The band that fell to earth – by Guy Denton


Phil Manzanera, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and Andy Mackay of Roxy Music perform at Madison Square Garden on September 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images for Live Nation)

In 1972, alien invaders conquered rock and roll. Armed with gendered theatrics and raspy guitar riffs, the likes of David Bowie and Marc Bolan invented otherworldly personas, uprooted musical convention and inspired a generation of teenagers to follow in their footsteps. But as Bowie contemplated an apocalyptic future and Bolan sought liberation in the present, their contemporaries at Roxy Music merged disparate styles from the past into a curious blend. Combining the refinement of black and white cinema with the kitsch of Pop Art and the decadence of end of century Europe, Roxy has cultivated an aesthetic too heady to ignore. Now that the band have embarked on an arena tour of the US and UK in support of their 50th anniversary, their appeal clearly lives on.

If coolness could be distilled into one individual, it would look like Bryan Ferry, the debonair leader of Roxy who was apparently born into a finely tailored suit. Boasting rich hair and a seductive, dynamic croon, he danced with ease in front of his microphone on stage, humming lyrics that expressed the frenetic energy of youth—“Learn from your mistakes is my only advice, and keep calm is always the main rule. Don’t make yourself look like a fool. Too much cheesecake too soon” – and the woes of romance as if ripped from some postmodern alternative to The Great American Songbook – “If you’re looking for love in a mirrored world, it’s pretty hard to find.”

Beside him stood a quintet of esoteric musicians, dressed in sequins, feathers and garish jackets with dyed manes hanging from their shoulders. On guitar was Phil Manzanera, whose searing solos catapulted songs like “Virginia Plain” and “The Thrill of It All” to the next level of art school exuberance. On bass, Graham Simpson at first, then a succession of substitutes. Saxophonist Andy Mackay provided woeful solos and tenderly melodic riffs with equal finesse, while Paul Thompson’s drumming, wild and unfettered, evoked the frenetic style that defined pioneering 1950s rock and roll records. Brian Eno’s manipulation of synthesizers produced distorted explosions and extended, rubbery sonic contortions, embellishing the band’s early tracks with space-age sheen. From the first verse of “Re-Make/Re-Model,” the opener to the band’s self-titled debut album, these elements worked in harmony to create both a glitzy new twist on pop music and a pastiche of his past, which has darkened. and more detailed on the following file, At your service (1973).

After Eno’s exit from the group that year, the remaining members pursued more exotic soundscapes. country life (1974) featured a rustic sound characterized by honky-tonk piano and blues-rooted hooks, while Failed (1973) fused shrill hard rock with surreal and baroque elements. By the exit of Mermaid (1975) and Manifest (1979), the band’s sound simultaneously darkened and brightened. A desire for hit singles and hits in the United States prompted Ferry to write more commercially acceptable songs such as “Love Is the Drug” and “Dance Away”, leading his bandmates in a cleaner, less musical direction. caustic. This drift towards a kind of delicate and sensual lounge aesthetic culminated with cocaine Avalon (1982), which found Ferry, Mackay and Manzanera operating as a trio after Thompson’s departure. The album is almost the antithesis of the band’s early days, with its flimsy instrumentation consisting of sparse electronic rhythms and restrained guitar patterns. Ferry’s once loud lyrics had become melancholy, more concerned with the sting of unrequited love than with the joys of the party – “Now you’re alone, who cares about you?” Except me, God help me. Even the group’s album covers, which once featured increasingly risque photos of female models, had become dignified and pensive, with Avalon depicting a figure in armor gazing across a vast landscape. Over time, Ferry’s elegance had grown, and the brash boys performing alongside him in the early ’70s had become suave purveyors of sophisticated pop.

Such a change may have put off some listeners, but seen in retrospect, it illustrates the extent of the band’s creativity. Roxy Music’s catalog is satisfyingly lean, devoid of artistically vacant records and steeped in songs that are exciting, varied and emotionally resonant. A sampling of these anthems make up the setlist for the band’s current tour, which is nearing the end of its journey across America. In concert today, Ferry’s voice has faded somewhat, and Manzanera, Mackay and Thompson seem understandably less assured on their feet. But age has failed to diminish the Powerful their material or the enthusiasm that animates it, and it will be the same long after the end of this last party. Just as Roxy laid the groundwork for the screaming New Romanticism and languorous yacht pop of the 1980s, perhaps her ingenuity is currently inspiring another big musical trend that time will reveal. After all, now and forever, like in 1972 or 1982, boys will be boys.


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