Roxy Music – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of “Roxy Music” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Roxy Music – Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of “Roxy Music”

The Album First Came Out on June 16, 1972

Jun 16, 2022 By Austin Saalman
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A seminal year in glam, 1972 yielded the releases of David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, T. Rex’s The Slider, and Lou Reed’s Transformer, each record advancing the evolving sound of rock and steering youth culture away from the earthy optimism of the previous decade, ushering in an era in which popular culture’s eschatology was dictated by sexuality, decadence, and high fashion. Underrated in comparison to some contemporaneous genre releases, Roxy Music’s eponymous debut (released the same day as Ziggy) did just as much, if not more, to capture the image of Western culture’s full immersion into postmodernism, its soundscapes, both extraterrestrial and apocalyptic, more complex than those of T. Rex, yet less accessible than golden era Bowie—an ideal synthesis of experimental irony and earnest romanticism.

Fronted by the ever charismatic Bryan Ferry and initially powered, in part, by the technical wizardry of a young Brian Eno, English art rock outfit Roxy Music emerged amidst the cultural shift pioneered by musical figures such as Bowie, Marc Bolan, Reed (along with The Velvet Underground), and Iggy Pop, while maintaining its distance from such acts, often coming on heavier, its efforts far more artful and grandiose than even Ziggy aspired to be. Greeted with positive reviews upon its release and reaching #10 on the U.K. albums chart, Roxy Music picked up where its peers had left off, incorporating elements of art and glam rock, jazz, and avant-pop into its unconventional arrangements and melodramatic delivery, Ferry instantly distinguishing himself as a glam idol and his group making waves across the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, the United States.

From its timelessly provocative artwork (featuring model Kari-Ann Muller as the first of Roxy Music’s signature “pin-up’s”) to the group’s merger of vintage glamor and the ultramodern avant-garde, Roxy Music is a work of juxtapositions, functioning as both pastiche and premonition. Opening track “Re-Make/Re-Model” recalls earlier compositions “Day Tripper,” “Peter Gunn,” and “The Ride of the Valkyries,” successfully wedding the classical and contemporary, the high-, middle-, and low-brow, while Eno-pioneered standout “Ladytron” projects Ferry’s suave “lounge lizard” croon onto an icy lunar landscape, launching the listener decades into the future. The latter track remains among Roxy Music’s masterworks, as well as one of the most unique songs ever recorded, immediately placing the group into competition with its peers. In contrast, the subsequent “If There Is Something” and “Virginia Plain” (a fan favorite not included on the album’s first pressing) tinker with more traditional (as “traditional” as Roxy Music could be) rock and roll structures, both far warmer in hue and more akin to the mainstream style of the past than other album inclusions. Exemplary glam classic “2HB,” perhaps Roxy Music’s finest track, returns to the album’s innovative sound, Ferry paying homage to silver screen icon Humphrey Bogart as he declares, in what are among glam’s greatest lines, “Oh I was moved by a screen dream/Celluloid pictures of living/Your death could not kill our love for you.” Never having more articulately expressed the dichotomy within himself, Ferry reveals himself to be both a fool for the seductive pleasures of yesteryear and a forward-thinking experimentalist, unlikely to have flourished in any decade other than the ’70s—essentially summing up the delirious anti-sentimentality of early Roxy Music.

Like Bowie’s influential 1977-released Low, itself graced by Eno’s presence, Roxy Music essentially exists in two distinct halves, with side one consisting of more rock-oriented stand-alones and side two functioning as a synth-heavy, avant-garde suite, the latter providing a dual narrative and anticipating Eno’s more realized work to come. “The Bob (Medley)” revisits, then reimagines, the Battle of Britain as both historical event and cinematic phenomenon, its fragments providing the soundtrack for militant destruction, as familiar to the Vietnam era as it was the 1940s. “The Bob,” it could be argued, is the album’s most experimental cut, cycling through a century’s worth of aesthetic influences and remaining an understated prog epic. Shifting gears, subsequent synth ballad “Chance Meeting” showcases Eno’s phantasmagoric vision of a melodically eerie afterworld, pairing perfectly with Ferry’s lachrymal recollections of romance since faded, reflecting, “It seems like yesterday/When I first saw you/In your red dress smile.” Moody pop-rocker “Would You Believe?,” quiet standout “Sea Breezes,” and soulful closer “Bitters End” further explore the album’s baroque fascinations, blending the breathlessly beguiling and affectingly nightmarish, rounding the album out and setting the stage for the following year’s For Your Pleasure.

Roxy Music remains a significant release even 50 years on. Cloaked in the exquisite finery of, and prone to the same devious mutations as, the entire glam movement, the album deserves to be heard, its utter weirdness and musical sophistication bound to appeal to any generation of alt kids. It is a shame that Rolling Stone removed the group from its “Immortals” list, as Roxy Music’s lifespan is likely unlimited, its debut album being of indisputable influence on multiple generations of artists. Both band and album, while certainly an acquired taste for many, bear an assortment of gaudily enthralling pleasures, still adding a dash of glamor to an otherwise dour setting. Enjoy Roxy Music for what it is—a wholly satisfying, albeit occasionally challenging, celebration of beauty, desire, and terror in the modern age, as relevant now as ever before.

[Roxy Music are embarking on a 50th anniversary North American tour this September and October. You can find out info on the dates and tickets on the band’s website here. Roxy Music was reissued earlier this year on half-speed vinyl.]

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