1972: Roxy Music - Roxy Music

Sometimes it’s possible that a timely reevaluation of a band’s back catalogue and deliberate PR manipulation can converge with all the genuineness of Sunday shoppers who suddenly recognize each other as old friends. Only recently did I begin to marvel at the sophistication of Roxy Music’s early 70s experiments and now, needless to say, Bryan Ferry is back in the headlines with a newish girlfriend, a new album (Olympia), having rounded off a summer tour with Roxy Music. Early Roxy is a conspicuous presence on the new album: Brian Eno has contributed to at least one track (which may or may not herald a new Roxy album) and Andy Mackay’s oboe is featured too.

The annoyingly lavish website of Bryan Ferry (the type of site that exhibits diva behavior in calling for numerous updates meanwhile causing everything else to crash) has helpfully provided the aforementioned info on the new album. And though I don’t actually recall being groomed to admire Bryan or Roxy before 2010, it’s quite feasible that the PR machine did interfere in some subtle way with my thought processes beforehand — perhaps through a subliminal montage while I was absently flicking through a magazine in the waiting room at the dentist’s. That would be very Ferry; to borrow Jove’s deviant tactic of disguising himself as something frivolous and glam in order to seduce the potential (and preferably female) listener (Jove chose a shower of gold — the god was either un-ironic, or liked to call a cigar a cigar).

Anyway, to compare the pop-star/country squire to a god is not the aim; it’s just interesting to trace hubris back to the dressing up box; see how these young men started out — looking ridiculous, though vaguely predatory all the same. Early Roxy sounded and looked like a band of wandering (space) minstrels, an effect that Andy Mackay’s strident puffing on sax and oboe bolstered. His lines don’t bother to ingratiate themselves on Roxy Music; they are confident in proclaiming their own rogue melody. They often fall in step with the dominant theme, but these steps, although they can be intricate, don’t necessarily sound jazzy. The overall effect is part medieval drinking song and part postmodern collage. Strangely it is the jumble of elements, shadowing each other by standing stiffly apart rather than blending together, that outline the strict meter Ferry often sings in. It makes me think of Queen (who were influenced by glam rock of course) and the way they organized their songs into movements rather than attempting to marry the layers in a single sweep.

Even if there is a technical term to describe this cut and paste mode of composition, Ferry and Eno’s art school background would suggest that the visual analogies make more sense. Ferry trained under Richard Hamilton, a notable early pop artist, while Eno was trained at art school in sound sculpture, experimenting with tapes before he took up a musical instrument. ‘Instruments’ like Ferry’s voice are seemingly exploited as much for their connotation as their sound on Roxy Music. Ferry alternates between warbling (the beautiful endscape of “If there is something” where he sings fondly of youth), strutting (acting the ultimate glam-rock peacock on “Ladytron”) and poshly declaiming (on “2HB” where his diction respectfully improves as he rolls his r’s in the presence of the ineffable).

Ferry, Eno, Manzanera (and the rest will have to be the rest) — all who participated in early Roxy Music — had quite distinct parts to play. This cacophonous approach has perhaps been abandoned since technology has made it easier to create ‘tracks’ that sound seamless. The idea that the sax can have a personality like Tom Waits’ drunk piano belongs more to a vaudeville conception of art — live, disgraceful — than to the path of experimental composition that Eno later pursued. Without Eno on the other hand, Ferry was an un-anchored presence, parachuting into supermodels dreams like a man from an 80s luxury chocolate ad, posing them in all kinds of weird, sexy scenarios on his album covers. Which is not to say that he didn’t produce worthwhile music subsequently, but after running away from the circus in the post glam-rock world, his posturing began to look somewhat ridiculous. Being a pop art aficionado and cultured man, this was more than likely the point. The early 70s, however, was a time of relative innocence when he, Eno, Elton and the rest of the glam rock crew first tried on their mother’s shoes, so to speak. Even though dressing up is by nature eclectic, blending styles and gender significators for kicks, the fun of doing so is in proudly sporting an incongruity of colors, textures. With today’s indie pop a melting summer cone of evocative fuzz, perhaps a potential Roxy revival is a timely reminder that role playing is essential to create tension in music, and in order for roles to be appreciated, you can’t always play with your back to the crowd.

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DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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