Classic Album Review: Roxy Music – Roxy Music [1972, Island]

It saddens me that most people my age will only strongly identify Roxy Music‘s “wuss rock” period towards the end of their run with Avalon, due almost entirely to the excellent scoring Sofia Coppola accomplished with Lost in Translation. Listen…it’s not that songs like “More Than This” are bad; in fact, More Than This is gorgeously cynical (read: the words of a disappointed romantic, where idealism wants to co-exist with an uncompromising reality) showcase of Bryan Ferry’s songwriting skills. It’s just that there is no comparison to Roxy Music 1972. Their debut album takes you to the outermost limits of the spacey universe and back again, a journey that is often achieved within the frame work of ONE song, all captured within the single spun thread of the album narrative. This is what modern experimental music wishes it could be. This is what “indie” music was before it knew it existed. This is where you can use words like “eclectic” and “avant-garde” without sounding like a pretentious dickhead.

One of its greatest triumphs is that it has one of the best Side Ones known to man, and a Side Two that takes you into the depths of alien tumbleweed country, where people (and extraterrestrials) are probably doing lots of drugs. Though I don’t believe the band needed to resort to massive acid dropping to record this masterpiece, it can sometimes feel that way because it’s so otherworldly.

Virtually every song is actually four to five songs in one, making this recording feel like the definition of an epic adventure, borrowing from numerous genres ironically without seeming like it’s trying to pull off hipster schtick. This is Roxy fuckin’ Music after all, whose 1972 line-up is probably the only one in the world that could possibly make oboes sound this cool. In fact, this incarnation of the Roxy Music line-up is the very definition of a tongue-in-cheek dream team. See below for brilliant rock ‘n roll recipe:

1. Bryan Ferry – vocals, piano, Hohner Pianet, Mellotron
2. Brian Eno – VCS3 synthesizer, tape effects, back-up (a kindred spirit, in that we both fail to see the appeal of sports and the desire for musical reunions)
3. Andy Mackay – oboe, saxophone, back-up
4. Phil Manzanera – guitar
5. Graham Simpson – bass
6. Paul Thompson – drums

Is this a modest recording in any sense of the word? Hell no, and why would you want it to be? Roxy Music has a Godzilla-sized ten showy songs strung together and woven into an anti-lo-fi  masterpiece. I guess if you’ve got the plumage, you might as well flaunt it.

Now let’s get into the meat:

Re-Make / Re-Model – Some kind of spastic saxophone-infused frenzy that I could imagine being played in that Star Wars bar (nerds, help out with the name) at any time of day or night. One of the best features of this song is the multitude of solos interspersed with short barely pauses, gradually droning out to a faded end that takes over a minute to fizzle out. In reflecting upon the drum bit at the end, I think Paul Thompson may have doubled as Animal from the Muppet Show.

Ladytron – The beginning of this tune brings us some of the finest oboe music known to man with a creepy lulling effect and a jaunty little middle. Ferry’s voice sounds increasingly like a bleating goat here, and nothing could be more perfect. Those crashing bits meshed with the weird space echoing effect makes you long for about seven minutes more of it.

If There Is Something – In spite of my intense dislike of equine, I would choose this song if I ever had to make an entrance riding on one. There seem to be at least three distinct parts to it: the first is a happy go-lucky western-ish romp through the countryside, the second is a darker bit on the trail, the third is prolonged oboe sadness, the fourth is a vocal masterpiece in which Ferry makes us feel like we’re sitting in his gospel.

Virginia Plain – I remember first hearing this in high school alongside Brian Eno’s Burning Airlines Bring You So Much More, resulting in my listening to little else throughout Grade 11. The artists of today only wish they could write a song ending as appropriately punchy as this. Virginia Plain has all the virile energy of a bajillion tiger penises, and then some. Chumps drink Red Bull to harness the energy to stay awake. I listen to Virginia Plain.

2HB – Here’s lookin’ at you kid. Not my favorite track off the album, but you can’t win ‘em all. It starts to get awesome around the 2:30 mark with the subtle keyboard playing a more prominent role than the sax.

The Bob (Medley) – One of the trippiest things ever recorded with a purely rock the fuck out tearing through starting at the 0:50 mark, and the best example of distinct songs working within the same narrative / framework. Around 1:35 your mind gaskets start being blown to bits again by weird unidentifiable sounds that somehow don’t seem the least bit arty for the sake of being arty. 3:05 brings us to 70’s-infused LSD-ville, dipping again into the somber, lifting up again to the rock out. A fine masterpiece of a song.

Chance Meeting – Kind of a sad swansong, but also one of the flatter songs on the album.

Would You Believe? – At first you think this is going to be a bit of a sleepy number, but then you hit 1:12 and it turns into an electric take on Chubby Checker’s “The Twist”, eventually cooling down into a tambourine-happy fade out.

Sea Breezes – Every time I hear this one it absolutely slays me. I could lie in the middle of the floor listening to this on extended repeat. If I were overdosing on something in the 70’s, I’d want to listen to this as I was being taken to the hospital…but wait, 3:35 rolls around and the intrepid change in tune indicates that I’m clawing my way back to a respectful member of society again. Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is the power of different sweeping cadences.

Bitters End – Du-wop-ish, very Twin Peaks, very Platters, very good.

Fucking very, very good.

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Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music, Reviews

About Allison

Crankypants.

2 Responses to Classic Album Review: Roxy Music – Roxy Music [1972, Island]

  1. guest

    Great write-up. You probably know this, but Virginia Plain was not on the original version of the album (it was added later after it had been successful as a single).

  2. clasper

    it’s certainly not on mine …

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