blue; 5) If It Takes All Night; 6) Bitter-Sweet; 7) Triptych; 8) Casanova; 9) A Really Good Time; 10) Prairie Rose.
Another year, another change of direction. While the album cover mostly follows older trends, this time bringing Roxy to a threatening border between art and tasteless proto-pornography, the music has certainly changed - in general, not for the better, I'm afraid. In fact, I was hugely disappointed by this album when I first heard it, and only repeated listenings helped upgrade the previously planned rating of 6 (yup, you heard right) to the current state. The main problem is that their sound on For Your Pleasure and Stranded was perfect in the first place - but here, they take an almost defiantly over-simplistic, stripped-down approach to things. No, I don't want to say that it's all acoustic or, you know, the kind of bare rock'n'roll that the Stones are famous for - for Roxy, 'stripped-down' usually means de-emphasis from lush strings and bizarre synths. On this album, the sound's pretty straightforward: Manzanera's guitar rises to the front of the stage, and the synths and electronic gadgets are mostly gone, being replaced by Ferry's moody piano work. In fact, apart from a couple of their trademark 'goth' songs like 'Bitter Sweet' and Ferry's traditional croon, this album misses most of the things that made early Roxy Music so palatable (for me, at least).So why an 8? Well, because the songs are that good! Most of them are still damn catchy, and, what's even more important, this album's not lifeless - like most of their late stuff would be. Some of these numbers, in fact, grip you and drag you like nothing on the earlier albums could. The record opens with a blast - the energetic, guitar-heavy rocker 'The Thrill Of It All', one of Ferry's absolute vocal masterpieces. Nobody could picture your average heart torment and brain damage as fine as ol' Ferry could: from beginning to start it's a breathtaking musical voyage, with Bryan alternating thunderstormy broken-hearted deliveries with moments of 'melancholic relaxation' in the enthralling middle-eight. Where was this kind of passionate, tear-inducing, elevating singing when we got that Avalon stuff? Forget it. And 'Out Of The Blue' comes real close: some prefer this as the best song on record, but I wouldn't say so just because it doesn't have the same hundred-pound emotional resonance as 'Thrill Of It All' does. Still, it does feature the most interesting gimmick on the whole record: a wonderful backwards violin solo by Eddie Jobson, which thus reverts us to the wonderful world of Roxy's sonic experimentation. In general, though, the album gives the impression of one good mess - the band tries out different approaches and styles in an understandable, but not thoroughly successful attempt to update and 'progressivize' their sound. It's no wonder that the best numbers here are the ones that are closer to the earlier albums, like the previously mentioned rockers, or the scary, gloomy 'Bitter Sweet', where Ferry switches from his Stranded French stylizations back to that traditional German stuff - he even sings a few lines in German. The atmosphere is a bit reminiscent of 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache', only Eno's avant-garde synth grunting is replaced by tinkling gothic piano and ominous strings. A song that would fit perfectly on something like Lou Reed's Berlin or Transformer, in fact, considering Lou's German influences. I warn you, though, that you must at least be tolerable to that German style if you'd like to enjoy the song. Elsewhere, the styles and directions they cover range from interesting to embarrassing. The most obvious example of the latter is 'If It Takes All Night', a not-so-bad but completely out of place direct take on a country-rockabilly stomp. I don't know if it was included on record in order to justify its title or what, and, after all, it sounds okay taken by itself, but placing it in between the surrealistic 'Out Of The Blue' and the gothic 'Bitter Sweet' was one weird and unattractive move. There are also brave stabs at Beatlesque pop, like on 'A Really Good Time', or on Beach Boys-esque harmonizing ('Triptych'), and songs like 'Three And Nine', with their quiet atmosphere, hardly noticeable, but strong hooks and weird singing, can't help but remind me of some of George Harrison's solo output. There are also more rockers ('All I Want Is You', 'Casanova'), but they're all just pale shadows of 'Thrill Of It All' so I don't pay much attention there. And, finally, the record ends in a cheerful, tongue-in-cheek optimistic chant ('Prairie Rose'), a pattern followed with 'Just Another High' on their next album: obviously, they had noticed the relative feebleness of their previous album closers and decided to exit with a blast just like they started. One fail of a 'blast', though, that cheesy ending 'hey, hey - PRAIRIE ROSE! hey, hey - PRAIRIE ROSE!' really gets on my nerves as something much too stupid for a band as clever as Roxy Music. Minor quibble, though. The major quibble, like I said, is that Roxy would never be quite the same again as they were on their first three albums. This one's just solid, enjoyable pop, not unlike anything that other bands were doing around at the time. If it weren't for Ferry to pull the guys out with clever hooks, passionate singing and good lyrics, they would have faded away right there.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Solid disco-pop? But you know, there's just something about Bryan Ferry's voice that's the point of salvation...Best song: LOVE IS THE DRUG
Track listing: 1) Love Is The Drug; 2) End Of The Line; 3) Sentimental Fool; 4) Whirlwind; 5) She Sells; 6) Could It Happen To Me; 7) Both Ends Burning; 8) Nightingale; 9) Just Another High.
On the fifth (and last for a long while) Roxy Music album, Bryan gets sentimental. Not that he hasn't been sentimental before, but you know, here he goes a little over the top. In fact, I could almost view the whole album as a concept one, all based on the 'dialogue' happening between Ferry and 'the Siren' - whoever that is, of course. It could be Jerry Hall, for instance, who would soon leave Bryan for Mick Jagger (and who's now leaving Mick Jagger for some even more buck-loaded Microsoft scum), but it could be someone else, and in any case, the matter stands: you could view 'Love Is The Drug' as the start for romance, the seven songs that follow it as the break-up and the life crisis, and then you get 'Just Another High' where Bryan just says 'aw, fuck it'. And do you actually remember who a 'Siren' is? If not, refresh your Greek mythology, you'll get a pleasant surprise!As primitive and unoriginal as the 'concept' could be, it's still a concept, and at least not a silly one. And it has one more useful function, too: it makes most of the songs on the album worthwhile. See, by 1975 Bryan was getting more and more into 'contemporary rhythms', and this album embraces disco and synth-dance music with all its might. If anything, this is Roxy's dance album, but an intelligent one at that. There are almost no lengthy instrumental passages (sheez, there are almost no instrumental passages at all, if you don't count a couple guitar or synth solos that last for fifteen or twenty seconds), and the accent is placed almost exclusively on Ferry. I wouldn't even say that the melodies on here are strong: for the most part, they're decent, but the musical background is undistinguishable, just generic wah-wah guitars with disco licks against bland synth backgrounds. If you're looking for riffs, just go away. Instead, you have to learn to appreciate Ferry's singing talents and his ability to pull out a song simply by administering his charming croon or not less charming falsetto. Where it works, it works; where it doesn't, well, it doesn't. A couple of tracks on the second side don't thrill me at all, frankly speaking: 'Could It Happen To Me', for instance, is just an ordinary pop ditty quickly tossed off as a relative throwaway. I'm also not a big fan of 'She Sells' and 'Nightingale', and again, for the same reasons: the singing on these tunes is not impressive, and I repeat that it's the singing that determines the effect here. Take the opening (and the best known) song from here - the disco thump of 'Love Is The Drug' and imagine somebody else singing it, I dunno, Rod Stewart for instance (in his late stage). Would it have the same effect on the listener as it has when presented by Ferry's emotional, complaintive, almost whining voice? You can almost imagine poor addicted Bryan desperately running all around town in search of a 'needle' ('love is the drug got a hook on me')! His sharp, 'discontinuous' manner of singing relates excellently to the pulsating disco beat of the song, and the impression is near-grandiose: here's disco in the hands of a master. And how can one forget the delicate, romantic and at the same time threatening falsetto on 'Sentimental Fool'? And the desperate cry of 'MAY DAAAAAAY' on 'Whirlwind'? And the almost Beatlesque harmonies on 'End Of The Line' (some parts sound like they belong to 'And Your Bird Can Sing')! And, of course, the heart-wrenching, intense statement of pain on 'Both Ends Burning'? 'Both Ends Burning', by the way, is one strange song - Ferry seems to be singing against the melody, and it works. It starts out fast and thunderous, with those string-replacing synth lines in the background, very much a la George Harrison's 'Art Of Dying', and you'd think Bryan's gonna sing it in an operatic style. Yet he sings it in an operatic style only in the chorus, and the effect, for me at least, is a little strange, I still can't definitely assimilate the song. Not to mention, of course, that the 'drive' of the tune has been since copied by thousands of less talented performers who only managed to vulgarize it. Even so, well, keep on burning... Speaking of 'strange', by the way, 'Sentimental Fool' is probably the 'weird' number on this record. Generally, you won't find any experimentation or production gimmicks on the album (if you don't count the steps and the car engine noises at the beginning of 'Love Is The Drug'); however, 'Fool' begins with a lengthy, moody intro based on a bunch of feedback noises and sounding almost psychedelic. While the song belongs to Ferry, co-written with sax player Andy Mackay, I would not be surprised to discover it on any of their Eno-treated records, so if Eno's your hero, take 'Sentimental Fool' and consider it a tribute to the great experimentation epoch. So essentially, the album is all built upon Ferry - he's the author, he's the protagonist, he's the ideas person, and he's the emotional, diverse, and highly entertaining singer who makes it all worthwhile and brings it to an unexpected, but brilliantly conceived logical end on 'Just Another High': we had our ups, we had our downs, but in all, 'playing at love was just another high'. The song's not one of his best, but conceptually it's perfect, and the lengthy coda is justified as well. Indeed, Bryan Ferry was a smart dude, and he also would not refuse the listener to take a closer look at his personality. Way to go, Bryan! Thanks for adding spirit to a collection of songs that would otherwise be all the equivalent of Donna Summer.
