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.
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.
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!
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.
*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.
*^*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.