The Spotlight: "Roxy Music" by Roxy Music
By ALEX BEMISH
Roxy Music by Roxy Music (1972)
What it is:
The debut by one of the most influential bands in rock music (despite the fact people rarely talk about them).
Why you should care:
When many people think of British rock from the 1970s, the bands that usually come to mind are the ones often played on “classic rock” radio: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, etc. While there is nothing wrong with this (I love all of that stuff, too), most Americans never hear about the other side of British rock at that time. This is where the Glam movement comes in.
“Glam” is often lumped here in America with what is more commonly known as “hair metal.” This is understandable due to the influence of glam on that very-80s strand of rock; it should be noted that term has different meaning to the British. Instead, British glam is best described as bubblegum pop with loud guitars (Sweet, T.Rex) or art rock that chose to focus on glamour and kitsch (David Bowie, Queen) instead of wizards and difficult time signatures. The band in question here, Roxy Music, fits into the latter group.
To go into the history of the band requires a whole book (which there are already four written), so I’ll be brief: a group of amateur musicians come together (most notably a ceramics teacher named Bryan Ferry and synthesizer player Brian Eno), decide to play as a band and dress up in goofy outfits while performing. While this does not sound promising, the music they made was unlike anything else made at the time.
The album makes heavy use of Eno’s treatments, which were unusual in popular music (but are taken for granted today), and the rest of band breaks out into heavy playing. This is not lightweight music. From the bizarre jams heard on “If There is Something” and “The Bob (Medley)” to the addictive gallop of “Virginia Plain,” this band meant serious business in spite of its weirdness. Most of the album’s focus is on 40s noir cinema (hence the Roxy part) if it had collided with 70s science fiction, creating an odd blend of futuristic nostalgia. Ferry’s voice is best likened to a warbling crooner, matched up perfectly with Andy McKay’s saxophone blasts and the spiky guitar of Phil Manzanera. It’s really quite a trip and just writing about it doesn’t do justice.
It would only be one more album before Eno left for good (For Your Pleasure from 1973) and Ferry taking the band into a “lounge lizard” direction (if you heard “More Than This” in Lost in Translation, than this the Roxy Music you know of). Eno is often given the most credit, especially since he is better known as the producer of both U2 and Talking Heads and as a pioneer in electronic music. Yet this album had repercussions that still effects today’s music. I was not being hyperbolic when I said they were one of the most influential bands. If you don’t believe me, imagine what music would be like without this album: there would be no punk, post-punk, goth, New Romantics, Britpop, at least half of today’s indie rock…
Who would like it?
Anyone willing to give something different a try. It isn’t the most difficult music out there (ever heard of Merzbow or Diamanda Galas?) but I imagine this could try most people’s patience. I also recommend this to anyone who has an interest in the history leading up the British punk movement and all that it inspires.