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Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
A decent live album that doesn't nevertheless speak in favour of Roxy as a great live band.Best song: THE BOGUS MAN
Track listing: 1) Out Of The Blue; 2) Pyjamarama; 3) The Bogus Man; 4) Chance Meeting; 5) Both Ends Burning; 6) If There Is Something; 7) In Every Dream Home A Heartache; 8) Do The Strand.
Since I got this album before acquiring most of Roxy's 1973-74 output, there are some tunes here that I first heard only in this live version, and this review is suffering respectively, because I couldn't do justice to these live renditions as compared to the original versions (and am too lazy to significantly re-write it anyway). One thing, though, is evident: Roxy Music might have been famous for their stage show and everything, but, just as more or less all art rock bands at the time, the accompanying music wasn't all that entertaining. Oh no, it's okay, they don't embarrass themselves or anything - but show me an art rock band who can make their music come particularly alive onstage, not in the studio. The accent is always on the contrary - to reproduce the music as faithfully as possible. This is a merit in itself, of course: if your music is as fully loaded with special effects, gimmicks and all that crap (in the loving sense) as the music of Roxy, reproducing it by the book on stage becomes indeed a titanic task, and they pull it off excellently. However, the excitement and everything do not translate that well onto the album, not to mention that the production isn't really as good as it could be. Then again, it probably couldn't in the mid-Seventies, now could it? Reviewer, stop complaining! The good news: there's yet another cute chick on the album cover.It's interesting to note that quite a large chunk of the album is devoted to Eno-era songs, and the obvious question, of course, would be: could they? Can they? Dare they? Well, thanks to the musical virtuosity of Eno's replacement Eddie Jobson (who later made a passing stunt on Jethro Tull's A, marred his reputation and ended up writing the soundtrack to Nash Bridges), they can. 'If There Is Something' whirls and twirls just as passionately, well, almost as passionately as on the original. Unexpectedly, they chose to lengthen it by inserting an almost 'Dazed And Confused'-like mid-section (yup, it's the bowed guitar section I'm referring to) and made it suck. And what's with Bryan's voice? Why does he forget to croon and tremble on that pleading part? Should he have taken some Menthol beforehand? Nope, I'm going back to the original version in any case, thanks. There's also a faithful rendition of 'Chance Meeting' and more stuff from their second album, like an uninspiring 'Do The Strand' and the lengthy, brain-muddling 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache' on which I personally can't hear the dude sing at all. The song's great, of course, but damn that mix! But my personal bet for this album is 'The Bogus Man' - it may have sounded superior or, well, simply different on the original recording, but the version here rules just as well, plain and simple, that nasty, chuggin' beat is alone worthy of making the experience memorable. Oh yeah, this is the one tune that would really be pretty hard to reproduce live on stage because of all the gazillions of overdubs, but Manzanera makes it work by piling staccato upon staccato and veering off in every possible direction, managing to actually entertain the audience instead of lulling it to sleep. So even more strange is the fact that there's just about two or three songs from the more 'recent' era - and they do not seem like the best of the whole deal (I'm not too certain of the exact year in which the single 'Pyjamarama' was released, but whenever it was, this live version is really boooring). 'Out Of The Blue' preserves the breathtaking violin solo, but adds nothing to the studio original. That said, they do a stunning version of 'Both Ends Burning' that shows the song in all its power and glory - Bryan manages to collect his voice (which he then spills again on 'If There Is Something') and gives it his all. I'm a bit annoyed by the generic female backup vocals that accompany the chorus (said to be provided by 'The Sirens', whoever they might be), but at least Bryan himself is not buried under them, so after a while you might just try to concentrate on his singing exclusively and forget all about those excessive 'soulful' gimmicks. Now just don't blame me - I feel this is one live album that simply doesn't deserve its existence. Yes, the musicianship is excellent throughout - Manzanera solos like a demon, Jobson preserves the legacy of Brian Eno as best as he can, Mackay's sax is as strong as ever, and Paul Thompson drums his heart out, but don't they do that on the studio records as well? Besides, like I said, Bryan's singing is not ideal here, and, moreover, the whole album gives a strange feeling of almost being rushed out. The numbers end as quickly as possible and often run into each other with no breaks, as if the band was more concerned with getting rid of the audience than with turning in a great performance. And even the audience's furious chanting 'Roxy, Roxy' before the encore doesn't particularly raise the spirits. The high points are high, but none are higher than the studio counterparts, and I really do not care that much to learn whether Eddie Jobson is or isn't able to ape Eno's electronic technologies onstage. Hardcore fans of Roxy Music can't really go wrong with this, but everybody else please stay away if you're more fortunate than me and have access to all the regular studio releases. I mean, heck, it wouldn't even work as a compilation - it is representative of the band's early period (sic), but 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache' and 'The Bogus Man' need to be heard and enjoyed in their original versions first. Yeah, yeah, I know, I got this album before For Your Pleasure. So I did. So friggin' what? It was just my bad luck.
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Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7
Roxy returns as a nearly faceless disco band, a pale shadow of its former self. At least, they don't embarrass themselves seriously...Best song: AIN'T THAT SO
Track listing: 1) Manifesto; 2) Trash; 3) Angel Eyes; 4) Still Falls The Rain; 5) Stronger Through The Years; 6) Ain't That So; 7) My Little Girl; 8) Dance Away; 9) Cry Cry Cry; 10) Spin Me Round.
