Roxy Music -‘The Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982’ (EMI)
Well, where do you start? Roxy Music stand as one of the most original, innovative and inspirational bands of the post-Beatles era. When punk’s scorched earth policy (or, at least gave the impression of having such a thing) rendered much of music pre-1976 obsolete, Roxy Music were permitted to remain. After all, a very early lineup of the Sex Pistols were called The Strand, and it was at a Roxy gig that the future Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin met. Other acts who have hailed them as an inspiration include acts as diverse as Madness, Morrissey, Kate Bush and Jarvis Cocker.
Their self-titled debut from 1972 is one of the great debuts. As in: holding its own against the likes of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Psychocandy, Blue Lines and Searching For The Young Soul Rebels. Never mind just debuts, it’s one of the great albums. Period. Right from the sleeve onwards (Ferry reasoned that pretty girls were used to sell everything from cars to toothpaste, so why not records?), this was a record that sounded amazing -and still does forty years later. Songs like the Bogard tribute ‘2 H.B.’, ‘Ladytron’ and ‘Re-make/re-model’ were pop songs -and yet, so utterly unlike almost anything that had gone before. (NB: to people wondering where debut single ‘Virginia Plain’ is, it’s actually on the last two CDs of this set, which compile the non-album tracks, which this was.)
1973’s For Your Pleasure saw them come pretty close to repeating the feat, with a darker take on their debut. ‘Do The Strand’ opens the album, with its intoxicating mix of high-class glamour and danger. Ferry was moving ever closer to becoming the embodiment of the rock star as debonair aristocrat, which he still does today. The album’s two main highlights are ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ and the nine-minute-plus ‘The Bogus Man’ which can only be described as Roxy’s take on funk.
Later that year, with Ferry’s first solo album These Foolish Things out, the band issued their third set, Stranded. There is a school of thought that sees this as the first album where things were no longer quite the same, mainly in part due to the fact that Brian Eno had now left the band, en route to pretty much inventing ambient music and becoming the producer of choice for those stadium indie bands trying to exert some leftfield credentials (U2, James, Coldplay…). Though ‘Street Life’ is the single representing this album on the best-of comps, it’s the final three song volley of ‘A Song For Europe,’ ‘Mother Of Pearl’ and ‘Sunset’ which show that even minus Eno, the band were still functioning pretty highly at this point in time.
The following two albums, 1974’s Country Life and 1975’s Siren continued to be commercially successful, the former providing their US chart breakthrough and the latter the evergreen ‘Love Is The Drug.’ Country Life is markedly less flamboyant than the previous three albums, but it still has a number of career bests in ‘The Thrill Of It All,’ ‘Out Of The Blue’ and ‘All I Want Is You.’ But in a song like ‘If It Takes All Night’ there’s a sense that somebody somewhere was saying: ‘If you could just get this art school posturing out of your system, America would love you guys.’ Siren has dated poorly compared to the four earlier albums, and other than the aforementioned ‘Drug’ and ‘Both Ends Burning’, it just feels like a lesser band.
Over the next four years, Roxy were on hiatus, while Ferry’s solo career continued to rise. Oddly enough, the girl on the cover of Siren was none other than Jerry Hall, who was Ferry’s girlfriend for a number of years, but by his 1978 solo album, The Bride Stripped Bare (featuring one of his best solo tracks ‘Sign Of The Times’) she had left him for Mick Jagger. And Roxy Music-at least the core of Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay-came back together for three more albums.
Manifesto, released in 1979, might just be the most underrated album in the Roxy canon. As an album, it pulses with Roxy menace, perhaps for the last time they would achieve this on record. The title track and ‘Trash’ reflect the classic Roxy sound, while the album version ‘Angel Eyes’ is markedly different (and better, frankly) than the single version that crops up on the greatest hits compilations. Tellingly, their support act on tour were Wire, which at least on paper reflected a passing of the torch, even if this wasn’t how things were in reality.
As nadirs go, Flesh and Blood, released the following year, isn’t awful. What really lets it down are the two covers. The album opens with a pointless, and frankly anaemic cover of ‘In the Midnight Hour’ and also features their take on ‘Eight Miles High’ which strips the original of all the wow. That said, ‘Oh Yeah (On The Radio)’ and ‘Same Old Scene’ are fine singles: not like the early ones, perhaps, but redeeming.
Avalon, the final album from 1982, was a fine place to sign off. Sure, they had left the Art School movement a long way behind, and Brian Eno had forged a very different path, but the world had been through many changes in that time, and so had Roxy. Understandably best remembered for the two big hits, the title track and ‘More Than This,’ it’s a sophisticated album, in this best possible sense. And it’s certainly the best album of the last three.
The final two discs on this collection are made up of non-album singles, b-sides and various edits and live versions. Telling that the era of the 7″ edit and 12″ remix had crept in. But when these also contain debut single ‘Virginia Plain’ and its’ fine b-side ‘The Numberer’ ‘Pyjamarama’ and their take on Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ (their only UK no.1), who’s complaining?
Roxy Music have had a successful critical and commercial reputation, and if you haven’t grasped their importance before now, this box underlines what many have never forgotten.
The Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982 is out now on EMI.