Pazz and Jop 1974 #7

Roxy Music – Stranded

Every time I listen to early Roxy Music, all I hear is a band that’s trying too hard to – well, what they want to accomplish is the mystery, but it definitely isn’t about entertaining the listener. Yet again, they seem to be trying to straddle a non-existent line between art band and pop band, never realising that the latter is worthy of being art on its own terms. What they end up with manages to accomplish, well, not much worth listening to, for my money.

Oh, it isn’t horrible: they are talented musicians and songwriters, and that has value, but somehow it all just feels horribly flat when the whole package comes together in the grooves. When I look at the track listing, not a single title comes back to me in my imagination. I make notes (because I’m a non-professional, damnit), and from those I can tell you what stood out. But even if my future non-professional music writer status was on the line (it could happen), identifying without prompts what I liked about this album would tax me beyond recovery.

From those notes, I can tell you that Bryan Ferry’s odd vocal style sounds at times like an alien trying in vain to master the local tongue. That the songs are mostly too busy, with jarring tempo shifts and a wilful opposition to allowing anything that pleases the ear to continue unassailed. That a lot of this feels like progressive rock without the label.

As for the individual songs, I like the warped funk opening of “Amazona”, the interplay of drums and piano on “Just Like You”, the piano opening on “Sunset”. Besides these snippets, the powerful “A Song for Europe”, with its “Berlin”-era Lou Reed vibe, beautiful tinkling piano and tempo shifts that are not merely ornamental but increase the song’s drama, is the one track that feels like it finds a balance between whatever artistic statement the band is trying to make and actually giving pleasure to the listener.

I won’t escape Roxy Music anytime soon – two of their albums made the top 20 of the Pazz and Jop in 1975 (a year full of pairs). My hope is that even the embryo of the band that made “Avalon” had shown up by then. Otherwise, I may just recycle this post and change the names where appropriate.

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