Tag Archives: Bryan Ferry

Lost Classic: Roxy Music – Viva! Roxy Music

Roxy MusicViva! Roxy Music (Virgin)

During my first year of high school, I befriended an upperclassman who shared my obsession with rock and roll music. The two of us were also similar in trying to expand our collective musical knowledge by exploiting every opportunity that presented itself to us so that we could explore uncharted music together.

For my friend, an opportunity presented itself at his job. He “babysat” the automated music playlist at the local FM radio EZ listening station on weekends during the overnight hours.

It drove my friend crazy. After only a few weeks of it, he began to think that the small wage that he was earning was enough to endure the 6 hours of Ferrante & Tiecher format that pumped through the studio monitors. Never mind the fact that he barely uttered a word during his shift as the only time you would even hear him over the air was reading the weather forecast twice an hour, and even that was committed to tape.

The inactivity gave him a lot of free time. He began to snoop around the facilities and noticed that the Program Director for the station occasionally left the door to his office unlocked. During one clandestine operation, he discovered that the shelves of his boss’ office contained a huge array of promotional records, some of which the PD brought from other radio stations.

Instinctively, he began to stuff his book bag with some of the titles, not with the intent of stealing them, but instead to borrow them until the next airshift so that he could dub them off on to cassette.

He began inviting me over to his listening sessions, and I would dutifully wait my turn to fill up a few blank Maxells. The records were mostly A.O.R. titles that graced the cutout bins while providing a glut of promotional albums that would find their ways into the personal collections of radio programmers across the country.

I listened to a lot of new music thanks to my friend’s system, everything from Graham Parker to a live Ramones record (It’s Alive). Every week was a new adventure. On occasion, you’d get a real dud–The Boomtown Rats Tonic For The Troops immediately comes to mind–but the beauty of magnetic tape was how its contents were just a red button away from extinction.

Conversely, there were those records that proved to be so good that I would punch out the safety tabs on the cassette, a feature that prevented someone from accidentally erasing over a particular selection.

Such was the case with Roxy Music, whose live document Viva! made its way to my friend’s turntable and onto a waiting cassette that stayed with me for many years.

I loved the record’s aggressiveness. In fact, it may be the only document of the group that suits the sonic vision that their own name coolly suggests. I fell into it with such great force that I ordered their newest title from Columbia House, Avalon, and became immediately disappointed that they had turned into a bunch of pussies with that record.

Time, repeated listens, and that silly notion of how Avalon is required coitus music, have changed my perspective of that record, but Viva! has always remained my first love, and the first reason why I began exploring the group’s catalog.

Viva! is not found on the recent The Complete Studio Recordings (for obvious reasons) and it’s a record that is curiously overlooked by many Roxy fans. The chief complaint that I hear from them is actually one of the reasons why I love with the record: its brevity.

Clocking in to just barely fit on to one side of a C-90 tape and providing only eight songs to promote a very worthy catalog, Viva! Roxy Music demonstrates a very progressive rock band, one that sounded heavier than their studio versions and one that possessed some very real rock and roll chops.

Beginning with “Out Of The Blue,” the opening track finds drummer Paul Thompson trying to knock the “art rock” label right off the gallery walls. Guitarist Phil Manzanera weaves a very hypnotic guitar phrase while Andy Mackay’s lays down a haunting oboe…that’s right, oboe…making this version a very good candidate for actually being better than the studio version found on Country Life.

This high-energy mix is apparent on nearly all of the tracks on Viva! suggesting that Roxy Music was a band of very capable and exciting performers, ones that contradict the button-down persona of their image. The record clearly proclaims the musicians to be worthy enough to energize even the most pretentious of fans who may view Roxy Music as somehow beneath such primal urges.

Now that we’re all giddy from the nostalgia that The Complete Studio Records brings, and now that the box set correctly bestowed Roxy Music as one of the genre’s most creative forces, it’s time to consider Viva! into the tapestry. It’s a unique document of the band, rolling up their sleeves and slugging out an honest day’s work on stage and on fire.

Roxy Music – The Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982

Roxy MusicThe Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982 (Virgin)

A few years ago, I named Bryan Ferry’s Olympia release as worthy enough to receive the Roxy Music moniker. The argument went that the Roxy personnel all took part in its creation (including Brian Eno) so why not just used the brand name?

