Saturday, September 1, 2018

Wish Everybody Would Leave Me Alone - Stranded - Roxy Music

Bryan Ferry: For me, 1973 was an exceptionally busy year. Looking back, it seems like a whirlwind of events. For Your Pleasure was quickly followed by my first solo album, These Foolish Things. For Your Pleasure was a dark and important album for me to make, and These Foolish Things was much lighter, and cleared the air of all that angst. It was a great success and suddenly I was on tour. I can't quite remember how many live shows we did in '73, both solo and as Roxy, but I do have a hazy memory of rushing into the Royal Albert Hall with a very under-rehearsed band and it all going surprisingly well. 

Phil Manzanera: It was a very creative, prolific time. Our management would be booking the next Roxy tour while we were still making the album, and if the album wasn't finished, we’d have to go back to the studio after the gig, do a bit more, then go off to the next gig. We were really energized and firing on all cylinders. 

Paul Thompson: It seemed normal to us. Albums didn't take long back then. We cut them in a couple of weeks. These days it would be a couple of years. 

Andy Mackay: It wasn't the happiest time in Roxy’s history. There was something of a battle going on between Bryan and everyone else. Bryan's solo success was threatening to blur the line between Roxy and him. Bryan definitely felt that Roxy was his band and he could push it in the directions he wanted. He didn't realize that your best work tends to come from a bit of struggle, rather than having things all your own way.

Bryan Ferry: I was on a bit of a roll, so I started planning, writing and recording the next Roxy album, Stranded.

Andy Mackay: There was a degree of plotting going on. Even now, I don't know exactly how much. There's a famous occasion when we were playing a gig in York, and Bryan, without telling anyone, invited Eddie Jobson to come and watch. That was Eno’s last performance with us. It all seemed slightly underhand. Eno had been my friend before I met Bryan, and I was concerned about what might happen if he left. I considered leaving as well. I was going to join Mott The Hoople. 

Phil Manzanera: I guess everybody thought the band was over. I was upset that Eno had to go. But things had been getting a bit dodgy on the European tour, and the band obviously wasn’t big enough for two Brians.  Stranded moved us into different territory. The one thing we always knew was that Roxy had to keep changing. It would be like, "Right, everyone else is doing glam? OK, we'll start wearing suits." Of course, it did confuse our fans, because they'd turn up with the old look at the start of each tour. But after three or four gigs, they'd cotton on and you'd see them change. 

Bryan Ferry: I often wonder how I could have produced so much work in 1973. I can only assume that I'm one of those people who thrives on approval, and the instant success of the first Roxy Music album in 1972 had been a great shot in the arm for me. Since the age of 10 I had loved music so much, and had absorbed so many influences from so many genres, that I was bursting with ideas, and now I felt I had an audience who was willing to listen to them.

Stranded: This is the coolest overall album from Bryan Ferry's once-crazy-enough-to-be-hip band: something quite different from the post-Siren records, which are often soft and friendly enough to listen with your grandmother. The mood on Stranded isn't as downer-hallucinatory as on the all-time-sexiest-rock-album contender Country Life, (Avalon, though it wants to be, is far less cool than Stranded, and cool is more important in my book! - which of course, is Jay and the Americans, available at Amazon by clicking the graphic to your right) but in a much more funky, upbeat-hallucinatory, hyperactive, almost Sly Stonish 'rocking out' mode. "Street Life," "Amazona" and "Mother of Pearl," are among my all-time favorite Roxy tunes, loud enough to be rock 'n' roll, funky, yet driven by distorted guitars, musically sophisticated though not pretentious. And of course Roxy's ultimate tune, "A Song for Europe," hovers over ruckus with quiet abandon.

To anyone new to Roxy's early period, I'd suggest Stranded first, then Country Life or For Your Pleasure, rather than Siren, or the bursting-with-ideas but sloppy debut record. It's these three that represent the best the early band had to offer, whereas Siren is a polished, less immediately real attempt at reaching a larger U.S. audience. The 'post-punk' period after Manifesto, (and Roxy Music, being a creation that implied some sort of connection with glitz and glamour, were one of the bands most hated by Punk Rockers even as they thoroughly influenced the entire post-Punk 'New Wave" movement) is actually a very different band, a refined, elegant, tuxedo-wearing, perfectionist sound.

Stranded is concrete evidence that Brian Eno's departure was by no means the death knell for Roxy. Eddie Jobson is a top notch musician, if not of Eno's caliber, who nonetheless put his own stamp on the band's sound, bringing the violin and his own brand of keyboard stylings into the mix. Eno himself touted Stranded as the band's masterpiece.

Given the trajectory of their later careers, it would be reasonable to assume that it was Eno rather than Ferry who sparked the immense creative drive that was early Roxy Music. But here Eno is gone, and Stranded is a blindingly good LP. Some of the restlessness in the songs is gone - no longer do you feel that two or three or ten separate ideas have been packed into each song, yet far from relaxing into formula, every track explores new musical ground. With "Mother of Pearl," Ferry spins an ode at once literate, glamorous and meaningless, in true aesthetic style: "Serpentine sleekness/ Was always my weakness/ Like a simple tune./ But no dilettante/ Filigree fancy/ Beats the plastic you." Still, the most surprising song here is the religious track "Psalm," a slow-moving rocker which builds inexorably to its supremely camp climax. Messianic themes are particularly germane to glam rock (Bowie was particularly aware of the way rock stars are worshiped like gods in Ziggy Stardust). But, in its apparent earnestness, "Psalm" summons up a sense of everything glam in Christianity itself - those kinky martyr stories, the opulence of the Catholic church, the rock-star pull of the charismatic preacher. Sumpin' eh?