Roxy returns. They had better not.I expected to like this album - at least, on second or third listen. I was mistaken. No, these songs aren't particularly bad, disgusting, offensive or schlocky. The band was much too skilled, professional and experienced to produce an overtly bad record. But this is not Roxy Music - not the band as I grew to like 'em over their glory years. This is a completely different type of music: your standard, 'polite' kind of tolerable dance music with nothing to make it stand out from an innumerable list of contemporary pop fashioners. Alas. In a certain way, this album is the logical inheritor to Siren, with its general, simple love thematics, even if lyricswise it is more diverse than Siren, with all kinds of political statements (title track) and ironic social comments ('Trash'). Just like Siren, it is based on disco - but where the band was just flirting with the genre on that album, applying it to their needs and assimilating the genre's main elements to their luxuriant, decadent style, on Manifesto they simply take off their pants and jump into the boiling cauldron, if you pardon my metaphor. There are ten songs on the album, and out of the ten, all ten are disco - should that say something to you? Now you know that I don't really despise disco one hundred percent: there have been numerous decent usages of the genre, and, after all, 'Love Is The Drug' and 'Both Ends Burning' were both superb numbers. But this is different, because - and I mean it - the band has completely and utterly lost its schtick. These songs are straightforward, simple, rollickin' pop ditties, with just one word to describe them: 'generic'. First of all, what the hell happened to Bryan Ferry? His singing on this album just goes down the drain - where's that croon, where's that falsetto? Where, indeed, is the great emotional power that distinguished his voice so well? Who can explain to me how on Earth could that man completely lose everything that made his vocal power so outstanding in just three or four years? Okay, so one should also blame it on the modernistic production values: the songs sound completely 'late-Seventies', with electronic drums, hi-tech, programmed synths, disco horn arrangements, and restricted, dull guitars (even Manzanera sounds at an all-time low). But no modernistic production can conceal the fact that Ferry doesn't sound much different from the wretched Bee Gees guys at that moment. He clearly isn't trying - maybe his idea was that those baroque, sentimental tones of the past should be discarded in favour of the disco present? Whatever it was, it was wrong. And the card house falls apart! Remember how I said about Siren that it was only made strong by Ferry's unique singing? Well, Manifesto is Siren minus Ferry's unique singing plus generic modernistic production values. Oh, and minus good lyrics, too: trying to sit through the lyrics sheet here almost makes me sick. 'Are you ready for bad blood?' 'I am for the man who drives the hammer to rock you 'til the grave?' Jesus Mary, don't let me start with that... Truly, there's not a single 'good' song on the album - it never goes beyond 'decent'. As it is, it's even hard to pick a favourite. For the moment, the song I endure the easiest seems to be 'Ain't That So', just because I enjoy the intoxicating wah-wah riff that drives it forward. However, give me a week to think of any other reasons, because I simply can't say anything else about it. The chorus is catchy, I guess, but then, there are a few more choruses on this album that are also catchy, so this shouldn't be a good point. Whatever. One thing's for sure: the endless noodling of 'Stronger Through The Years', an endless disco jam with pointless saxophones all over the place, simply gets on my nerves and deprives the album of all the extra bonus points gained by 'Ain't That So'. YYYYYuck! Sometimes you just don't notice when one song turns into another - yes, there are breaks, but they're all oh so mid-tempo and they're all oh so melodyless, oh so completely melodyless. It's like a textbook on disco written by a dry, stereotype-drenched pedant. If you're interested, I'll mention that the opening 'shaking' rhythm of the title track is exactly the same generic disco riff you'll also get on 'Another Brick In The Wall Part I', 'Run Like Hell', and probably about a billion other disco albums. What for? And really, I don't care naught about what Bryan Ferry thinks on the future of mankind, if he can't set his thoughts to anything with a trace of creativity. And the 'hit single' off the album, the wretched 'Angel Eyes', gotta be one of Roxy's worst ballads ever: if you happen to enjoy it, why not purchase the entire Eighties' Rod Stewart catalogue? The worst thing about it is that it was confused with the real 'Angeleyes', also a disco ballad, but far more interesting musically, and prevented it from rising high in the charts. Yeah, you're right, it's the ABBA song I'm talking about, and I'm serious, folks: ABBA's Voulez-Vous, their famous 'disco perversion' that came out the same year, is a far more interesting album: not to mention that it wasn't all disco, but even the disco stuff there was truly memorable and often inspired. Don't laugh at me, instead listen to both albums back to back and you'll see... ...but I digress. Okay, a couple more songs could probably pass the 'preliminary test' here: 'Still Falls The Rain' sounds like a weak, but passable Moody Blues song, with Ferry trying to imitate Justin Hayward for no obvious reason; 'Cry Cry Cry' is at least jolly, a short moment of tolerable fun among a sea of excruciating pseudo-romantic, pseudo-pessimistic Roxy parody, and the album closer, 'Spin Me Round', is probably the only song that comes close to something really heartfelt on the album, the most emotional saved for the end - definitely not a climactic one, but at least a pleasant one. And that's it. Highlights on the 'other end' include 'My Little Girl', a song that indeed sounds like the blueprint for about fifty percent of Rod Stewart's Eighties' albums, the above-mentioned 'Stronger Through The Years', and 'Dance Away', a blueprint for I don't know who. Modern Talking, perhaps. Bryan, Bryan, how could you fall so low as to become a ridiculous parody on your former self? Stay away from this album for as long as you may, it has nothing to do with the true Roxy Music sound. There's no doubt that history will rule Manifesto out of the band's catalog as a tragic mistake.
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Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
More disco, but with a little bit more face; a good foundation for 'Avalon', but little more...Best song: RUNNING WILD
Track listing: 1) In The Midnight Hour; 2) Oh Yeah; 3) Same Old Scene; 4) Flesh And Blood; 5) My Only Love; 6) Over You; 7) Eight Miles High; 8) Rain Rain Rain; 9) No Strange Delight; 10) Running Wild.
More of the same, but this time, a tiny bit better. Second time around, it's obvious that we are not going to get any more of the Roxy Music of old; but, while on Manifesto Ferry just embarrassed himself with new production values that were little-known and strange to him, on his next album he finally seems to put these beats and these synths under control. More important, this is a much more personal record, unlike Manifesto, which was just a messed up slurp of pointless political declarations and half-baked sleazy love ballads. In this sense, it is much, much more close to an album like Stranded: again, Bryan waxes nostalgic and sheds tears over past loves, and he croons - I did not believe it at first, but there it is! Out of the three post-1975 studio albums, this one has Bryan's best vocal deliveries of all! An unsurpassed feat!A pity, though, that he didn't care much to set his charming voice to a decent set of melodies this time. A real pity. A couple of tracks are even covers, like the album opener 'In The Midnight Hour' and 'Eight Miles High' - yes, would you believe it, they cover 'Eight Miles High'. Needless to say, this is simply ridiculous. As far as I can tell, it's related to the fact that Ferry's first solo albums, universally despised by everyone but not me because I don't understand what the general fuss is about, consisted entirely of covers - maybe this was an old rusty outtake? In any case, it has all the psychedelia and all the surrealism sucked out of it in this listless cover, and is one of the biggest lapses of intelligence by the band. This is not the only creative misfire, though. On some more songs, Bryan adopts a horrendously mainstream, over-Eurodance style that reminds me of Modern Talking rather than Roxy. Namely, I just hate 'Same Old Scene', a song that tries to use a gentle, other-worldly falsetto and typical Ferry lyrics to mask a total lack of anything more than a grossly banal, generic melody that wouldn't be too superior for Thomas Anders or, well, just any gang of Eighties synth-pop thugs. And there are other songs on here, too, that certainly deserve a big fat fie-foe-fum. 'No Strange Delight', for instance, is simply the same kind of sludge that overfills Manifesto: boring, goes nowhere and is as far away from good Roxy as could be. And 'Over You' is just a mild Cars rip-off, albeit not a poor one - a song that takes some time to be appreciated, particularly if you haven't heard that much of the Cars, but it gets to be appreciated in the end; problem is, the good old Roxy of old used to knock you off yer feet from the very beginning, not waiting until your logical reasoning leads you to respect the number's 'clever construction'. On the other hand, this album at least has one masterpiece, arguably one of the only two or three post-1975 Roxy masterpieces - and there were no masterpieces on Manifesto at all (somehow, I guess Bryan was more preoccupied with studying Donna Summer records than writing quality material back then). What I'm speaking of is 'Running Wild', a gorgeous, dreamy ballad with an anthemic scent around it. Some might view it as simply a slower precursor to some of the more acknowledged 'chef-d-oeuvres' on Avalon, like 'More Than This', but I regard it as a great piece of art all by itself. Simple, slightly sad, nostalgic lyrics, tasty, moody guitars (Manzanera would refine that sound even better on the next album, but it works anyway), and the beautiful chorus - 'running wi-i-ld...' And topped off with an impressive sax solo, Mackay's only really serious contribution to the record. A song that easily adds a whole point to an otherwise pretty mediocre record. Unfortunately, it only comes as an afterthought - as an appendix, after you had to sit through the other nine. Not that they're all bad like the ones I depicted above. 'In The Midnight Hour' rocks along pretty well. 'Oh Yeah' is actually the second best track on the album, and, funny enough, it's also nostalgic. Do you think Bryan just had to get into the right mood to deliver something magical? Every time he turns back to remembering the past, with 'a band playing on the radio, they're playing Oh Yeah on the radio', it's just so, so right; whenever he turns to 'simple joys', it's mostly rotten. The title track is a little catchy, if somewhat ruined by strange, 'feminist' lyrics. Funny how he puts three female javelin-throwers on the album cover and yet makes the album's slogan 'love me for my mind'. Does mind have something to do with launching a javelin? (And, for that matter, I don't think the endless girls on past Roxy Music album covers attracted us with their 'mind'. Really!) And 'Rain Rain Rain' is just a bit weird. And that's it. Resulting in a relative duffer after all. What the hell? A second duffer in a row? Okay, so it would certainly have to be considered a masterpiece were it released by a band of lesser status, but for Roxy, it's like Emotional Rescue for the Stones. (Which actually came out in the same year - what a funny coincidence! Bad year for old rockers? Throw in McCartney II, please!). Fortunately, two years later the world realized that it was not the end - just a transitional album, a transgression from the crap that was Manifesto to the style that was Avalon. As such, it has both some of the former ('Same Old Scene') and of the latter ('Running Wild'). In any case, you should only try to get this in case you're a big fan of Avalon.
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Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Roxy's synthy-sweety goodbye - a bit lollipoppy, perhaps, but at least that's one candid and heavenly lollypop...Best song: TAKE A CHANCE WITH ME
Track listing: 1) More Than This; 2) The Space Between; 3) Avalon; 4) India; 5) While My Heart Is Still Beating; 6) The Main Thing; 7) Take A Chance With Me; 8) To Turn You On; 9) True To Life; 10) Tara.
