Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #17

Roxy Music – Roxy Music

If your impressions of Bryan Ferry were formed from listening to the lush bedroom vibes of “Avalon” or his early post-Roxy Music solo work, as mine were, you might also consider him to be probably the coolest man in rock. His singing never seems emotional, even when love is the subject. He always presents as slick and stylish, the most relaxed man in any crisis.

Of course, once upon a time, Ferry also told us that love is a drug, and drugs can have many different effects. With this first album, it seems the band wanted to try every option in the pharmacy, as if they might never be given the key again and so were afraid to leave out any experience. What we get is a band discovering what it is on the fly, and maybe trying a wee bit too hard to sound interesting, sometimes at the expense of making a coherent song. It’s a pastiche of styles – glam, pre-punk, art rock, honky tonk, rockabilly, country – that is wilfully disjunctive at times, as if they were testing how many tone changes a single song can contain.

My favourite track here is one of those messes. “If There Is Something” starts out country-tinged. I love the guitar when it comes in at the 1:40 mark (putting me in mind of the Procol Harum tune “Simple Sister”), and that motif is repeated later with other instruments. The song slows down, becomes more lush, lulls you with its beauty, horns build the emotion, then Ferry gets lost in angsty nostalgia in the last minute and a half. It’s a tour de force, a crystallization of what the band seems to be trying to accomplish.

Another favourite is “Would You Believe”, with a middle section that harkens back to a 1950s sock hop (or would if it were a bit less raucous). The synths in “Chance Meeting” capture the emotional turmoil of unexpectedly encountering an old love. Side two has some prog-rock pretensions (especially on “The Bob (Medley)”, which is wonderfully cinematic, and “Sea Breezes”) that would have made me anxious for the band’s future if I didn’t already know how well it would turn out. They don’t get bogged down in it, as if they were just trying it on, then thought, “No, that’s not for us”. Which can be said about a lot of things on this record.

In the end, while this is all a bit too confused to make it into my permanent rotation, it’s still great to hear a band at the beginning of its arc and compare it to what came later. Though I will always prefer the cool version, the immature hot mess certainly has its charms.

(Originally posted on Facebook, August 21, 2021)

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