Siren Reviewed By Melody Maker - Sun 5th Oct

Siren Reviewed By Melody Maker
05 October 1975
Siren's call to the 'real' Roxy

Alan Jones for 'Melody Maker'

So vivid is the impression created by this, the fifth Roxy Music album, that I'm reminded constantly, as I return and again to the record the unique impact made by the band on the first occasion I saw them perform live, sometime towards the end of July 1973. Despite the local publicity which preceded the gig at a small, undistinguished country club - the audience was in no way prepared for the spectacle of Roxy Music. The bass player in Budgie was probably the most elegant figure most of them had ever witnessed on stage, so when Roxy breezed into sight like timewarped Star Trek mutants crossbred with some renegade strain of 50's rock and roll delinquents, there was a tangible air of confusion. By the time they'd been regaled by the sound of "Virginia Plain," " Re-make/Re-model", "The Bob" and "2HB" - with Manzanera and MacKay scything across Ferry's manic electric piano jabs and Thompson and Kenton's unswerving rhythm, then transformed by Eno's devious devices into the music of some future apocalypse - the audience had been pushed as far as they were prepared to go. "Play some rock and roll!" demanded a voice from the darkness. Ferry's immediate reply was devastating. Inscrutable in his black leather regalia, he allowed himself a smile as he focused on the dissenting audience and announced: "We ARE rock and roll."

I required no further evidence. Roxy Music established themselves as an essential band. The concept of Roxy, for instance, embraced the spirit of rock and roll with affection land a casual arrogance. Their innate intelligence and musical ability - so conveniently overlooked by detractors of the band - enabled them to assimilate past and prevailing styles and techniques and create, in the ensuing synthesis of ideas and information, new possibilities for rock music. Their first album - one overlooked in one's enthusiasm the shortcomings of Pete Sinfield's production - was refreshing and inspiring in its audacity, irreverence and, more importantly, in the confidence and originality of Bryan Ferry's compositions.

"For Your Pleasure", their second album and prior to "Siren" my favourite Roxy collection, further developed the panoramic, technicolour collage of styles and sounds which made Roxy such an intriguing exciting prospect. It was a totally enthralling album, deriving its strength from the diverse sources of its inspiration and the intelligence and imagination with which those influences were deployed. The very fabric of the music on "For Your Pleasure" was alive and vibrant in a way neither of its successors, "Stranded" and "Country Life," could match. It was somewhat paradoxical that as Roxy were growing ever more assured musically, they should sound restricted and constrained by Ferry's use of the band as a vehicle for airing his private obsessions. Perhaps this had to be so. Certainly, such a tactic established Roxy as an increasingly more successful band in commercial terms. Yet both Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay have recently remarked that they regarded "Country Life" as the ultimate expression of one facet of Roxy Music. Mackay, particularly, hoped that "Siren" - which the band had then only begun recording - would recapture something of the quality which had characterised the first two albums. Like Manzanera, he recognised the need to develop away from the aural extravagance which had been taken to its limit by "The Thrill Of It All".

Independently, Mackay and Manzanera viewed "Siren" optimistically, and one felt assured that Roxy would fulfill all of one's expectations with their new album. They have. "Siren" presents as substantial a development as one could have expected from "Country Life". It's a superb album, striking the listener immediately with a force and invention reserved only for the most special musical experiences. The overall sound, while never lacking the essential characteristics one associates with Roxy, is less dense and ornate than much of its predecessor. There's a crispness and vitality in Chris Thomas' production which is reminiscent of the sense of adventure and cavalier spirit which marked their early recordings, an impetuosity which has lately been absent from their : work. The same diligence which was applied to "Country Life" is evident here, but there is, too, an inner radiance which demands one's exclusive attention rather than the uncommitted admiration the previous work provoked.

Lyrically, the majority of the songs in this collection reflect Ferry's continuing obsession with unrequited love, starstruck lovers, and the loneliness of enduring heartache whilst maintaining a facade of conviviality. It follows inevitably from the album's title that this should be the case. (The siren being a mythical sea nymph, half-woman, half-bird, whose songs entranced sailors and lured them to their death.) The songs, then, are frequently addressed to an unidentified female whose insidious and deceptive character has drawn the singer to the edge of despair. The constant permutations on this theme would, in the hands of a less sensitive and original writer than Ferry, have become trivial and tedious. Ferry, however, is so sure in his control that he is consistently able to infuse the various scenarios with an intriguing depth. And, what is even more striking, is the variety and humour with which these songs are graced.