By 1982 the world needed no more stinking Roxy Music around (after all, it already had Ultravox). More important is that Roxy Music was no longer a major creative force - since Manifesto, Ferry and Co. have done little else than blindly follow current trends and fashions, completely swapping their old trademark sound for the new instruments, new production values and new musical styles that certainly weren't pioneered by them. It was a logical move, then, that Avalon turned out to be the band's swan song - and, thank God, a good one at that.Now don't you think that it's that good - as a swan song, it's definitely no Abbey Road. In fact, I'll frankly admit that I hated this album on first listen, maybe even more than Manifesto, and even now I still sometimes have mixed and insecure feelings towards it: actually, some of the stuff still makes me quirk and frown. Unlike Manifesto, though, this one is able to really grow on you with time. One thing you should never do is to try and track down the melodies - this'll ruin the whole fun. It's, like, synth-pop, you understand. It's no riff-oriented guitar rock. Instead, just take this in your tape recorder, drive out of town on a cool and pleasant weekend, find some lonely and romantic place high up in the mountains (not unlike the one on the album cover), sit back, relax and play this out loud. If there ever was one perfect mood album for such a trip, this'd be Avalon. Of course, it's completely "lifeless" (not in a derogatory sense - remember, I have yet to find a synth-pop album that wouldn't sound lifeless). Most of the songs are once again built on disco and contemporary dance rhythms, with the production stripped down almost ridiculously. Basically, a typical Avalon song has the following ingredients: a steady, typical-Eighties electronic drum pattern; a moody, cloudy synth background; a subtle, but tasteful guitar line from Manzanera (sometimes, but more often than not); and a sweet falsetto (var.: toneless overdubbed tenor) from Ferry. In short, what this reminds me most of is... right, you guessed it... contemporary Moody Blues. Some of the songs here, in fact, sound exactly like that 'Your Wildest Dreams' stuff. When I turned this on for the first time and the opening blasts of 'More Than This' reached my ears, together with that delightful falsetto, I thought, wow, now here's a song worthy of Justin Hayward. Only it's a little better, because, after all, Bryan Ferry has a little more taste than Justin Hayward. A little. A little more. A little more taste. I love Justin Hayward, too, though. But have you heard that wretched Blue Jays album? That's one darn big lump of saccharine! Okay, back to Roxy. Like I said, the melodies on here sometimes leave something to be desired, and indeed it seems that much too often these guys walk the thin line that separates class from crass, or, more exactly speaking, romantic art rock from conventional pop schlock. However, my ears detect the crossing of this line on maybe just about a couple of tracks, of which 'The Main Thing', a stupid simplistic stomper, is the most offensive. But then again, this is highly subjective, and then again, on second thought, even 'The Main Thing' is not as simplistic as may seem. It has this great funky bassline, it has this distinctive and ominous synth pattern, it has this catchy refrain. I'll refrain from bashing it then, tee hee. All I can say is that a couple more tracks just do naught for me - 'True To Life' just drags as far as I'm concerned, and 'The Space Between' does likewise. My main bet is on four of the ten songs here, all of which are gorgeous in the primary sense of the word, and finally decide my attitude towards the album. Like I said, 'More Than This' is a stupendous Moody Blues-ish opener with the best vocals on the whole record (note, though, that I'm in no way agreeing with those that say Ferry's singing here superates everything he'd done earlier - on the contrary, his vocals generally sound much more conventional, and therefore less interesting). Then, of course, there's the title track - more plain beauty, although the moment of catharsis doesn't really appear until Ferry, backed with some unidentified female singer, chants the word 'Avalon'. You have to be there to feel its greatness, that's all I can say. Then there are the magnificent pleading intonations on 'To Turn You On', Ferry's prayer to some new lover, perhaps? And, of course, the gem of the gems, 'Take A Chance With Me' (stop that ripping-off of ABBA titles, wouldja?), whose main attraction this time is the bittersweet guitar line of Manzanera ringing throughout the song (the introduction is kinda much too lengthy, though). In other words, Avalon is, like, you know, the perfect-est they could get in the New Age. It's like a projection of inevitably superior Stranded-era Roxy on a ten years later epoch - inevitably inferior, of course. The mood is different, the singing is different, everything is different, but they're still able to conquer you with the same things they conquered you with in the age of Gary Glitter: luxuriant sound landscape and beautiful, even if no longer weird, voice. Two or three real classics here, perhaps, not more, but on album level, this works amazingly well. Even the short 'ambient' instrumentals like 'India' and 'Tara' contribute something to the general feeling. Not an ideal end, mayhaps, but definitely a suitable and fitting one for a truly exceptional band. It may, in fact, be the most consistent synth-pop album ever recorded, although its heavy reliance on guitars may prevent some from admitting its synth-pop nature. Don't; there's nothing wrong with synth-pop as long as it's creative and inspired, and even with all of my gripes, I can't accuse the band of lack of inspiration for Avalon. And if you thought this review was somewhat denigrating, it's just that I can't help but judge Avalon through an 'early Roxy Music' perspective. On its own, the album certainly deserves the highest rating on a different scale. Ending this review on a respectable note, I'd say that for a pure magical effort on the listener's ears, Avalon is your best bet.
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APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
I actually planned and carried out a separate Brian Eno page - as much as his presence defined the early Roxy Music sound, he was clearly an independent artist in his own rights, and he later went on forward to become much more than just an 'ex-Roxy Music' member, just like Peter Gabriel far transgressed the span of his work with Genesis. However, I do not plan on a special Bryan Ferry page: clearly, for the last nine years of Roxy's existence, Ferry was the soul and essence of Roxy Music, and his solo work should be judged in that perspective. My Ferry collection is already pretty solid, although I must warn you that solo Ferry in his Roxy days and solo Ferry in the post-Roxy days are seriously different entities and there's no guarantee that you'll manage to enjoy both of them (heck, there's very small guarantee you're going to enjoy any of them - out of all the Web reviewers, I seem to have the most peaceful intentions towards Mr Nice Guy).As for the other members, some of them had their respectable solo projects as well (most notably Mr Manzanera, whose first and presumably best solo project I have also reviewed below), but I'm not really interested in digging deep unless someone votes his ardent support for any of their albums and convinces me they're worth hunting down (I haven't even seen most of that stuff). I also have the famous 801 album - a curious artefact that's almost like an 'alternative', Ferry-less version of Roxy Music.
Year Of Release: 1973
Overall rating = 10
I don't know why half the world loves this album and the other half hates it. Interesting, but not revolutionary, reworkings of 'classics'.Best song: A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL
Track listing: 1) A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall; 2) River Of Salt; 3) Don't Ever Change; 4) Piece Of My Heart; 5) Baby I Don't Care; 6) It's My Party; 7) Don't Worry Baby; 8) Sympathy For The Devil; 9) The Tracks Of My Tears; 10) You Won't See Me; 11) I Love How You Love; 12) Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever; 13) These Foolish Things.
