The Valium Panthers

On a shiny gatefold cover an impossibly angular woman in shiny sheath couture totters forwards with a panther on a leash, towards a limousine where a smiling (smirking) chauffeur leans against the open door, in the background the nocturnal city skyline shimmers and entices; she seems utterly entranced by her own moment, creations’ crowning glory.

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The whole photograph has been treated and tooled until it looks far more like a fantastical painting than a snap taken on an empty London street.  Amanda Lear, she of the haughty angles, later recalled of her unfortunate feline cover costar,

‘They overdid the Valium .. and the poor animal couldn’t get up … it was lying on its stomach … when it came to it, they had to paint the eyes open on the sleeve’ *

Welcome to the deceptive flash and whirl, drugged panther angular girl, illusions maintained as images unfurl; welcome to Roxy Music For Your Pleasure, 1973 and 2073’s album of the year.

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The traditional view was always that For Your Pleasure marked the breaking point between the Brians** – Eno’s experimentalism and Ferry’s languid pop urges, an impression strengthened by the fact that Eno was out on his ear within 4 months of the release.  I’ve never detected any such divide in the music though and Reynolds suggests that it was far more to do with an old-fashioned egocentric take over by Ferry, apparently he was sick of competing for chicks with the sexually voracious Eno and taking huge umbrage at audiences chanting ‘Eno! Eno!’ during gigs.  Whether that’s the truth, or just more painted panther eyes, doesn’t really matter as the Brians dovetailed perfectly here on For Your Pleasure.

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Take lead off track ‘Do The Strand’ which is about as close as Roxy get to a ‘normal’ track here.  Except it isn’t.  Okay, okay I’ll stop being gnomic and explain.  On one level it is a rollicking 4 minute song about an entirely fictitious new dance craze, with an over the top fruity vocal from Ferry, or at least it would be if there wasn’t just so much damn chaos going on all over the place! The chief instrument of terror here being Andrew Mackay’s sax which drops odd dissonance and off-key squonks and squarks in-between times – there is a genius moment towards the end where Ferry overpowers the sax in order to carry on name-dropping art, it’s punch-the-air wonderful to me.  Plus Roxy get huge 1537 bonus points for mentioning Guernica on a single^.

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There’s a sense of humour beating beneath the slick sheen and vibrato of ‘Beauty Queen’, a studied kiss-off between two superficial lovers of beauty that suddenly revs up and off into the distance about halfway through.  I can’t dislodge the lines ‘Plying very strange cargo / Our soul-ships pass by’.  There is an awful lot to love in the histrionic torch song confessional ‘Strictly Confidential’, mostly the fact that as Ferry’s voice stays even the music behind him gets increasingly agitated and passionate.  It’s all very arch and knowing.

Brian Eno: Super power = Flight
Brian Eno: Super power = Flight

For Your Pleasure, ironically given Ferry’s chasing of the aristocratic life, is a very rich dish of an LP indeed, every time I hear it something new suggests itself to me.  Call me an unreconstructed rocker boy but my joint favourite track tonight is the rip-snorting ‘Editions of You’, where Phil Manzanera gets to slather on some real guitar bite, among one of Eno’s finest Roxy keyboard outings.  Again Ferry excels himself with a wonderfully campy delivery on this tale of the bachelor life (‘I heard those slinky sirens wail, whooo!’) the bravado being undercut by the protagonist’s endless quest for pale imitations of the ‘you’ in the title^^.

Brian Ferry: Super power = X-ray ennui
Phil Manzanera:  Super power = Animal Magnetism

Where to go from there? Backwards into the future of course! ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ is an astonishing song, by anyone’s standards, not just Roxy Music’s.  Part 1940’s crooning torch song and part 1980’s affluent emptiness and nihilism, not bad for 1973.  The opening of the song conjures a real sense of dread and existential terror, I can picture Ferry singing it sat by the side of a underlit pool, pristine futuristic dwelling behind him, contemplating … contemplating? well, the fact that the song is about an inflatable sex doll and NOT FUNNY is fairly incredible, in their hands Roxy turn the purchase of a plastic pal into yet another means of attempted control and trying to buy a forever elusive happiness.  Even better Manzanera really gets to cut loose on a full on prog rock freak out, false ending and all.  Decades go by in popular music without showing as much originality as this track.

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Andrew Mackay: Super power = Squonking

For Your Pleasure turns on the funk next with ‘Bogus Man’, the longest track on the album and another one I just can’t get enough of.  Not, shall we say, the loosest and funkiest of dudes Roxy really groove here on their illogical funk. much like Talking Heads would a few years later.  Paul Thompson’s drumming is rock steady here I love his style, nothing fancy, no fills no frills he is the perfect counterpoint to the treated washes of guitar and Mackay’s saxing on this tune, which I read as being about trying to outrun your own insecurities and doubts.  This is quite unlike anything else in the Roxy Music songbook, far more Can than their usual Can-can it sounds like they could cruise this way for years once the band lock into that loping panther groove.  The jungle sound effects are a nice touch too.

