When I started 1537 it was because I hoped I’d have a few moments like this, where I stooped to pick up a previously underappreciated, unsuspecting piece of plastic wrapped in colourful cardboard and was suddenly forced to grab onto its comet trail as it blasted off bound for the outer reaches of awesomeness and I was compelled to ride it into the stratosphere, Silver Surfer style, trying desperately to grok it’s greatness whilst simultaneously hanging on for dear life. Basically a wow moment. I just had one with Roxy Music*. Blam!
I knew them best in their louche late 80’s Avalon mode and then through various singles compilations. I bought Roxy Music because a) I’d heard it was 7 shades of amazing b) I felt a bit seedy buying their Country Life LP from the lady at the shop and c) I wanted to soak up a bit of their refined sophistication for my own act. What I got was wild, discordant skronking, no real tunes and a million elements all jumbled together AND they hadn’t put one of my fave singles (by anyone, ever) on the LP, ‘Virginia Plain’. I think I played it about once when I bought it in 2006, filed it under ‘M’ for misadventure** and that was that until yesterday. So what happened? maybe I’ve just got to the right place mentally, maybe it was a mood thing. Whichever/whatever I now acclaim Roxy Music as an act of divine genius. Blam!
Cue up ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ and we’re in familiar territory, the buzz of a cocktail party and we wait for Bryan Ferry to happen along in a tuxedo, an untied bowtie raffishly still draped around his neck and seduce our lady companion, whilst remaining our best friend. Blam! Some in-yer-face piano and then the band kick in, all seemingly fighting to take control of the mix (easy, Manzanera, easy I say ! Down, Mackay, down boy!!) and then Ferry breaks in over the top wielding strangely arch pronunciation and phrasings like a battle-axe and sounds the most discordant and out-there element of it all. Sonically it’s astonishing, as wild as anything by The Stooges; easy! The closest there is to a chorus is when the band all chant ‘CPL593H’ several times*^, after rocking out for a few minutes more of squonking and yelping WE GET TO THE SOLOS! Oh Christ, this is so fucking great, each band member takes a solo ON THE FIRST TRACK OF THEIR DEBUT ALBUM! We get an accelerating drum solo, a bass solo playing ‘Day Tripper’, a strange sci-fi drop-out from Eno, a sax solo stolen from ‘Ride of the Valkyrie’, some rhythm guitar and finally some randomly plonked piano. THEN it all builds to the sort of finale not heard since Queen were closing their live set in their pomp. Blam!
That’s the first track. Please, please if you’ve never heard it before play it and if you have, play it again. It’s the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s all in one blast – in 19freaking72!! If they had split after cutting ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ they’d have achieved more than any of their direct contemporaries. Blam!
You could easily spend weeks walking around inside Roxy Music without getting bored by it. You get the sci-fi seduction, essentially crooning filtered through ‘Telstar’, of ‘Ladytron’, which gets more and more inventive and wilder as it goes on, before it fades out way too early. We get the faux-country-isms of ‘If There Is Something’, the sound collage-bits of ‘Bob (Medley)’ (Bob = Battle of Britain), the rock out that ‘Would You Believe’ ends in^ and even the evil Genesis doo-wop croon that is the poisoner’s tale ‘Bitters End’. The only track that doesn’t make much of an impression on me is ‘2HB’, sadly not an ode to Bryan’s favourite pencil it stands for ‘To Humphrey Bogart’, which in theory should rock just by association. Blam!
May I just talk about one more song? ‘Sea Breezes’ is a 7-minute statement of, well I’m not sure, but it is definitely a statement. Three and a half minutes of gentle wave noises, electric piano, some sparsely gorgeous guitar and an almost medieval vocal, gives way to what amounts to a second movement as chaos and dissonance take over this tale of a fractured relationship. Blame!
Is it just me, or don’t bands make albums like this anymore where every track is entirely distinct from every other and could be in an entirely different style? Maybe it’s a 70’s thing, Queen certainly used to do it. People just seemed a little less constrained by genre back then. Roxy weren’t constrained by anything much at all. I really was shocked by just what a liberating blast Roxy Music is. Screw sweet melody, screw choruses, screw earnestness! You can hear Roxy inventing Kate Bush on the sublimely unsettling ‘Chance Meeting’, Eno going for broke in the dissonance creation stakes, you could slip it onto the soundtrack to Bladerunner easily; especially the bit where it picks up the pace near the end. That’s how good this is – this music just hadn’t been made before. Forget their super smooth 80’s (although I do have a soft spot for it) this was an art school band, shaking it up full pelt. No wonder all the punks loved them later on, David Byrne was definitely listening to Mr Ferry. Blam!
Being the shallow sort I was also moved by their wardrobe too, their legendary Top of The Pops performance of ‘Virginia Plain’ was a fabulous shock of bacofoil, fur, leather and animal print and here the band are all dressed by Anthony Price on the gatefold, the band look like a riot. Ferry’s ultra-restrained spiky quiff and huge collared space-tiger ensemble vies with Eno’s elven prince in a leopard skin blouse number, which contrasts well with Andrew Mackay’s 22nd century greaser look and Phil Manzanera’s cosmic rock dragonfly. Sadly, I feel the rhythm section let us down slightly, Paul Thompson may have the hair but his cartoon tiger on the shoulder of his jumper doesn’t really scream sex panther at me and Graham Simpson’s nice pullover and shirt combo just isn’t in the same league, I’m afraid. Blam!
You know the most extraordinary thing about this extraordinary little album? the fact that 9 months later the band brought out an even better one. Blam!
Give now the host his claret cup
And watch Madeira’s farewell drink
Note his reaction acid sharp
Should make the cognoscenti think
*like all truly great things in this life, released in 1972.
**not literally, it’s under ‘R’ for Roxy – anything else would have stopped me sleeping.
*^the number-plate of a car Ferry used to own, he later saw a beautiful woman get out of it and included it here. File with THX1138.
^sounding uncannily like The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band ‘Tent’, strangely enough.