Seems like I'm experiencing problems with my taste again. The serious professional critics like this record, saying that Ferry breathes new life into these thirteen 'radical reinventions' of 50's and 60's classics, making the casual listener analyze them from a different point of view. The not any less serious non-professional critics of the New Web Generation mainly shudder, saying that Ferry butchers these classics, and both the musical rearrangements and his vocal intonations suck big time. But do they really? I don't think so.Not that I like this record a lot or anything. Ferry covers some really diverse material, apparently, on intentional purposes: showing that he can reduce every possible genre and style to his campy style. There's Dylan ('A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall'), Janis Joplin ('Piece Of My Heart'), the Beatles ('You Won't See Me'), the Stones ('Sympathy For The Devil'), the Beach Boys ('Don't Worry Baby'), and lots of 50's doo-wop, rockabilly and straightforward pop. Much of the songs are classic material, of course, and the ones that I didn't know beforehand range from okay to forgettable, but I still don't quite understand the purpose of the whole venture. Is this supposed to be nothing more than a 'tribute' to Ferry's heroes or is this an intentional 're-working'? In the first case, it's a nice gesture, but the record is thus completely dismissable; in the second case, I'll have to stop and scratch my head because I don't understand what's the point of the reworking. It's not that the record is too much in the Roxy style, either. Of course, Ferry sings more or less in the same style as usual, and what's more, he brought over the entire Roxy crowd to back him up - thus, most of the guitarwork is provided by Manzanera. But truth is, there's not much guitar around, and the ominous keyboard sound is missing as well. The musical backbone of the album is pretty weak: rudimentary synths and organs only vaguely highlight the melody, which is usually carried by... by... by the rhythm section and Ferry himself, I guess. Oh, and the backing vocals. This is an Album for Singing - not an Album for Playing, and Ferry sees to it specially that all the solos be either cut out (as on 'Sympathy For The Devil') or at least muted and shortened. Then again, it is possible that Ferry's aim ran somewhat deeper. It's no small coincidence that all the album sounds so dangerously monotonous; apparently, Bryan was trying to find a 'new style'. Remember? 'There's a new sensation... a fabulous creation... a danceable solution... to teenage revolution...' That's the beginning of 'Do The Strand' from 1973's For Your Pleasure, and the lyrics that depict 'The Strand' might as well be a foreshadowing of Ferry's carrying out the 'danceable solution' in practics. And thus it all comes back to us - Mr Big Ambition was not just paying tributes, he was trying to Push Forward the Musical Boundaries! To find a New Style! Face it - a little bit more creativity and Ferry could have been the forefather of disco. So maybe it's a good thing he didn't really find that style, after all. But remember, this is just my macrohypothesis. The microhypothesis is that he was just paying tributes. Thus, even if 1973 was a year that saw Roxy Music's two best records ever, that lush decadent sound is for the most part found missing on These Foolish Things. All that's left is Mr Ferry himself. But that's where my personal preferences come in: I feel incredibly comfortable about his singing, and I don't find his versions of the classics offensive at all. Especially since he bothers to sing them - and hit the right notes in the process, unlike certain things that Mr David Bowie was willing to do to the numbers of his predecessors. The 'corny' cover of 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' is downright hilarious. Ferry reinterprets the song as a jerky dance number, making it lose absolutely every single ounce of the majesty and grandeur it used to have. On the other hand, by doing so he makes one concentrate on the actual melody of the tune - which is, as you might have guessed, brilliant. So it's a stupid venture, but definitely not offensive; and, considering Bob's own 'lightweight' approach to his song material, I'm sure he could have appreciated the 'reinterpretation' himself. If something doesn't work here, it's Goffin/King's 'Don't Ever Change' that sounds downright sleazy and clumsy, but that's because it never was an outstanding composition in the first place. And a couple saccharine songs near the end don't cut it for me, either, but, again, it's not Ferry's fault, at least it's not a fault of his singing. Also, I'm a bit offended at 'Sympathy For The Devil'. I mean, if Ferry's intention is really to create a new 'dance craze' for the upcoming generation and a new pop style that he never did create in the end, applying the same model to 'Sympathy' hardly works because it was a dance track in the first place! Yes, yes, do not forget that 'Sympathy' is a dance tune, it's based on a samba, just screw the message and the irony. And Ferry makes it lose much of its energy and drive in the process, not to mention the lack of guitars. The album ends with the title track, the only pre-rock epoch composition on here, which is somewhat overlong, but pretty nice, and it's also the only song from the album that Brian Burks was able to approve of, saying that this is the style that Ferry should have clung to, not butchering Fifties' and Sixties' standards. Well... I dunno. Hell, I even like his rendition of 'You Won't See Me'. Please, just shoot me.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Overall rating = 10
More of the same, but with less 'classic' material, so the "butchering effect" is not so evident for Ferry haters.Best song: IT AIN'T ME BABE
Track listing: 1) The 'In' Crowd; 2) Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; 3) Walk A Mile In My Shoes; 4) Funny How Time Slips Away; 5) You Are My Sunshine; 6) (What A) Wonderful World; 7) It Ain't Me Babe; 8) Fingerpoppin'; 9) Help Me Make It Through The Night; 10) Another Time Another Place.
Hah! There goes the 'danceable solution' again. Well, whaddaya know? This is actually like "Another Year, Another Covers Album". Only this time, Ferry leaves far behind both rock music and the 'big names' of the Sixties - the only tune you're guaranteed to know is Dylan's 'It Ain't Me Babe', although I guess there might be other songs on here that are quite familiar to American audiences. Not to me, though. There's also a slight change of stylistics, which quite corresponds to Ferry's stature in Roxy Music at the time: by 1974, he'd almost completely lost the experimental vibe and was intent on either 'conservating' the state of things or even losing the darker, more menacing aspects of his music in favour of the 'rich boy with problems' image. And the picture of him standing in full parade beside a swimming pool, as opposed to the plain grim sweater of 1973, is quite a telling thing.Nevertheless, this album is just as good as its predecessor, and for some people might be even better because there's no more "butcherings". I give both albums the same rating, though, because their essence is, well, almost the same. Still, Another Time is definitely a more upbeat and poppy record; I guess it was perfect dance music for night clubs in the mid-Seventies, at least, for 'elitist' night clubs. I don't care, really, what anyone says: yes, these ten tunes are trashy and disposable, but taken as music for unpretentious entertainment, it's ten excellently played, meticulously produced and tastefully arranged numbers. Manzanera is not present on the record this time, but John Porter does a good job on the guitar in his absence; plus, ex-King Crimsonian John Wetton, who would soon be joining Roxy for a brief stint, contributes expert bass and pleasant fiddle lines throughout. Actually, the list of guest appearances and contributors is enormous - Bryan obviously wanted as many people as possible to have a good time; for funny trivia lovers, even ex-Nice guitarist David O'List is among the players. And the songs (mostly Fifties pop numbers and stuff like that) all cook. Well, with a couple of exceptions like 'You Are My Sunshine' and Kris Kristofferson's 'Help Me Make It Through The Night'; slow cheesy balladeering is always bad, no matter who the actual balladeer really is. But I will challenge anybody who dares defy the rest to a bloody and mercyless duel; if you can actually resist joining in the groove and bobbing your head and tapping your feet along to the powerful rhythms and the engaging melodies, you're either deaf or got biases the size of the US military budget. Actually, the album starts out with a number that sounds not unlike whatever Roxy were doing at the time: 'The 'In' Crowd' is more than a pop throwaway, it's a raging rocker with tremendous guitar riffs and a very gloomy and menacing synth tone. The brass section comes in later to dilute the feel and provide certain optimistic notes, but it doesn't spoil the overall feel; and when the very Manzaneraesque guitar solo comes in, you're really ready to forget the difference between Roxy and Ferry. Did it ever exist? Well, sure, it did, as evidenced by the very second tune - the piano-introduced 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes', all dipped in sappy strings and campy intonations, a song that Roxy would never accept. It rules nevertheless cause it ain't a ballad, it's a dance number like almost everything else. Since describing every single song on the album would be a complete waste of time, I'll just set my attention on the four numbers that attract me most of all due to specific reasons. The cover of W. Nelson's 'Funny How Time Slips Away' is the first one of those, and it features a wonderful build-up, from the quiet organ backing Ferry's passionate and wonderfully sly vocal delivery to the fast part, when the brass and later the obligatory guitar solo rip in (funny, for this album Bryan never rejected the possibility of slapping on an instrumental passage or two into the songs). But the funkiest and most sweaty number on the record is the incredible 'Fingerpoppin' (hell, I almost blush for calling a song with such a title 'incredible' - but facts are facts). Deep down to the core, it's done more or less in the same style as Ringo Starr would produce his hits at about the same time, but with a far more lush and less minimalistic arrangement, with a whole sea of brass and backing vocals, and it's tremendous fun, even if Ferry himself seems to be having so much fun that he forgets all about the 'danceable solution' and sticks to the basics, not really caring to imprint his own identity onto the record. Apart from that, that Dylan cover rules. Oh well, at least it's better than the Turtles version, that's for sure. Ferry does change the song's mood, since it's one thing when Dylan croaks out this song, essentially the ultimate allegory of the "Weak Little Man", and a completely different thing when the same song with the same message falls into the hands/vocal cords of the elegant, 'knightly' Bryan Ferry. In other words, if Dylan sounded like an honest, sympathetic little chum, then Ferry sounds like a snubby stupid middle-class jerk betraying his gal, but if that was the task, he pulls it off real well. And he intones almost perfectly, extending all the right syllables and stressing all the right notes. NOT a magnificent version, but very acceptable. Finally, there's one original song on the record - the title track that comes as some sort of unclear conclusion and is also quite Roxy-sounding, but way too chaotic for my personal tastes; still, it does feature a few catchy moments and a lot of impressive electronic noise to distinguish it from everything else on the album; and it provides a very moody and refreshing ending to this really strange piece of work, while at the same time predicting some of the future trends in Ferry's true solo career - that is, his career as a solo songwriter, not solo re-arranger.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Overall rating = 11
I actually like these remakes, even if I may be completely alone on that one.Best song: LET'S STICK TOGETHER
Track listing: 1) Let's Stick Together; 2) Casanova; 3) Sea Breezes; 4) Shame Shame Shame; 5) 2 HB; 6) The Price Of Love; 7) Chance Meeting; 8) It's Only Love; 9) You Go To My Head; 10) Re-Make/Re-Model; 11) Heart On My Sleeve.
