Los Angeles: Roxy Music's still a wonder - Tue 7th Aug

Los Angeles: Roxy Music's still a wonder
07 August 2001

From the Denver Post.
Reunion tour rises above nostalgia by G. Brown
Denver Post Popular Music Writer

Sunday, August 12, 2001 - LOS ANGELES - Imagine, a reunion tour greeted with delight rather than disdain.

Roxy Music concluded a summer sweep of America at L.A.'s Greek Theatre last week. Along for the first tour together in 18 years (which didn't include a Denver date) were original members Bryan Ferry on vocals, Phil Manzanera on guitar, Andy Mackay on sax and Paul Thompson on drums.

Like all reunions, Roxy Music's concert was nostalgic - but this was a reminder of a time when rock could still be a forum for complex and contradictory ideas, to engage the mind as well as the ears. Roxy's spark and intensity made it the most distinctive and eccentric British art rock band.

At the start of the '70s, Roxy Music appeared to have beamed down from another planet, foppishly bedecked poseurs with an arch version of pop fabulousness. Ferry sang like a tremulous lounge lizard, and Manzanera and Mackay's convoluted lines were distorted and refracted by the electronic "treatments" of Brian Eno. "Roxy Music" and "For Your Pleasure" were at once amateurish and highly developed, a carefully polished musical anarchy that took some adjustment to fully appreciate.

Eno left the group in 1973 to pursue a solo career (he became a producer of note with artists such as U2, Talking Heads and David Bowie). Ferry emerged as an oblique, ambitious artist, his mannered singing and lyrics steeped in self-aware ennui on the albums "Stranded," "Country Life" and "Siren" (which featured "Love Is the Drug," Roxy's closest approximation to an American hit single).

Attention was paid to the album covers, which came with garish photos of scantily clad women in pinup poses or nature girls cavorting in bras and panties - but they didn't have any connection with the innovative, listenable music, and that was the idea all along. Roxy worked disco and soul elements into a period of estimable tracks - "Dance Away," "Angel Eyes," "Over You."

By 1982's "Avalon" the controlled chaos of the early albums was gone. Ferry's nuanced vocals and the sleek, shimmering beauty of the arrangements informed the austere title track and "More Than This." But "Avalon" proved to be Roxy Music's final studio record, and the group broke up at the height of its popularity.

Because of that, many fans who came upon Roxy late and reckoned "Avalon" was its masterpiece had never before seen the band. At the Greek, they had to be provoked by the variety of Roxy's sound.

Ferry, dressed in a semi-formal evening jacket and with his hair adroitly slicked back, looked like a spy on assignment in the adult-rock world. Highlights were his remorseful, moving cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" and a florid "A Song for Europe." But it was "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" that was truest to the subversive spirit and double-edged decadance that informed Roxy's early years - Ferry's deadpan tale of an inflatable sex doll was funny, of course, but also moving in some disturbing way.

Manzanera's solos were untrammeled, but he also added quiet adornment to songs like "Avalon." Mackay was equally lively on woodwinds, and Thompson drummed with sturdy grace. They were supported by a large band that included the versatile Chris Spedding on guitar, background singer Sarah Brown and synthesizer goddess Lucy Wilkins, who prospered in Eno's role and also played some fantastic violin.

Roxy Music didn't play its reunion tour empty-handed - "The Best of Roxy Music" has been released on Virgin Records, a set compiling 18 tracks from the band's eight studio albums. It's an anti-chronology of sorts, since it unfolds the band's web of intricate riffs, unexpected influence and obsessive lyrics in reverse order.

If that taste pulls you in (I'm talking to you, Radiohead fans), know that Virgin issued remastered editions of the Roxy Music catalog in March. Delve among these remarkably consistent albums - they constitute a seminal wellspring of arty inclinations.

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