Read my reviews of albums released by Roxy Music:
1972: Roxy Music (9/10)
On their debut, Roxy Music appear to have stumbled upon a unique take on art rock: it’s borderline prog at times but Ferry’s songs and croon are just way too rooted in popular music conventions – whether they subtly overturn them or not – for this to be mistaken as King Crimson or some Canterbury Scene band or what have you.
On the other hand, the artiness is in full assault: Eno, Mackay and Manzanera are all really trying to impress upon you how much they like avant garde jazz and other esoteric things like that.
It’s a unique fusion of ideas that not only cannot be mistaken for the prog rock of the era, but also isn’t The Doors or David Bowie or any of the art rock that came before. It’s very much its own, new thing, and it’s fantastic.
Albums released by Roxy Music in 1973:
For Your Pleasure (8/10)
This was the first ever Roxy Music album I heard and, for the longest time, the only one. So I have a real fondness for it – and for this era of the band’s history, which I greatly prefer to their later music.
But now that I’ve heard the debut, this record sounds relatively restrained. This is not to say that the record isn’t good – nobody else really sounded like Roxy Music at the time – but rather that its more professional, polished sound seems to have lost some intangible thing that makes me absolutely adore the debut record.
This is still a pretty great set of songs, featuring their typical balance of accessible music and crazy artiness and there are few other bands who could walk this line this well.
I just prefer the debut album.
I must say I was pretty damn worried about the first post-Eno Roxy Music album. I have heard later records and, well, I didn’t love them. I don’t love where Ferry took the band. I figured this was the beginning of the end, with the “end” being Ferry the oh so sophisticated synthpop crooner.
So imagine my surprise/relief when I heard this record. Ferry’s songs are still weirder than conventional pop rock – though, in fairness to Ferry, it’s not so much his songwriting that got too conventional, as the arrangements around his songs and his singing. His lyrics, when I care to listen, are still interesting enough or at least well above average.
But it’s the arrangements where the band still has me: Manzanera is still allowed to be unconventional, though not quite as much so as he used to be. (On later records I sometimes wonder what happened to him.) But the big surprise is Jobson, whose violin (and keyboards) occasionally approximates some of the craziness Eno brought, and otherwise adds a new texture to the band’s sound. No, there are not oscillator solos or what have you, but there’s enough going on in these arrangements that it still sounds like Eno-era Roxy Music, minus a few bonkers moments. Given that I greatly prefer that version of the band, this makes me happy.
One other thing: Ferry himself is still a weird singer. His phrasing, his use of different aspects of his voice, his singing in different languages – all of these things make him interesting and compelling. If memory serves, he abandons most of these quirks by the time we get to later records.
So I really like this. Sure, not as much as I like the first two records but I like those a hell of a lot, especially the first one. They still feel like a band here, not a vehicle for Ferry’s career. And they don’t sound like anyone else.
1974: Country Life (8/10)
I have approached Roxy Music in a strange way – listened to their second album first, got really into it, and then listened to their last album and didn’t enjoy it. And I’ve jumped around ever since. And because of the way I feel about their earliest and later albums, I’ve approached the ones in the middle with a bit of trepidation. That trepidation comes from how much I enjoy the first two records, with Eno, which are considerably less restrained than their later “sophisticated” music.
But I was pleasantly surprised by their first post-Eno album, Stranded, and I must say that’s true of this one too. The things I like about early Roxy Music are still mostly here – especially on the first track – and the things I don’t like about later Roxy Music are mostly not here.
Ferry’s songs are mostly weird enough for me. (Or maybe the arrangements are.) Yes, he’s definitely starting to write more accessible and catchy songs, but there’s still enough in them to keep me interested. And his lyrics are literate enough and interesting enough to to make the songs seem more sophisticated. (It’s amazing what decent lyrics do to an otherwise straightforward song.)
But, as is usual with this band, the thing that really matters is the arrangements, and they are still strange enough for me though, as with Stranded there is plenty of evidence that they are getting more conventional. Manzanera is still playing strange stuff that sometimes sounds like it belongs in another song, Jobson adds just a titch of artiness with his contributions (as does Mackay) and there’s the odd unexpected break (like that one on the otherwise pretty dated “Out of the Blue”).
Basically they still resemble the Roxy Music I love more often than not, allowing me to enjoy the record even when I notice Ferry’s songs reaching for a more commercial sound and vibe.
1975: Siren (7/10)
I only know one Roxy Music album, For Your Pleasure. I like it, I don’t love it. But one of the things I like about it – perhaps the thing I like about it most – is the artiness of it, provided primarily by Eno and Manzanera (to my ears). I assumed that when Eno left the artiness did too, but according to reviews, it didn’t leave just yet. Not until this album. And that makes me sad.
This is certainly as mainstream as art rock gets without ceasing to be art rock. It’s accessible (as these things go), its often danceable, it’s relatively catchy. It features so little of the overt weirdness I associated with (early) Roxy Music. It’s just mainstream pop rock, far as I can tell.
But, that being said, it is good mainstream pop rock. Ferry is a decent writer, his lyrics are fine and his melodies are just left field enough to be interesting. And, of course, there’s saxophone and violin to keep things slightly off kilter. (And the occasional burst of art rock guitar. Really occasional.)
But I just don’t love it. I can’t. It sounds to me like an interesting band in the process of making itself uninteresting.
1979: Manifesto (???)
I have not listened to two of the three albums from the reunion. Read my reviews of music from 1979.
1980: Flesh + Blood (???)
1982: Avalon (8/10)
I prefer the original, bonkers Roxy Music. That’s much more my cup of tea. In fact, you might say I love that version of the band. And so I was expecting to hate this, without really knowing what it sounded like.
But Ferry is such a good songwriter and singer that this already starts out ahead of much synthpop (if it can be called that). Additionally, the remaining members of the original band, though completely reigned in here, remain extremely good musicians. Though they are very much “tasteful” here, which is not something I’m familiar with from either Manzanera or Mackay, their contributions elevate this above standard synthpop as well. (As do the army of session musicians recruited to make this sound like a real band and not just a Ferry solo album.)
I can’t say that I like it – it’s not my thing at all. But I think it’s quite good in spite of it not being my thing and I don’t see any reason to criticize it save for the fact that I will likely never listen to it again because I would just rather listen to the batshit crazy early ’70s Roxy.