October 19th, 2000

Roxy Music

Roxy Music’s recent decision to hitch a ride on the revival bandwagon and get back together inevitably triggered a warm wave of nostalgic appreciation. Roxy Music, it’s understood, are one of Britain’s national treasures, a musical equivalent to the sort of stately home in which Bryan Ferry currently resides, a repository for style and class. Anyone in British pop who has ever aspired to a certain suavity, be it Japan or ABC, or later in their own way Pulp or Blur, is said to owe a debt of thanks to Roxy Music.

Scrape beyond their gloss-deep exterior, however, listen harder to them and stare a little longer at their photo and album cover archive and you realise that Roxy Music are a mere appendix in the British body pop. If they hadn’t existed, it would not have been necessary to invent them. Far from standing out in brilliant contrast to their times, Roxy Music were creatures of them. Even by the all-time-low sartorial standards of the Seventies, Roxy Music looked as mouldy as last year’s cheese, a clumsy riot of half-mast flares, space-aged winged collars and garish rhinestone. They look like what they were – a bunch of muso heteros got up in the garb of the day ‘cos that’s what the birds seem to go for, like.

Had Ferry and co really possessed a unique sense of style, they might have dressed more like Kraftwerk – in elegant, provocatively conservative tones, or recreated themselves as singular superfreaks a la Bowie. Instead, they look too much like a Spiders For Mars tribute band for comfort. Musically, too, they were informed and infected by then typical, now obsolete traits. The coarse blasts of Andy “the mullet” Mackay on sax and oboe could easily have sat on a Wizzard, Mott The Hoople or later a Boomtown Rats record. Phil Manzanera, meanwhile, conformed to the standard fretboard virtuoso conventions of the day, without even the idiosyncratic methodology of contemporaries like Robert Fripp. Brian Eno, for whom being in Roxy Music was the least interesting thing he ever did and the most interesting thing about Roxy Music, realised early on that his own strain of sonic experimentalism would have no place in the band and quit.

Which leaves Bryan Ferry, the arse and soul of Roxy and the most ridiculous pop character ever undeservedly to be dubbed a knight of Cool. An ageing Lothario before he even formed Roxy Music, he taught pottery at a girl’s school (“with my reputation?”), his most hideous and inexplicably widely imitated bequest to pop is that strangulatedly bombastic vocal style of his, which, depending on whether you’re listening to “Street Life” or “2HB” sounds like the Indian geezer singing “Land Of Hope And Glory” at the end of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum or Bernard Bresslaw badly impersonating Sir Alec Guinness respectively.

With his insinuating sneer and sweeping mane, Ferry’s aristocratic pretensions were an ineffectual distraction from what he truly was, what his bog-plebby name told you he was – an unreconstructed Geordie lad on the make. His lyrics are full of the most banal hankerings, vacillating between fantasies of the metropolis or of rural idylls culled from dentist waiting room copies of Country Life (cf “Mother Of Pearl”).

When not palely apeing Warhol in his trite ruminations on Hollywood iconography (“2HB”, “Virginia Plain”), his body of text is one long, unrequited hard-on, expressed in hackneyed terms of infatuation as on “Beauty Queen” (“Maybe some day (you’ll) be a star/ A fast mover like you/ And your dreams will come true”) or on “Ladytron” (“Lady if you want to find a lover/Then you need look no further”).

Most pathetic of all were the Roxy album sleeves, generally featuring Ferry’sgeneric viagragirlfriend du jour, pouting and bursting out of her lingerie or clutching her tits. Beyond tacky, beyond offensive, beyond laughable it is only extraordinary that in their day these sleeves enhanced Roxy’s reputation for “sophistication”. Sid The Sexist more like.

In the early Eighties, Roxy Music’s career revived somewhat with hits like “Dance Away”, “Jealous Guy” and “Angel Eyes”. Ferry still played the melancholy old roue and albums like Flesh + Blood were staple fare in Yorkshire wine bars and in only half-decent record collections but by now Ferry in particular, with his Falcon Hairspray ad looks and penchant for red trousers was becoming a byword for naff. Which is what Roxy should have been recognised as from the start. What were people thinking in the Seventies?


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