Here By The Seine Notre Dame Casts A Long Lonely Shadow …

Poor Notre Dame, its’ shadow may now be infinitely lonelier than ’twas.  Welcome to Roxy Music’s ‘Song For Europe’, as sophisticated and languid an ode to intracontinental intercourse and ennui as one might ever desire to hear.

It is a baffling, multi-faceted jewel of a track – Ferry giving it his best bleating vibrato over some marching piano and talking foreign-isms; if you don’t giggle at the way he baahs out the word ‘Jamais’ then there is simply no hope for you, I am afraid.  Yet at the same time here are some lovely spare, emotive moments before it all goes a bit, umm, excessif.  Interesting place that Europe thingy, maybe our nation should join it sometime.

What Stranded shows, straight-up, is that Roxy Music’s essential OTT oddness was barely dented by Eno’s departure in 1973.  Released only a ludicrous 8 months after their second LP, the titanic For Your Pleasure, Roxy’s third is an often overlooked deeply satisfying gewgaw. 

1537 shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo.

Pausing only briefly to admire the cover image of Marilyn Cole (as discarded exotic bloom) in the spirit of the age – they hadn’t properly invented sexism by November ’73*, let us plunge on and in and upwards past the knock-off Warholisms of the gatefold inner sleeve. 

One of those woman things (lower end shown), I understand.  Wonder if it had a name?

Opener ‘Street Life’ has always been a real Roxy favourite of mine, a wonderfully fruity strut poised somewhere equidistant between sophistication and self-parody^.  It’s definitely a kissing cousin of ‘Virginia Plain’ and all the better for it, especially towards the end where for a couple of dizzying stanzas Bryan Ferry’s vocals seem to be entirely formed of mannerisms; more arch than a foot. 

In true early Roxy style Stranded then sidles up to you at the singles bar with ‘Just Like You’ and tries to get into your pants via the resigned, wistful melody;  successfully.  In common with a fair number of their numbers the words are nonsense written down and yet, crooned by that man, they are perfectly logical when heard, no mean feat. 

Call me needy but I am a little less enamoured with the more experimental ‘Amazona’, Phil Manzanera’s sole co-write on the LP.  Mr M’s guitar is expressive and bouncy and I love Ferry’s frankly bizarre enunciation but somebody forgot to write enough of a song to go with them, to counterbalance some of the twottling about that goes on in the middle.  I mean it.

Next track ‘Psalm’ is a true gem though, a Roxy all-timer for me.  Over some suitably churchy organ courtesy of Eddie Jobson, Ferry conflates belief, fashion and love, giving it such vibrato that we appear to be in the company of a seriously pious lamb by the end.  It’s a real builder of a track, Mackay and Jobson (violin this time) giving it loads, along with the London Welsh male voice choir^^ gently giving it lots of atmosphere in the background.  Nobody else could ever sound like this, or would ever want to, to my mind that is really worth something. 

Side 2 opener ‘Serenade’ errs on the side of forgettable, it is chiefly memorable to me because every time I hear it I hear Bryan Ferry sing ‘From Courtney Love to costly game’ instead of ‘courtly love’

Stranded boasts yet another big slice of genius pie in ‘Mother of Pearl’.  In the tradition of my favourite Roxy starts it starts out as one thing and then ends up being something utterly different and other by the end.  We start off rocking out in a decidedly rubbery way, Phil Manzanera giving it fuckloads of flashiness over a bow-legged bassline, then *Blam!* we’re through the looking glass.  It ends up being a rather lovely torch song, Ferry crooning away in possibly his all-time ever louchest performance^*, camper than a jamboree it is a sheer delight.  By the time the last few acapella lines repeat, inevitably, I’ve had a suavegasm; Oooo mother of pearl!

How freaking amazing is this live TV version?! Roxy got there in 1973, the rest of us are still en route.  This was so exciting that rumours persist to this very day that Phil Manzanera actually considered standing up at one point during the performance.  No, really.

