A comprehensive A-Z of one of the most stylish, adventurous bands of all time.
Sean Egan 2012-08-02
Roxy Music brought such panache to 70s pop that you would expect nothing less than this 10-CD collection to be housed in replica sleeves and an elegantly minimalist slipcase. The contents, however, provoke the feeling that meticulous packaging was often as far as it went.
Roxy’s eponymous 1972 entrée and For Your Pleasure (1973) are full of mannered vocals and an alternation between tunefulness and deliberate atonality. Stranded (also from 1973), their first album following the departure of their resident musical eccentric Brian Eno, sees a move toward pop and soul, evident from Street Life, on which Bryan Ferry growls with an emotion rare for the old smoothie.
On Country Life (1974), caterwauling electric guitar and louche stances occupy the same album in a way that could only be Roxy. There was a new sheen and sharp definition to the band’s sound from 1975’s Siren, which kicks off with the smart, pulsating pop of Love Is the Drug, although the ‘singles bar’ territory the latter traverses demonstrates the band’s persistent emotional shallowness.
Having sat out the punk revolution and its aftermath, Roxy began their comeback album Manifesto (1979) with defiant artiness in the shape of two-and-a-half slow and instrumental minutes. Even so, the pointer to the future is Dance Away, a glittering but conventional ballad.
By the time of the hit-packed Flesh + Blood (1980), Roxy are, apart from the general sophistication, unrecognisable as the band whose adult fare was once completely at odds with their platform-booted, teen idol image. The album’s sighing tone and pretty synths are typified by Over You.
1982’s Swansong Avalon is in the same vein. Though said vein is now congealing into something a little soporific and is spoilt slightly by modishly prominent drumming, some of it, especially the stately title track, is undeniably beautiful.
Being a mop-up of everything else released in their lifetime – including remixes and extended mixes – discs nine and 10 are useful rather than consistent. However, there are several essential non-album hits, not least the breakneck Virginia Plain, which contains more energy than anything else Roxy ever recorded. Meanwhile the B sides throw up some nuggets: would that anything on their albums be as warm and playful as Hawaiian instrumental Hula Kula.
This set confirms that Roxy Music were both one of the most stylish, adventurous bands ever heard and a group that often mistook those qualities for substance.