Ferry's 'Danceable Solution Vol. 3', and a fitting conclusion to his 'weird trilogy' of cover albums; in fact, I do think it was intended as a trilogy and should be taken as such, without grappling any single one of these records and tearing it out of its rightful context. Each of the albums, however, brought something new into the background, and Let's Stick Together is no exception: this time, Ferry not only covers traditional artists (to whom he donates about half of the record), but also covers himself - yes, he takes a handful of Roxy Music numbers and 'reinvents' them.Once again, the fan reaction is kinda mixed, but I myself find the reinventions adventurous and charming. Ferry brings in more or less the same band as on Another Time, but the atmosphere is seriously different: this is his 'nighttime' album, with far more subtlety, gloom and dark mysterious 'broodings' than before. That's not to say that the record tries to recreate the 'Roxy essence', as I call it, not at all: everything is far more accessible than even on the more 'simple' Roxy Music albums. But the beats are softened down, as if somebody carefully wrapped all the drumsticks in soft cloth and put silk slippers on the bass drum pedals (cute analogy, isn't it?); the saxes sound like they're coming from a nightclub at about five o'clock in the morning; and Ferry croons in a 'half-spent' falsetto, making everything even more smooth and slippery than it really is. Amazingly, the record still manages to rock pretty hard, unless you try comparing it with AC/DC. So, anyway, I think I was talking about the Roxy covers when I got carried away. I apologize. I really wanted to say that this atmosphere really brings out some of the best elements in these songs that were hidden before; I never regarded 'Casanova' (off Country Life) as anything more than pleasant filler before, but now it strikes me as a particularly great tune, with the subdued sly keyboards and Ferry's tongue-in-cheek delivery, at times interrupted by moody sax breaks, and his character description ('Now you're nothing/But second hand/In glove/With second rate/Now you're flirting/With heroin/Or is it cocaine?') hits far harder than in the original since the 'dance-decadent' arrangement fits the lyrics so well. All the other songs are taken off Roxy Music's debut album, and don't sound all that different from the original, even if they do sound different - a little simpler, perhaps, but also fresh and quite un-self-parodic, if you know what I mean. There was probably no vital need to re-record these tunes, but it's obvious that Ferry just wanted to try their sound in a 'different environment' - and ultimately, it works. Not to mention that the reduction of mantraic chants like 'Sea Breezes' to a shorter running time actually helps 'em very much, and might serve as a good introduction to those who are afraid to pick up Roxy Music because it's much too avantgarde or something. Of course, it's still not very danceable, just like 'Chance Meeting', which marks a peculiar break with the 'solution formula', but perhaps Bryan just wanted a little bit more diversity this time around. On the other hand, 'Re-make/Re-model' is rearranged rather drastically: quite naturally, any traces of 'noise pollution' have been carefully reduced, and now the song is nothing more than a funky dance workout, with female backing vocals replacing the band's sloppy amateurish backups and generic sax breaks replacing Eno's crazyass synth experiments. That said, I still don't see what's wrong with the rearrangement: the song's terrific melody is never lost, and it's quite amusing to witness its radical transformation - like a venomous snake with its poisonous teeth extracted. The teeth were great, of course, but at least the skin is still there. Er. Sort of. Anyway, I dig these reinventions very much and consider them to be well-polished and quite Ferryish. Go to hell, everybody. The covers of other artists are even better, though. I could have easily done without the overcorny 'Heart On My Sleeve' that closes the album (also covered by Ringo on his ugly Bad Boy album - coincidence?), but the rest are done splendidly. They're all in the style of 'Fingerpoppin', with loud drums, a heavy brass background, a heavy accent on backing vocals and - most importantly - all peppered with catchy guitar riffs and irresistible dance beats that further solidify Bryan's reputation as true king of Seventies' dance music. Real dance music. Even Jimmy Reed's bluesy 'Shame Shame Shame' and John Lennon's 'It's Only Love' all qualify, being transformed into pure gold in Ferry's hands. But the real highlight is the title track: the punchy, in-yer-face brass arrangement on that one is currently one of my favourite brass arrangements of all time, and definitely one of the best "dance brass" arrangements, only rivalled by some of Lennon's brass arrangements on his Rock'n'Roll album. Wilbert Harrison (the author) should have been proud of the boy. All of this even makes me forget the 'lounge lizard' picture of Ferry on the back cover - after all, it's totally true, isn't it? I guess that objectively, stripping away the sentiments, this hardly deserves more than a ten which I already gave to two previous albums, but it's not all that interesting to repeat oneself three times in a row, and due to the fact that this is the one Ferry-cover album I get most kicks from listening to, I'll be brave and give it an eleven. The man really tried to do his best, after all, and the record is fully adequate to its goal - whatever that goal originally was, which I'm actually still trying to figure out.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating = 10
Luxurious dance music with very little of the Roxy energy.Best song: LOVE ME MADLY AGAIN
Track listing: 1) This Is Tomorrow; 2) All Night Operator; 3) One Kiss; 4) Love Me Madly Again; 5) Tokyo Joe; 6) Party Doll; 7) Rock Of Ages; 8) In Your Mind.
Judging from a strictly 'who-composed-what' perspective, this is Ferry's true first solo album - with all the songs self-penned and original. Well, it was only natural, considering that Roxy was on a halt and the fans desperately needed some more fresh product. Who wants to spend the rest of one's life on covers? And so Bryan got to work and wrote... an update of Siren for the more dance-oriented population. Contrary to all the screams of those who present Ferry's solo career as having nothing to do with the one and only Roxy Music, this stuff is perfectly compatible with Roxy Music, even if it never threatens to beat the quality of Roxy Music. Ferry invites a ton of backing musicians (the liner notes are endless - but Manzanera does play on several of the songs, as usual), and the music ends up lacking any kind of distinct personality, so the stable elements that you have are all severely limited to Bryan's crooning.Basically, interesting melodies on here you will find not. Good, inoffensive, tolerable melodies, for sure, but none of those epochal atmospheric monster hooks that used to pervade the classic Roxy records. Most of the rhythms are discoish, which is understandable and excusable, considering the Saturday Night Fever circumstances and the fact that Roxy actually pioneered the British disco movement, and the arrangements are rich, but never overbearing, with occasional harmonicas, brass, and orchestration thrown in the melting pot, mostly to good effect. Well, you might have noticed that an absolute majority of Ferry's records receive an overall rating of "ten" from me - that's because they are okayish, pleasant ear-candy with little general replaying value, but occasionally somebody might even deeply fall in love with this style, and I wouldn't reproach that person one single minute. At least the songs are original - I have a feeling that the melody of 'Tokyo Joe' seriously borrows from 'Casanova', but that's about it. (On the other hand, why does the vocal melody of 'One Kiss' strike memories of Simon's 'America' in my mind? Do I need a good therapist?). Otherwise, it's standard dance pop that breaks away from the formula only once - on the lush, seven-minute epic 'Love Me Madly Again', one of Ferry's best solo numbers and a dang forgotten disco classic that obliterates almost everything else on here. It's actually pretty complex in structure and goes in a strange, 'softening' direction - beginning as a pretty aggressive rocker and then fading away into a mellow, moody 'disco mantra', with the main melody of this mantra being reprised several times without vocals after Ferry runs out of lyrics. I mean, while most of the other songs here might just be mistaken for a "campy lounge lizard goes disco" stuff and nothing more, 'Love Me Madly Again' comes close to perfectly recapturing that romantic-decadent image of the days of yore... ever remember 'Strictly Confidential'? Out of the other songs, 'All Night Operator' and 'Tokyo Joe' stand out particularly. The former is just a wee bit distinctive than the rest - I can just visualise Mr Nice Guy doing it on some cabaret stage with girls surrounding him, just like on the back cover to Let's Stick Together. Oh, I know that doesn't necessarily surmise a good song, but heck, it's Bryan Ferry we're speaking of, dammit, the perfect symbolisation of good taste in music. Or should we say "good taste in bad taste"? That would be more like it - on a sidenote, I'd like to remark that lots of people hate poor Bryan for propagating bad taste in music, but not too many people see that Bryan was actually (still is, I'd bet) above bad taste, just like intelligent glam-rock heroes like Marc Bolan or David Bowie. Sidenote over; 'All Night Operator' has a great singalong chorus and a specific energy of its own. 'Tokyo Joe', on the other hand, is a somewhat 'arder number (surprise surprise) that manages to rock out pretty well as far as disco rockers ever go. 'One Kiss' also stands out as the slowest number on here with some nice vocal twists, but not much more; and everything else, including the philosophic title track, the gospelish 'Rock Of Ages' and a couple other tracks, just sticks together in one big undiscernible lump that's still pretty nice to remember after the CD's been returned to the shelf. It is still somewhat strange to me how easily Ferry underwent the transgression from the immaculate vocal hooks of Siren to the routine, smooth harmonies of In Your Mind in just two years' time; but I'm a-guessin' it has something to do with the general atmosphere. I mean, it's one thing to feature somebody as clever and inventive as Mr Manzanera as your independent band colleague and another thing to feature him as a guest guitar player among a miriad other session hackmen; Manzanera was obviously a serious creative force in the Roxy shenanigan, transforming Bryan's raw vocal melodies into brilliant guitar/voice battles. Unfortunately, the same problem - Ferry lacking good sessionmen to transform his musical intuition into pure musical gold - would arise in an even more serious way on the next album. That said, don't listen to the misguided critics anyway: Ferry is a nice guy, and a Roxy Music fan can't go wrong with this record. Just don't set your expectations all that high. Don't do it, I say!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978
Overall rating = 10
A little touch of Roxy in an ocean of soul, folk and straightforward balladeering. But it does have potential.Best song: THIS ISLAND EARTH
Track listing: 1) Sign Of The Times; 2) Can't Let Go; 3) Hold On (I'm Coming); 4) Same Old Blues; 5) When She Walks In The Room; 6) Take Me To The River; 7) What Goes On; 8) Carrickfergus; 9) That's How Strong My Love Is; 10) This Island Earth.
