Review Summary: Seductive, romantic, sensual, but this is not your average Roxy Music album. It's even better than that.#307 on Rolling Stone Top 500 albums list
Roxy Music - an ‘accidental super-group’ if ever there was one. This assembly of fine musicians went through a multitude of line-up changes, particularly around their first two albums in the early 70s, and collectively established a great prog rock sound, while their savvy sense of fashion made them out to be an extremely cool-looking and sophisticated group without ever coming over as pretentious or flashy. Their influence can be heard in a diverse range of artists, from punk groups through to The Smiths, and New Wave.
That ubiquitous 70s innovator, Brian Eno, left the group soon after its second album, and it was left to the likes of Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay to attempt to add something more to Ferry’s exceptional lyrics. Their style was rocky and slightly cynical, but after they regrouped in 1981 after a brief split, they soon realised that their swansong LP ‘Avalon’ would be something of a departure.
Smooth is definitely the right word for this album. Manzanera tones down his increasingly heavy guitar riffs a little and instead focuses on his skilful subtleties. This is particularly noticeable on the first track, ‘More Than This
’. Bryan Ferry’s suave, café-crème vocals cut out two-thirds of the way through, and the rest of the track follows a excellent instrumental course. Manzanera also shines during songs like ‘The Space Between
’ and ‘Take A Chance With Me
’, and this being the remastered version, the guitars are brought more to the fore without losing their delicacies. This is one of those albums that positively reeks
of instrumental expertise.
As for Ferry, he’s on top form. His heavy involvement in all band matters caused resentment among some members, but it’s rather obvious that this final Roxy commitment was a personal testing ground for him to try his new approach - it’s a natural precursor to his 80s solo albums. The similarity between his solo effort ‘Is Your Love Strong Enough?
’ and ‘While My Heart Is Still Beating
’ (here) is particularly striking.
But the real star here is saxophonist Andy Mackay, who arguably delivers a career-best performance on this album. His beautiful, smooth delivery is what makes tracks like ‘While My Heart Is Still Beating
’ and ‘Avalon
’ so special and timeless. This latter song is the best, a wistful look at late-night seduction or possibly even death ‘Now the party’s over/I’m so tired/Then I see you coming/Out of nowhere
’. It’s a gentle, sentimental high, and its one-word chorus is remarkably the most memorable part of the album, sweetly harmonised by Yanick Etienne, and Mackay once again proves his worth near the end of the track with a simple but smoothly-executed sax playout, leading into the exotic instrumental ‘India
Elsewhere, there’s really only one hint of the old Roxy, in ‘The Main Thing
’, which uses a squelchy synth and warped bassline to create a stomping groove, with Andy Newmark’s drums rivalling the mighty Paul Thompson’s, while Manzanera’s romantic riffing sails effortlessly overhead. It’s an effective song, but sounds a little out of place here; take away the synths, and it could be a track from ‘Country Life
Lyrically, Ferry supplies less cynical, more seductively ambiguous verses to compliment the romantic, slightly melancholy musical approach; ‘More Than This
’ gives rise to a restless nature, ‘It was fun for a while/There was no way of knowing/Like a dream in the night/Who can say where we’re going?
’, while ‘True To Life
’ shows us Ferry’s brooding, fretful, vulnerable side, ‘So it gets to seven/And I think of nothing/But living in darkness/And the diamond lady/Well she’s not telling/I don’t even know her name
' was meant to end Roxy on a soft, dignified note, then they did it well. Beautifully arranged, seductive, melancholy, wistful, smooth, stylish… is there anything lacking? Perhaps. As mentioned, Bryan Ferry probably had far too much control. The absence of Eno’s experimentation and the skills of Eddie Jobson means that some might find it uninspired. Also, the heavier synth use means that this sounds noticeably different to much of Roxy’s 70s output. It’s also criminally short - ten tracks consisting of eight relatively short songs and two instrumentals, all clocking in at around the 35 minute mark. But this is so carefully sculpted, you won't notice. It’s not only one of Roxy’s best works, but it serves the dual purpose of being the perfect record to make out to. A great album to play in the garden on a warm summer evening, with one arm around your beloved and the other holding a glass of red wine.
All together now - ‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhh......