Hideous excess no longer agrees with me quite the way it used to. I had my office Christmas night out on Friday, good times, funny pictures, strong booze and bad dancing was indulged in. Right up until the little guardian angel in my head* told me to ‘go home now before it all gets too undignified’, which I did.
In my younger years I could do all that and then bound out of bed, maybe a couple of hours later than usual, feeling very tired but otherwise in full working order. Nowadays my rising again is straight out of the Nicene Creed, a full three day affair.
That would never happen to Bryan Ferry. He would just stroll home, bowtie raffishly undone, a bottle of Bolly in one hand and a rose from a mysterious lady’s corsage in the other. Bryan would never have to spend a chunk of Saturday on his knees in front of the porcelain confessional. Bryan would have spent his Saturday wistfully listening to Roxy Music Avalon, a sly smile playing around his lips as he sipped on a glass of something restorative, thinking about that last dance.
I should be more Bryan.
… Now the party’s over, I’m so tired …
I have always really liked Avalon, Roxy’s ninth and final LP**. On the one hand I know that in 1982 it was the harbinger of a certain affluence of sound, an aspirational wine bar music that would soon come to stand for a lot of things and lifestyles that I despised. And yet, and yet. I really like this album, in brief it’s a class act.
There is an undeniable elegance to Avalon, not usually a quality I wholeheartedly endorse, but hey. Roxy at this stage had been boiled down to a trio of Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay plus collaborators. The result was a smoother, sparser sound, some of these songs waft past you, barely disturbing the air by their gossamer passing, held aloft on a frail skeleton of bass and drums and not much else.
Take the gorgeous opener ‘More Than This’ as an example, Ferry’s voice is the main melodic instrument aided and abetted by a genteel fluid beat and some gentle guitar and synth touches – the whole is almost more of the suggestion of a tune than a real tune, a ghost image. Which is no criticism at all, this may actually be that ‘subtlety’ thing I’ve heard of but have never properly explored. The end effect is an exquisite sigh.
The loose-limbed funkiness of ‘The Space Between’ is my favourite track here. The rhythm is pure Talking Heads, via a certain Mr Eno’s David Byrne awesome-fest of the previous year My Life in the Bush of Ghosts^. It just sounds utterly effortless and right, Andy Mackay’s saxophone spooning the melody gently from behind comfortably.
As a dancer and bon viveur of no little renown, I always assumed that via some time-trickery, ‘Avalon’ had been written for me. I know it is as cheesy as Brie on one level but I love this track utterly unreservedly, enough to forgive (and to enjoy) the rather daft video, even. If everything here is perfect, then Ferry’s voice is perfection +1, he never sounded so louche and persuasive and once you add in the sublime backing vocals … well, let us just say I’m seduced; take me Bryan.
Avalon has two 200-ish second long instrumentals, the softly swelling ‘India’ which is a wisp of paisley-patterned silk floating in front of the camera and ‘Tara’, a richly atmospheric showcase for Andy Mackay and Ferry’s own rich keyboards that I wish was much longer.
The rest of Avalon is a little more prosaic to my mind, but no worse for it. The fretless shimmy of ‘While My Heart Is Still Beating’ is a late-night liqueur of a song, Mackay sounding like a bottled wasp. Whereas ‘The Main Thing’ is decidedly, excitingly synth poppy, along with its’ major key chum, ‘Take A Chance On Me’, songs that take the framework of Roxy’s disappointing Flesh + Blood and burnish them alluringly.
Sadly the remaining two tracks ‘To Turn You On’ and ‘True To Life’ are real trifles, immaculate exercises in a languorous style and mood, but lacking the spark and substance of before. It’s a fine line between projecting and inflicting ennui methinks.
I have played Avalon a lot in my semi-stupefied state over the last few days and I have basked safely in its atmosphere of warm, gentle elegance; a resounding statement of pure understatement. The closer I listen the more I appreciate Andy Mackay’s almost ghostly contributions here, with a couple of minor exceptions where he goes over ground, he almost underlines the music throughout, lingering like an afterglow.
Then with a swish of the velvet curtains Roxy Music were gone bowing out with exquisite poise and studied lethargy. Avalon is an exquisite jewel nestling on velvet, a half-glimpsed mystic vision all as portrayed in the delightful Peter Saville cover art, front and back. Whether I should be more Bryan, or not, we should all be more Roxy.
*who I always picture looking like Angus Young, oddly enough.
**I’m not counting post-reformation ones because = my rules.
^possibly my third favourite LP ever, maybe my fifth – anyway, nothing I’m good enough to write about yet.