Paul Thompson: Super power = 4/4 Beat
Paul Thompson: Super power = 4/4 Beat

Who knows what ‘Grey Lagoons’ is about? I suspect that’s the point, lyrically there are echoes of the 1936 song ‘These Foolish Things’  that ferry would cover on his first solo LP, but twisted,

Satin teardrops on velvet lights
Morning sickness on Friday nights

The music is far more remarkable than the lyrics are, this one is all over the road – some straight-ahead rock and roll, progressive segments, some real strangeness and a wonderful purring finale from our man Ferry.

Brian Ferry: Super power = X-ray ennui
Brian Ferry: Super power = X-ray ennui

The title track is a very different kettle of fish, from anything that had come before it on this album, or any other.  A totally poised and posed, icy tableau of a song it is where the meeting of the Brians is perfect and equal.  Ferry sings like a vampire surveying the morning after-math of a slaying at a sophisticated cocktail party, every word as exquisitely enunciated and shaped as Lear’s figure on the album cover.  Piano and drums flutter around prettily, but disquietingly as the song phases and builds to a turbulent, tumbling exit point, phrases musical and lyrical swirling around.  There is no Californian sun in this touch of Psychedelia, it’s purely European and cold.  A rather pretty Valium panther of a nightmare.

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I am on a real Roxy Music kick at the moment and apart from a couple of late disappointments the quality of their output is pretty humbling. For Your Pleasure towers above the others in stature though.  If this album were a chick it would be strutting along sheathed in shiny chic, walking a panther on a gilded leash against a glamorous neon background^* … oh, clever.

740 Down.

PS.  This is a thing of exquisite joy and wonderment, especially when they blast off for the stratosphere.  Phil Manzanera’s jacket and Les Paul scorching is worth the price of admission alone:

PPS.  I couldn’t quite fit it into the above but I am always astonished by how damn hard bands worked back then.  For Your Pleasure followed, the mighty Roxy Music by 9 months, third Roxy LP Stranded followed 8 months later – not to mention all the non-album singles they banged out too.  Maybe contrary to popular belief they didn’t spend all their time being paralyzed by ennui and crippled by their own loucheness.

*pinched from my current reading matter Simon Reynolds Shock And Awe: Glam Rock And Its Legacy (pp. 356-7).

**The Strife of Brian(s)?

^1537 rules, Section 119 A (p.481-487)  state points for mentioning really cool artworks are halved if it only happens on an album track.

^^massive 1537 bonus points are awarded for the country life dismissing line ‘But badgers couldn’t compensate at twice the price’.

^*catwalk you see? I had to have that pointed out to me.

26 thoughts on “The Valium Panthers

  1. Going for a great-out count here:
    Great piece on a great album with a great cover enfolding a great centrefold presented here with great pics and a knitted panther cat. How much more great? None more great.

    PS. 2073, eh? Is that the current album count?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks Bruce, Roxy’s best 1973 LP I think! Great comment.

      I think it’s a flawless album and it was time that the knitted panther made her debut on the Internet (it’s a brooch belonging to Mrs 1537).

      Would this get your vote as their best LP?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The last track too (I’m stranded far away from my records tonight).

        I’m up to 1966 records now and I’ll be at the world’s oldest record shop tomorrow…

        Like

  2. With regard to the PPS – I read a theory recently (I think it was in the 1971 book) that the music was stronger BECAUSE the bands were releasing music so frequently.

    Nowadays, with several years between releases, there’s too much over-thinking, too much compromising, too much straying from the original creative idea.

    I think there’s merit to that theory – and given your review here (plus the 2 other Roxy Music LPs on the list from that time period), there’s some supporting evidence!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not really, too overwritten and a bit flowery. It makes a very good reference book though. It’s not a cover to cover read.

      Lonely Boy by Steve Jones is an absolute blast though.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Really loved this one, sir. Despite having a fair few albums, I only started listening to Roxy Music with a bit more intent over the last few years and, well, the albums are astoundingly good. This one and Stranded are probably my favourites… though it depends on the day, really.

    Ferry is one of those folk who just knock me down when I hear him. Something about his delivery sets him apart, eh?

    As for Phil Manzanera, good grief, he’s a player. An incredibly talented bunch, actually.

    Some great pics, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks J. I really enjoyed writing this nonsense.

      I’m on a real Roxy kick, I’ve bought 3 this week. I have only played Stranded once so far, but I am really digging Country Life and not just because of the cover.

      Ferry was awesome, not someone I find myself drawn to as a personality at all. Although I have modelled my image entirely on his, which is why I wear a white dinner jacket at all times. True story.

      Every Dream Home is about as good as music gets, I think.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s pretty impressive Roxy Music purchasing going on! Country Life is also brilliant (and aye, not just cause of the cover (though they are all brilliant , huh?)).

        Ferry always seems like a bit of a Tory, which ensures he’ll never receive a Christmas dinner invite from me for fear he’d say something uncool. But I guess he could be worse (distanced himself from his Nazi imagery admiration a good few years back!)

        Still, I’d likely invite him for a pint.

        Liked by 2 people

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