Spent and mellow listener do not fear, Stranded has the perfect LP closer for you.  Riding in on the coattails of ‘Mother Of Pearl’, via a piano line that exchoes Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’, ‘Sunset’ is utterly spent and mellow.  A deceptively lengthy song that choonkles away with a nifty sun/love metaphor, Ferry’s piano and Chris Lawrence adds string bass*^*.

I have learned to love Stranded over the years as Roxy Music’s last full-on-eccentric album.  Don’t misunderstand me they made some superb music and some great LPs later, but nothing quite as daring again as a whole. 

Jamais!

924 Down. 

*Roxy’s hairdressers and the ‘cover girl make up’ person is credited but Marilyn is not.  Come on guys, you spray a lady’s hair gold, you artfully tear her dress, drape her over a big wet log and expose the very outer circumference of her left areola** and you don’t even give her a namecheck?!!  1973, eh? Notre dame sans nom.

**if you peer very carefully it’s there.  Trust me.

^as most of Roxy’s best are.

^^I’m not just being patriotic here but if you should ever get an opportunity to see a real Welsh male voice choir in person, do it.  They really bring the thunder.  Oh and they get named in the inner sleeve too, sorry Marilyn.

^*which is pretty fucking louche, believe me.  Who else could deliver the lines ‘melancholy shimmering / serpentine sleekness / Was always my weakness’, mine to Bri bro, mine too.

Three years later, Bryan goes all out for the ‘tache and US cop shirt look.

*^*not totally sure what one is but I’m just going to brazen it out and hope for the best here, those suckers that read this will never know. True story.

21 thoughts on “Here By The Seine Notre Dame Casts A Long Lonely Shadow …

      1. Thing about Roxy is I think I’m digging them more now than I did back then. In fact I know I am. There was too much for my pea brain to pick up first time around. “Girls” were starting to come into the picture and just confuse me.

  1. Enjoyed this one, Joe. Great album too. I mind thinking Ferry must have been the David Essex type, as my parental unit had one of his LPs and she only had stuff like David Essex and other wallpapery stuff. How wrong was I!?

    Anyhoo, when I realised Ferry was brilliant and got into Roxy Music, this one stood out. Maybe cause it has a different yet familiar vibe going on. They’re all good albums, though.

    Also, I had a chuckle at “1537 shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo”. Well played.

      1. You bet. Wild David Essex listening parties at my place on the 3rd Saturday of every month. We’re on his overlooked early 90’s output.

  2. To think less of me, but I have never listened to Roxy Music (not on purpose anyway). Based on this, I might need to rethink that. I have always enjoyed their covers though. And your post title takes me back to just a couple days ago when I was literally walking along the Seine looking at the burned out Notre Dame. It was sad and beautiful all at the same time.

    1. I had forgotten you were going – what a sad sight to see. When I went as a young man, Mrs 1537 and I got up at stupid o’clock to see the sun rise on the island there. There was a very moving holocaust memorial garden/sculpture behind the cathedral too that I remember very clearly.

      A greatest hits might be a good start? some of their singles kicked like a mule, Manzanera is a mean guitarist.

      1. I couldn’t close enough to see that memorial, but I know what you are talking about.

        And as far as Roxy, I might do an Essentials playlist on Apple to get a taste.

      2. Please do, your ears will thank you. You’ll be wearing a white dinner jacket before you know it, trust me.

  3. Gewgaws? Twottling? Choonkling?
    Don’t know what you were on when you penned this one, Joe, but I want what he’s having.
    Being a teen of the seventies, I was rather enamoured with that cover. I imagine I was quite alone in that.

    1. Sometimes existing words don’t quite do what I need them to, it’s the sort of thing I brood about on the way to work every day.

      Yup, you must have been totally alone in that. I’m sure they only put beautiful women in states of undress on their LP covers to make important points about, umm, art, unattainable beauty and sophistication and boobs and art and things. Only a very base person indeed could fail to notice that.

    1. I’ve not heard Siren yet, don’t own that one or Manifesto so far. It’s an interesting swop Jobson for Eno, it may take away some extremes from the band but he adds so much in terms of textures.

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