Re-make/Re-model Re-Unite - Thu 19th Jul

Re-make/Re-model Re-Unite
19 July 2001

Is the 21st century ready for Roxy Music?

by Michael Pelusi of Philadelphia's City Paper

The first European leg of Roxy Music’s reunion world tour concluded early this month, and, reports sax/oboe player Andy Mackay with a tinge of relief in his voice, "It certainly feels like Roxy."

Feeling like Roxy Music, though, could be any number of things: the glam-era madness of the British group’s first albums, recorded with one Brian Eno wreaking havoc on then-new synthesizers and tape machines; the artful, deconstructed love songs delivered by singer Bryan Ferry with a wink and a tear; the farewell windswept synth-pop with too much melancholy panache to be considered a sell-out; or maybe just their keen fashion sense, and the scantily clad models splayed across their album covers.

"I think that there are two things that really define Roxy," theorizes Mackay. "One is the eclectic mix of styles: that we would bring in things from rock ’n’ roll, soul, classical music, avant-garde music, all of these. And I think there’s Bryan’s voice and his approach to lyrics and the themes that he deals with in his lyrics, which tend to be love songs."

Now, 18 years after the end of their last tour, mainstays Ferry, Mackay and guitarist Phil Manzanera as well as original drummer/fan favorite Paul Thompson (who quit in 1980) have regrouped (no Eno, who slammed the reunion in the press), with six backing musicians and eight dancers (!) in tow.

In an age when so much alleged cutting-edge music veers between slavish re-creation and self-conscious melting-pot theatrics, the overflowing, double-fisted cocktails of Roxy’s first two records (Roxy Music in ’72 and ’73’s For Your Pleasure ) are revelations, treating musique concrete, doo-wop, cabaret, crooner pop and the Velvet Underground as equals and delighting in the resulting incongruity. You feel like the band could fall apart, could teeter over into chaos any minute, and it’s thrilling. Mackay notes of those early albums, "It sounded strange in its day, and it still sounds quite strange now."

Eno then flew the coop (or was pushed out), constrained by the sideman role Ferry wanted him to occupy. Ferry proceeded to hone in on his musings on unrequited love. But Roxy proved just as groundbreaking in this guise. Making himself over from glam-rock greaser into tuxedoed charmer, Ferry found a new way to convey the classic sad-sack persona of pop. His halting, gulping vibrato gave love songs an electric shock. He was being campy and sincere. He sighed, he swooned, he sneered, he leered, he gestured grandly, he wept. He did it all with impeccable style, but always let you see his battered heart still beating. By the time of the band’s final and most successful album, Avalon (1982), the irony had completely vanished. The first song on Roxy Music, "Re-Make/Re-Model," derived its edge from ambiguity: Was Ferry singing about a girl or a car? There was no such question regarding Avalon’s "To Turn You On."

While bona fide rock stars in Europe, they only occasionally troubled the U.S. charts, most successfully the edgy funk of ’75’s "Love Is the Drug" (really, one of the great rock singles). Every now and then, someone prominent will come out as a raging Roxy-ite (most recently Moby and Air). And, arguably, any band trying out the "noise-pop" suit for size owes a huge debt to the band. But how many are aware of that?

"I find it hard to say, myself, ‘I can hear Roxy [in today’s music].’ I always thinks it sounds a little bit arrogant," says Mackay. He allows that they perhaps helped pave the way for bands with a jones for boundary-pushing. "I don’t know whether Radiohead’s Kid A would’ve been a chart album without [our] groundwork."

Scoff along with Brian Eno if you like, deride the tour as a cash cow. Or think of it as a chance for people to hear a really good band that did some really new things they might have missed out on. "Maybe the time is now for people who’ve never really listened to the Roxy catalog," Mackay says rosily. "I think that the fact that we weren’t featured a lot throughout the ’90s means that now people have come to this tour and seen it as something almost new, something exciting."

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