As the band progressed through its career, Bryan Ferry’s public image grew more conventional with each release, but it is almost impossible to exaggerate how impossibly weird his persona was on the band’s debut.
He gave the impression that he longed to be Frank Sinatra, but he looked like an overdressed doo-wop greaser and sang like a cross between Barry Gibb and that guy who sang “Surfin’ Bird”. He used so much vibrato that he sounded like he was singing during an earthquake, while his exaggerated croon bordered on irony. Despite all of this, he conveyed an overwhelming sense of romanticism like nobody before him, and a deep longing for both love and beauty. To say the least, he was emotive. Perversely, he pulled this off while his bandmates pranced around him dressed in feather boas and bug glasses.
“Roxy Music” plays like a nostalgic signal from a space station, as if they were watching “Casablanca” and it left them full of longing for real love, or at least real flesh. At first, the campiness of the presentation overwhelms the senses, but over time, real emotional content starts to become apparent. “If There Is Something” is the album’s centerpiece, taking you through three separate musical sections, with each one more forlorn and nostalgic than its predecessor. By song’s end, Ferry is fantasizing about childhood with such vivid passion that it’s as if he’s experiencing time travel (endlessly repeating “Lift up your feet and put them on the ground you used to walk upon when you were young”). “2HB” rivals it for romance, as Ferry conveys the emotional impact of a Humphrey Bogart film. The entirety of side two is one long romantic medley with a blitzkrieg of bizarre styles blended together with abandon, as if the band decided to throw in the kitchen sink and see what might happen.
Anybody who became familiar with Roxy Music through their latter-day albums like “Avalon” or “Flesh and Blood” are likely to recoil upon first listen to this debut. Although all members (excepting Brian Eno) are intact, the band’s musical style changed drastically over the course of ten years. The band’s later work is lush, well produced, and tempered, but here, they sound primitive, unpolished and chaotic. The only thread that connects the early and later styles is Ferry’s obsession with high-class romance, but please don’t construe the lack of polished professionalism as detrimental. If anything, the band sounds energized, almost crazed, and the not quite ready-for-prime-time musicianship only adds to the off kilter charm. Brian Eno ‘plays’ the synthesizer by adding seemingly random squeals and buzzes, while guitarist Phil Manzanera and sax player Andy Mckay add occasional squeals of their own. It could be cacophonous, if the songs themselves weren’t so well written. “Roxy Music” represents the apex of art school mentality spliced onto full-blown glam, and nearly a half-century later, it still sounds futuristic, unique and thoroughly entertaining.
June 1972 - Billboard Did Not Chart
David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Album #113 - June 1972
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