Not a bad record, and it certainly deserves better than the two stars the All-Music Guide gave it; but, like its predecessor, it supposedly shares the main problem of Bryan Ferry, and that problem is - Ferry might have been the soul of Roxy Music, but he wasn't the equivalent of Roxy Music. There are good songs here, and decent covers, too; plus, Ferry's voice is in good shape, and it's the last time you'll actually get to hear his patented croon in full force; a year later, when the record bombed commercially, he reunited Roxy and went for the slick, personality-less sound of Manifesto which deemphasized his voice and subsequently made all the music devoid of any true interest. And bits and pieces of the trademark Siren style are evident in various places of the album, as well, even if there's not a trace of disco on here. But it's all undermined by the general sound - there's a pack of session musicians recording the album, and not even a single of them, including the notorious guitarist Waddy Wachtel, sounds particularly inspired. In other words, none of the rich, luxuriant sound textures that made Roxy's sound so unique are present here - for the most part, it's just your average, stubborn rhythm track and rather straightforward, unsophisticated keyboards and strings arrangements.So the album never really picks up - none of the songs are bad, but few enthrall you like the best of Roxy Music material could. My advice is, if you really wanna enjoy this (i.e. if you spent a lot of money on this and wouldn't want to regret it), you should mainly concentrate on Ferry and try to not to notice the standardness and monotonousness of the arrangements. Because Ferry really does try to make the album sound emotional, despite the slickness and formulaicness of the production. It helps that the album is often dedicated to his breakup with Jerry Hall (who has, as we all know, recently broken up with Mick Jagger as well), and this gives Bryan a solid base to unveil his feelings, just as the Fleetwood Mac tensions helped produce Rumours. Therefore, if all the generic soul and pop crooning on here is viewed in the light of Ferry's personal problems, the songs do come alive - you just have to spend a whole bucket of living water on them. Out of the originals, 'Can't Let Go' is the most hard-hitting song, with Bryan sounding as desperate as possible: 'Can't let go, there's a madness in my soul tonight/Can't let go, must ride like the storm', he screams, and I can almost believe him. But it's vocals and vocals only that make the song - the banal drib-drabs of orchestration and bland guitar solos don't help. 'When She Walks In The Room' is a gentle epilogue to Bryan and Jerry's relations, a really heartfelt and tender ballad - never mind that the melody is mostly absent, it's just a good, atmospheric song that's quite convenient to put on when you had your first breakup. (Actually, I don't know why you should follow your breakup with this and not with Siren - but that's another story). For the most part, though, Bryan continues the tradition of stuffing his solo albums with covers. This time, thankfully, the covers are for the most part decent, ranging from traditional folk ballads ('Carrickfergus') to generic soul ('That's How Strong My Love Is') to J. J. Cale ('Same Old Blues') to the Velvet Underground ('What Goes On'). I don't have very much to say about them, though. I suppose that the originals are better in most cases - for instance, 'What Goes On' was far more attractive when sung by the Velvets themselves in their raw, sloppy, exciting version, not polished and smoothed by Ferry's studio automatons. Likewise, I far prefer the Stones' version of 'That's How Strong My Love Is'; Ferry does justice to the song and whines and croons out the lyrics with conviction, but there's just not enough fire or power in his delivery to match the youthful fury and recklesness of Mick Jagger. Only 'Same Old Blues' sounds totally 'authentic', possibly because J. J. Cale's songs are meant to be sung in a quiet, creepy sort of way (remember 'Cocaine'? The lower it gets, the spookier it becomes). In other words, the album grooves along nicely, but without that much excitement, and it's a total and absolute shock for the system when you arrive at the last track of the album - 'This Island Earth'. The song is totally incredible in its moodiness and quiet desperation, but what strikes me the most is the production: this is the only song on the album which sounds like it could be, nay, like it was originally an outtake from an earlier Roxy album - like Stranded or even For Your Pleasure. The synths are ominous and majestic, the guitars tear, and Ferry wails out typical Roxy-style lyrics: 'So I send an SOS/Semaphore myself...' No other track on the album captures that decadent, cynical spirit so flawlessly - I made sure to increase the album's rating one point for the song. All the more pitiful is the fact that Bride is really only worth buying for that single song - all the other material can be recommended exclusively for diehard fanatics or completists. Take it as it is: Ferry is simply not fit to cover other people's material. (I don't have his debut solo album of cover tunes, These Foolish Things, which seems to be universally despised, so I may not know the worst excesses yet). The originals on here are generally stronger than covers, and with a few more songwriting efforts and a more inspired band, this could have been a worthy follow-up to Siren. As it is, it's mostly interesting as a document.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Overall rating = 10
Decent, but not terribly exciting, art-rock with a limited experimental edge. (Now you can pack it and label it).Best song: MISS SHAPIRO
Track listing: 1) Frontera; 2) Diamond Head; 3) Big Day; 4) The Flex; 5) Same Time Next Week; 6) Miss Shapiro; 7) East Of Echo; 8) Lagrima; 9) Alma.