The opening track, "Love Is The Drug" - also released as a single - establishes the new mood efficiently against a vigorous musical backdrop gripping in its staccato propulsion and lent even greater emphasis by Andy Mackay's brass flourishes. But it's Ferry's lyrics which attract one to the composition after this initial introduction: "Face to face, toe to toe/Heart to heart as we hit the floor/ Lumber up, limbo down/The lost embrace, stumble round." It's Ferry in one of 'his favourite personae, as the latenight bar prowler, but given a lighter edge through the less intensely private lyrics. "End Of The Line" and "Could It Happen To Me" find Ferry similarly lovelorn and wasted, but the irony in the lyrics elevates both compositions. They are characterised by infectious melodies and harmonies in the style of minor Sixties' pop classics. Half familiar but distant. Musically, both cuts are compatible with that mood, with Eddie Jobson's serenading violin giving a mournful ambience to the former, and Andy Mackay's brass arrangement lending distinction to the latter. Lyrically, again there is a welcome irony, particularly on "Could It Happen To Me": "Oh boy, is it getting rough/When my old world charm isn't quite enough/Once more it's a crying shame/Only this time no one but myself's to blame.." Actually, Ferry not only seems to have regained his ability to introduce a certain impertinence to his work, but his vocal style has recaptured the cool, distanced composure and detached insolence of "For Your Pleasure".

The superficial innocence of the two aforementioned songs gives way to a darker, more intense vision on "Sentimental Fool" and "Both Ends Burning" - with "Nightingale" falling somewhere in between. This latter track has an air of desolation, superbly emphasised by Manzanera's typically perceptive, restrained guitar and the chilling sonority of Andy Mackay's oboe. The delicate calm of his solo is broken in a spectacular moment as Jobson's multitracked violin streaks in behind Ferry's vocals for the final section of the song. "Both Ends Burning" and "Sentimental Fool" feature Ferry in another of his characteristic disguises: victim of his own hedonism, reflecting on a past of shattered romance and the imminent break-up of yet another relationship, yet unable to control his own desires. Both tracks spotlight Mackay and Manzanera at their most concentrated, creating the perfect musical backdrop for Ferry's drama. Only one track deviates from the overall mood of the album. "She Sells," which opens the second side, is something of a curiosity. Without a lyric sheet the significance of the song is elusive. Jobson's piano leads the band into some transformation of a Thirties swing routine, and from this base Mackay delivers an inspired solo. What can be gleaned from listening with an ear to the speaker sounds fairly ominous, and the lyrics have a definitely cynical edge. It could be interpreted as an attack against some of Ferry's contemporaries, although that might be too much of a presumption to make without further evidence.

Which leaves us with two more tracks, the album's triumphant moments: "Whirlwind" which takes out side one, and "Just Another High," which closes side two on a note of unequivocal grandeur. "Whirlwind" is Roxy at their most reckless. It comes riding in on the back of Manzanera's guitar, striking a note of pure alarm with Ferry's vocals. Instead of the sheer cluster of hurtling sound apparent on a song of similar momentum like " Serenade," say, "Whirlwind" has the breathless, speed rush of "Editions Of You" (indeed, there's an almost identically placed organ break here). The crystal like purity of Manzanera's solo emphasises the prevailing clarity of the piece with astounding precision.

Even "Whirlwind," however, has to take second place to "Just Another High," which is as supreme an achievement as either "In Every Dream Home A Heartache" or "Mother Of Pearl." It is, in fact, "Heartache" which the mood of this song initially evokes, with Manzanera's guitar creating a similar menacing tension as Ferry half recites the opening lines with an air of disenchantment. He's addressing another lost love, this time with a suggestion of cruelty: "Maybe your heart is aching - I wouldn't know now, would I? Maybe your spirit's breaking up - I shouldn't care now, should I? Maybe you're thinking of me - well I don't know, now do I?" As the piece develops, though, it becomes genuinely moving and takes on something of the emotional gravity which embellished "Mother Of Pearl." The final effect of Ferry's voice against the sublime lyricism of Manzanera's guitar is immensely powerful and the climax where Ferry is joined by a chorus repeating the title as he sings, "Just a craa-a-a-a-zy high to be stuck on you" is quite overwhelming.

You'll be able to hear it for yourself in about two weeks' time. Meanwhile, just take my word that "Siren" more than confirms Roxy Music's position as one of the most essential bands to have emerged so far this decade. -

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