The best of Roxy Music: the makeout inferno years

Imagine Bryan Ferry’s reaction if a reporter confronted him with the following theory: when returning to the Stones after the failure of his album Primitive Cool, Mick Jagger had in mind the failure of The Bride Stripped Bare and Ferry’s own keep-your-head-low skulking back to Roxy Music in 1988. There the similarities end. Ferry’s ex Jerry Hall stayed by Jagger’s side for an increasingly desultory decade while Ferry, the cuckold, saw his imagination freed, conceiving new forms for a romance from which he flinch if it had the temerity to confront him in the flesh.

I acknowledge that I’ve friends who reject the 1979-1982 Roxy as extraneous, and in a sense it is — how many more times could you hear Ferry sigh through the clouds of Andy Mackay’s saxes and oboes or through the clustered thunderstorms of Phil Manzanera’s solos? But a remarkable thing happened when Roxy reunited at the ebb of punk. Ferry’s insistence on foiling the core of Mackay and Manzanera with anonymous perfect session men created the ironic frisson that his vocals used to spin as a matter of course from 1972 through 1977. He sang “straight” on Manifesto, Flesh + Blood, and, of course, Avalon, but the band insisted on subtle dissonances.

It’s hilarious reading early nineties assessments of this period: if this is New Age music, it’s the surliest, tensest New Age music on record, which is not the point of New Age. During Roxy’s golden period he could be perfect and glamorous while, in Rob Sheffield’s summation, uglier men performed behind him; now he was alone with his Prophet-5 synthesizer, abstracting himself into ionospheric pledging. When he elects to visit earthbound mortals on an Asgardian rainbow bridge, he sings “To Turn You On,” the fluffiest and corniest ballad. Enervation — his great theme, worn like a boutonnière — fades before the precision of interior design. His beloved turns him on because she looks great against a rainy New York night on Fifth Avenue and the lovely lights. In these valedictions to incarnating a human form, Ferry forges a link between lover and film director, between masculine heterosexuality and queer wish fulfillment.

1. To Turn You On
2. Dance Away
3. True to Life
4. Same Old Scene
5. Still Falls the Rain
6. Avalon
7. Over You
8. More Than This
9. Spin Me Round
10. Flesh + Blood
11. The Space Between
12. Manifesto

3 thoughts on “The best of Roxy Music: the makeout inferno years

  1. “He sang “straight” on Manifesto, Flesh + Blood, and, of course, Avalon, but the band insisted on subtle dissonances.” Perfect! Perfect!
    The thing with Brian Eno’s Roxy is that he created the swirling “buzz” with the synthz while Ferry’s voice had to navigate through that miasma of dissonance with a straight face. Of course, he didn’t. If anything, his mannierisms were more way up front. There was a real tension between these two (sexual or otherwise) and it showed! It took me years to get used to (and appreciate, then love how it all sounded) But Ferry, in between projects, was a CROONER. These Foolish Things and all that.
    When he took over as such (crooner) in Manifesto, he sounded more relaxed than ever. I love you for mentioning this enormously underrated album, and subsequent “Roxy” sound.
    New Age my balls! Let’s not forget that incarnation of the group is responsible for a whole new genre in music called “New Romantics” which included, for better or worse, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, et. al. And I wouldn’t make a mistake if I say it influenced a whole plethora of singers like Boy George in Culture Club, too (among many other Brits acts like AztecCamera, etc.) Still, as you said, there was dissonance, the subtler kind. I’d add “Angel Eyes” and “Take a Chance with Me”.
    It’s atmospheric R&B and, as such, danceable. But instead of dancing in a kitschy, trashy makeshift glittery disco like in early days, they were dancing in an expensive art gallery in SoHo. While holding a Dry Martini. There is an engrossing kind of detachment to me in the latter incarnation. Uh, and there’s no danceable track in “New Age” music that I have heard of.

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