Manzanera's first and best-known solo album is actually much more than just, well, a Phil Manzanera record. True, he writes or co-writes all the nine songs on here - but it doesn't feel like Diamond Head reeks of 'Manzanera spirit', if there ever was such a thing. First of all, it's absolutely obvious that Phil's musical inclinations are definitely far from Bryan Ferry's: on here, Phil leans more towards the prog-rock spirit and the wild, starry-eyed experimentalism than Ferry ever dared to. He loses much of what made Roxy music so fascinating in the first place - namely, Ferry's lush, resplendent, 'decadent' spirit - but, on the other hand, Diamond Head gives him the freedom to uncover his own musical perspectives which he didn't have that much of a chance to realize while in Roxy.Second, there's Eno. He co-writes two of the tracks, and, strange enough, he's only credited for 'guitars and vocals' (at least, in my CD edition), but I can feel him most everywhere: the record's weirdness, the 'otherworldly' nature of many of the tracks, especially the instrumentals, the special effects - all of these indicate that Phil was actually far more keen on being united with Brian than with Bryan, or that he at least deeply regretted Eno's departure from the band. Third, Phil has simply assembled such an excellent backing band that it would be virtually impossible to present this as 'Manzanera Plays Guitar, Don't Bug Him!'. Practically all Roxy members are here - Andy Mackay adds saxophone, Paul Thompson drums, Eddie Jobson plays piano and Eno... oh, wait, I already told about Eno. Robert Wyatt of Soft Machine plays guitar and adds funny Spanish vocals on 'Frontera'. John Wetton of King Crimson fame plays base. And even Ian McDonald, of an older King Crimson fame, is credited for bagpipes (!). So you probably already guessed what this record sounds like. Crisp, professional, tuneful, rich on various unordinary musical ideas, but, unfortunately, not too inspired or exciting. Manzanera's songwriting gifts are nowhere near as spectacular as Eno's or Ferry's, and Eno only co-writes two of the tunes with Phil, on both of which he also handles lead vocals (Phil never sings himself). 'Big Day' is a pleasant ballad with a 'wall-of-sound' arrangement and a cheerful, folksy feel to it - the harmonies are almost 'festive'; but the melody is never close to memorable, and compared to Eno's regular hook-filled pop masterpieces, it's a half-decent throwaway. So it's up to 'Miss Shapiro' to serve as the centerpoint of the album - now this song would have easily fit onto Here Come The Warm Jets, as it completely fits into the 'weird-nonsense-glam' formula of early Eno. The nagging, addictive, 'squeaky' sound of the guitars lies at the heart of the song, and Eno's robotic vocals, soon coming together in a hell of a catchy chorus, are enough to redeem any flaws of the album: the song's a true chef-d'oeuvre of the genre, and Manzanera's guitarwork is exceptional as well. When sped up (as on 801 Live), the song would take on an even huger impact, but the slower, moderate version gives you the opportunity to enjoy the delicate textures of sound and get the most out of Eno's fascinating singing as he churns out these 'waves of vocal sound' - 'fortunes crumble all demolished in the bay Dalai Llama lama puss puss stella marls missa nobis miss a dinner Miss Shapiro shampoos pot - pot pinkies pampered movement hampered like at Christmas...' Other vocal tracks include the above-mentioned 'Frontera' which isn't one of my favourites - it's interesting how the pompous art-rock instrumental passages alternate with these dumb Spanish verses (hey, they're not dumb because they're in Spanish - I love Spanish, I'm just saying the melody sucks), but the verses are just, well, way too dumb for me. Likewise, both the Wetton co-write 'Same Time Next Week', with its dissonant jazzy structure, and the closing McCormick co-write 'Alma' are not too impressive - I could easily live the rest of my life without these. So, apart from 'Miss Shapiro', my bet is on the instrumentals - I prefer when Phil's guitar, even if it's synth-processed, is not overshadowed by these weak vocals and poorly thought out melodies. Phil's approach to the guitar, as I mentioned earlier, reminds me of Steve Hackett, and not only because both have got a similarity in tone (or, rather, the similarity in finding as many weird tones as possible), but rather because of their 'sculpturing' of the sound: carefully crafted and fully controlled, yet never sounding artificial or bland, not to mention never relying on the same set of dusty cliches. The guitar parts in the title track are magnificent and create a solemn, spectacular mood, close to the effect you get from listening to Eno's best ambient work. 'East Of Echo' is a terrific 'astral' tune; lovers of 'sci-fi' should find it a paradise, and it's way too complex and impressive to be successfully described. 'Lagrima' is a slow, atmospheric piece which you gotta have an appreciation for; and finally, for some good old time jazz-rock without too many of these electronic gimmicks, check out 'The Flex' - a fast, energetic piece highlighting Wetton's bass and Mackay's saxophones. However, all of these things just mean that Diamond Head could never hope to be treated as a landmark or epochal album. In a certain sense, it's more or less the equivalent of, say, a Ringo Starr or a Bill Wyman solo album, only for the 'experimental' kind of people. It's just Phil having fun in the studio and inviting lots of friends to share that fun with him. It's only natural that most of the tracks on here are ultimately dismissable - but it's also natural that it's pleasant to listen to such a record every once in a while. Not to mention 'Miss Shapiro', of course.
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Year Of Release: 1976
Overall rating = 11
A live album that illustrates the great cooperation between Manzanera and Eno; bizarre and sometimes hard to sit through, but worth it.Best song: THIRD UNCLE
Track listing: 1) Lagrima; 2) T.N.K. (Tomorrow Never Knows); 3) East Of Asteroid; 4) Rongwrong; 5) Sombre Reptiles; 6) Baby's On Fire; 7) Diamond Head; 8) Miss Shapiro; 9) You Really Got Me; 10) Third Uncle.
This was a very curious project - a short-period band that only released one studio and one live album; I don't have the studio one yet. The key figures here are once again Eno, who's sitting at the synths, and, once again, Manzanera, who, as you might have guessed, plays the guitar (I thought about putting this record on the Eno page, but then I thought it's more Manzanera than Eno anyway, so let it be here). Other members include Simon Philips on drums, Bill McCormick on bass, Lloyd Watson on slide guitar and Francis Monkman on a second set of keyboards. As far as I understand, Eno only joined the band as a live player; the studio version of 801 was fully dominated by Manzanera.The band's name probably says a lot of important things to Eno fans - '801' was lifted off directly from Eno's 'We are the 801' line, found in 'The True Wheel' off of his Taking Tiger Mountain album, and invokes certain apocalyptic and cabbalistic imagery which I really wouldn't want to discuss here (I'm somewhat sceptical when it comes to Eno's mystical gimmicks and 'oblique strategies'). But apocalyptic or not, the album in question is very good, or at least - very interesting. It's a bit tough to sit through on first listen, though: much of the material is purely instrumental and presented as a set of jams that mostly display Manzanera's guitar skills. However, Phil is indeed a versatile player, and even the guitar solos are well worth listening to. And, after all, there are lots of other little pleasures here. The band was presumably a bit short on original material - Manzanera had only released one solo album, and Eno either wasn't too keen on offering his material or just didn't want to overshadow the colleagues (he still gets three of his solo compositions on here). So they turn to songs as diverse and distant from each other as the Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows', on one side, and the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me', on the other. The Beatles' number is rendered impeccably - they do butcher the classic Beatles' arrangement, but they fully compensate with ethereal, spaced-out guitar lines and, of course, lots of obligatory buzzes and bleeps on Eno's part. The song rocks along nicely, and you can even tap your foot to it - if that's your wish. As for 'You Really Got Me', it's played more or less by the book, except that Eno augments the classic riff with a beepy synth pattern, and the riff itself is only introduced near the 'climactic' part of the song - the effect is thus kinda more quiet and subtle, but not less rewarding. Eno is showcased on three tunes, one each from three of his 'song' albums - 'Baby's On Fire' off Here Come The Warm Jets, 'Third Uncle' off Taking Tiger Mountain and the instrumental 'Sombre Reptiles' off Another Green World. All three of the performances are splendid - 'Sombre Reptiles' is just as sombre as the original, and the other two represent experimental glam-rock at its most professional and tasteful. 'Third Uncle', especially, gets my praises in this context - it's amazing that such a band, which apparently had little time to rehearse or gel together, could play such a complicated tune at such a fast speed, but so it is: Phil's lightning-speed riffs and solos are flawless, Eno's rappy lyrics hit you like small pebbles from under a car's wheels, and Simon Philips drums like a demon. As an encore for the concert, the tune must have left even the audience completely drained, and it almost manages to blow the regular studio version away. Manzanera's solo album is represented by a couple tunes like the title track from Diamond Head and 'Miss Shapiro' (plus 'Lagrima' which is used as an atmospheric intro to the whole show). Funny - they're slightly rearranged, and both appear quite in the glam-Eno vein, with similar chord changes and weird sound effects cluttering them, quite unlike the more restrained versions on Head. 'Miss Shapiro', for instance, is sped up and rocks along as well as anything, although the bizarrified 'Diamond Head' does take some time to get into. Likewise, the instrumental 'East Of Asteroid' (which doesn't seem to be related to 'East Of Echo') is a hard treat - I'd call both of them 'astral jams', if such a term is justified. Namely, take an ounce of blues, an ounce of heavy metal, an ounce of psychedelia, a bunch of special Enotronic effects, and an untrivial, synth-processed guitar tone that drives Manzanera's playing, and try to put all these things together. There's hardly anything cathartic about these tunes, but at least they can easily compete with all these spaced-out jams that Yes are famous for. In fact, I'd take 'Diamond Head' over a Yes jam easily, as Phil's soulful, minimalistic guitar playing appeals to me more than the flashy leads of Steve Howe. In this respect, 'East Of Asteroid' is quite scary and disturbing, while 'Diamond Head' is quite becalmed and relaxating. Oh, there's also a very nice song called 'Rongwrong' whose origins I'm not too sure about. I only suppose that it's Eno singing lead vocals on it; but the most pleasant thing about it is the slide guitar part by Lloyd Watson - there's almost something Harrison-like in it. I also suppose Eno was involved in the writing - it sounds exactly like all these comforting, mellow ballads on Another Green World. At least, if he's not the author, he certainly made the song his. So take your time and do not hurry - the record will grow on you over time. It's really really good. It's not at all similar to Roxy Music - it's more like prime Eno, and, frankly speaking, I'm still thinking of relocating the review to the Eno page. Then again, let us not forget, that for the first year of Roxy's existence, to a large extent Roxy was Eno - not Ferry, but Eno. I mean - can't you feel the influence of 'Bogus Man' in these tunes? Looks evident to me.
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