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We’ll admit it: it seems kind of ridiculous to review Roxy Music at this point. The British band, iconoclastic even when it existed, cemented its place in the rock canon with wildly original music that influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of acts that came after it – even if the influence isn’t obvious. But the re-release of its first two albums on half-speed mastered vinyl, presumably in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the self-titled debut, gives us a good excuse to dive into these remarkable recordings, with the hope that newcomers might rediscover these records.
Originally released in 1972, Roxy Music simply had no precedent at the time. Guitarist Phil Manzanera, woodwindsest Andy MacKay, drummer Paul Thompson and bassist Graham Simpson (only on this record, thereby enshrining the habit of Roxy records from the original lineup never having the same bassist twice) create an impressive and distinctive melange of muscular, non-blues based rock riffage, nimble and eclectic rhythms and widely varying arrangements. Singer/songwriter/keyboardist Bryan Ferry lords over it all, with sly melodies that avoid obvious hooks while still cementing themselves into your brain, clever lyrics that pepper his odd, occasionally creepy compulsions with references to the works of art he studied at school, and a seductive, poisonous croon. Add to all that Brian Eno, given free reign to act as a chaos agent with his primitive synthesizers and tricked out oscillators, and you get a sound that broke the mold of sixties and seventies rock. In 1972, there wasn’t anything like “Re-Make/Re-Model,” the LP’s opening track, and it set the tone for what followed. Strange but accessible, acknowledged classics like “2HB” and the magnificent “Ladytron” (both of which, along with the weird lounge pisstake “Bitters-End,” were covered for the soundtrack for the cult film Velvet Goldmine), quirkier but still instantly tuneful epics like “Chance Meeting” and “If There is Something,” and “Would You Believe,” the only track to acknowledge the existence of the rock & roll that came before it, pave their own road in their relentless drive forward. Easily one of the top 10 greatest rock debuts of all time.
Varyingly categorized, both now and at the time, as glam, prog, psychedelia, proto-punk or proto-new wave, Roxy Music was a lot to live up to, and 1973’s For Your Pleasure gives it all it’s got in the attempt. The band kicks the LP off with “Do the Strand,” an odd but endearing parody of the tradition of introducing rock & roll dances, insisting that the listener do it while never explaining what the steps are. The melodic “Beauty Queen” and “Grey Lagoon” similarly shoot for the pop charts from a parallel dimension, but the frantically rocking “Editions of You” stands as the most ear-catching track, even as Manzanera, MacKay and Eno rip through it mercilessly with striking solos. In contrast to the cheeky rock tunes, the brooding, crawling “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” and “Strictly Confidential” dive straight into the pool of uncomfortable obsession, with Ferry presciently bending the satirical lounge lizard persona he’d adopt later in the band’s career into hellish shapes that nonetheless draw you in the way a Venus flytrap snares flies. They’re just the warm-up, however, for the nine-and-a-half minute epic “The Bogus Man,” a bizarre and extraordinary fantasy that is like little else in the band’s already fiercely fluctuating oeuvre. After that, the title track – a sort of musical answer to the more upbeat and pop-adjacent “Do the Strand” – sounds nearly normal, even with the ghostly synthesizers and Ferry’s spaced-out singing. Both more overtly tuneful and much weirder than the debut, For Your Pleasure enjoys a truly distinctive place in the Roxy Music catalog.
Even now, there’s nothing quite like these records. Even bands that openly acknowledge their debt to Roxy Music – Japan, Duran Duran, Bauhaus, Suede, the Church, Nick Cave, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, the Cars – don’t really sound much like the group that made these records. Half a century on, both Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure cut singular figures in the rock landscape, having carved out a new space for the forward-thinking rock eccentrics to come.
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