Saturday, April 30, 2016

Another Life, Another Bryan

After going on at such length about Brian Eno, I wanted to give his old bandmate/nemesis Bryan Ferry his due.

As weird as Eno seemed at the time, weird, at least, was in.

Ferry matched him by going to the other extreme. He went completely against the grain of the time by wearing dinner jackets and crooning like Rudee Vallee. He was so non-threatening looking that it was scary.

And irritating, too. Those aspects of his image, along with his taste for 50’s-style pop music, and a seemingly nuclear-powered vibrato, he had at least four things going on that I couldn’t stand at the time.

And pictures of him show him looking unreasonably sullen or unreasonably cheerful. Here he’s kind of in between:

Just look at him! American Psycho or what?

See what I mean? Normal, yet strange.

So, now take him, add Eno and put drag queens on your album covers, and Roxy Music gave you’ve got a lot to ponder.

I recently touched on the first two Roxy Music albums, which covers the time Eno was with them, and all I’ll add is how the first one   - for all its strange trappings - is at heart a rock and roll, and song, album. Those songs, Phil Manzenera’s riffs, and the band’s headlong propulsion easily get you more than halfway through the record. Okay, things do slack off after that, but still not a bad start.

And while not entirely successful, For Your Pleasure is pretty good, tool. Just not great, whatever hardcore RM fans may tell you.

So, Eno leaves and Ferry can now really show what he’s made of.

Post-Eno Roxy:


Their third, and first without Eno, and you can immediately tell the difference.  Like that the person on the cover is almost certainly a woman. I say this only to point out that Bryan and the band seem to be simplifying things a bit.

The music is simpler, cleaner, poppier. But Ferry’s as weird as ever, and without Eno there to distract you, it sticks out all the more.

So for every triumph like “Mother of Pearl”, there’s a slow tiresome drag like “Song for Europe”

But I think they’ve turned a corner here. The weird old Roxy Music came to a crossroads and chose a straighter path. The kinks are not all worked out. (And I do mean kinks.), but there are glimmers of a really fine pop band here.  B+

“Mother of Pearl”

Don’t get me wrong. When in doubt, I usually favor the weird over the pop, but some people are just better at the latter than they are at the former. And I think it’s true for Roxy.

Country Life

A more sexist cover, which is a shame, (Still trying to wash that Eno taste our of your mouths, guys?) but another step forward, musically.  The keep it light, they keep it fast, they keep it rocking.  They only falter when they slow it down. But even there, those lesser tunes add some contrast.

So the strategy is the same as last time, but their batting average has improved. Nothing quite as good as “Mother of Pearl”. But overall much more consistent. A-

“Prairie Rose”


Their peak.

My first RM record and easily my favorite. (That’s Jerry Hall on the cover, btw.  She went on to Mick Jagger and Rupert Murdoch, because money and fame are all that matter, right?).

Everything comes together here. The band, while not quite as hard rocking, are game for whatever Ferry throws at them - ballads, rockers, dance songs. And Ferry’s singing has smoothed out some more. The melodies are as good as ever.

A masterpiece, and one of my all time favorite albums. Definitely in the top 25. A

“Both Ends Burning”


After a three year break (and various solo records), they come back with a very commercial, but very winning record. I’ve been told that they embrace disco here, but I’m not hearing it that way. They just know how to entertain. Catchy as heck.  A-

"Dance Away"


Everyone tells me that this is their masterpiece. I beg to differ. Too smooth by half. Meh.

But if you like it I can’t blame you.

And I admit that “More Than This” is one of the most beautiful songs ever.


And the rest:

I left out a whole bunch of other Roxy records, not to mention all those Bryan Ferry solo albums because life’s too short, and I’m not as big a Ferry fan as an Eno fan.  But you get the idea.

Roxy Music got lumped in (justifiably) with a lot of glam acts at the time and were dismissed for that reason, at least by the classic rock stations.  But they were a great band, and once Ferry worked out all his issues, the songs came out great.

Oh yeah, that other Brian:


And it’s pretty good, not great.  In these 18 snippets I do hear not quite worked out ideas that would make their way onto Another Green World and Before and After Science.

And some of cuts don’t age well. Back then they may have sounded cool, but now you can smell the cheese.  And the New Age (and not the Velvet Underground one, either). Thanks a lot Brian!

But it all, oddly, holds together.  B+

“Two Rapid Formations”

And the Boys Make Up:

Right about now you’d think Bryan (F) would be objecting, saying that, yet again, I got distracted by favorite child Brian (E).  But no, they’re all past that now.

They even got together to work on something a few years ago and produced this lovely song on Bryan’s solo album Frantic

“I Thought”

I knew those guys would work out their differences! And look, it only took them thirty years!

So how is Bryan looking these days? (If you remember Brian E went through quite the transformation from glam robot he-she to middle class next door neighbor.

And here we see Bryan F also arrive at his version own of normalcy, looking like someone’s dad:

Better looking than Mick Jagger and Rupert Murdoch, too! (Ah, but isn’t everybody?)

And good for him, I say. So as pouty and strange as he could be, he’s responsible for quite a lot of great music.

Thank you, Brian!  Ooops! I meant Bryan!

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