I had a chance to review that brand recently, thanks to the newly issued Roxy Music box set, The Complete Studio Recordings 1972 – 1982. And while I still would have no trouble with calling Olympia a Roxy Music album, the new box set has provided me with a renewed appreciation of why Ferry decided to leave well enough alone, because what they accomplished during their 8 studio records is already better than “well enough.”

The Complete Studio Recordings 1972 – 1982 is a ten-disc collection of those eight records, with the additional two housing the band’s debut single (“Virginia Plain” may be worth the price of admission alone), their b-sides, and the endless mixes on all of the Avalon singles.

Since we’ve already seen Roxy Music’s catalog reissued with the allure of remastered mixes, and since The Thrill Of It All had already served as a boxed compendium, why would anyone need to revisit the band in another career overview?

For me, it was a matter of simple mathematics. Having not gotten beyond a well worn, first generation cd of Avalon (that after a well-worn vinyl version from the friends at Columbia House) and some equally hissy copies of a few other titles, I knew that I’d eventually need to find a home for every single Roxy release. The new box set is priced low enough to hit everything at once.

That sticker price gets every release the full reproduction gatefold sleeves and, perhaps more importantly considering our trend on the loudness wars, a tinker-free release of the original recordings themselves.

This set represents the original mixes–for better or worse in some cases–with no hint of additional compression or heavy-handed eq’ing. That’s important when dealing with a band like Roxy Music, who seemed completely focused on their attention to detail.

“For worse” would be the awful mix that hindered the debut, to the point where Bryan Ferry himself wanted to redo the entire album for years after, because of the record’s unforgiving mix. They got better–as in remarkably better–on the follow-up For Your Pleasure, which finds Ferry exerting his dominance over Eno in the band’s arrangements.

In fact, For Your Pleasure not only shows the band to continue to grow without the aid of Eno’s input, it also finds them growing better as his role diminished. For Your Pleasure secures the band’s place in history even as their sophomore offering, and it’s just one of many discoveries that I found from The Complete Studio Recordings.

There’s two other must have releases, featured in their original and intended mixes that are, without question, deserving of everyone’s record collection: Siren and Avalon. Each effort shows the band in periods of enviable growth and brimming confidence. All three records taken in once again show a band perfectly adaptable at reinventing themselves, seemingly without sounding as if they were even setting out to do exactly that. They stumble into the career building moments with such ease that it makes the entire Eno departure feel like a necessary decision that allowed the band to become as great as they were.

But the real treat with The Complete Studio Recordings is re-examining Roxy Music’s other records, which pale only because that aforementioned trio of essential records shine so brightly.

I remembered being drawn to Country Life as a teenager, most assuredly for its risqué cover and confirmation of Bryan Ferry’s prowess as a ladies man. I am now drawn to it entirely from its content inside. It is a collection of consistent growth, finding the band very comfortable with their fashion and abilities as musicians. This is the sound of a band working hard at their craft, while donning a business casual clothing sense during the rehearsal time.

By Manifesto! the band is acting the part of royal statesmen while Flesh + Blood–a personal favorite that’s much maligned by others outside of the Roxy faithful–begins to show signs of a new subgenre, one whose name doesn’t even exist.

I understand the complaints of how Flesh + Blood is nothing more than a tepid return from a lengthy (by 1980 standards) hiatus, but for me it sounds like a victory lab before unleashing what would become the band’s signature opus, Avalon.

Avalon benefits the most from the 2012 remastering as it leaves the record’s rich texture and subtle dynamics in tact, a rare feat during a time when most re-issues are met with a tradition of remixing records of some note to cater to the thin fidelity of today’s earbud generation.

The Complete Studio Recordings 1972 – 1982 hints at a much different era. It reflects a time when bands were given a wide birth in order to grow and develop. It also demonstrates how this freedom can actually lend itself to fostering an environment where a band can become great on its own, through natural selection and just plain old stubbornness.

It is a necessary document of the band’s legacy and consistency, one that’s needed not only out of the duty that’s created from their influence, but for the sheer enjoyment of listening to a band grow, develop, and become great.

What makes it such a requirement is how it shows that Roxy Music managed to do that not just once or twice, but for at least three of titles included with this collection. And to be able to achieve this in the span of a decade makes this box set not only complete, but completely essential.

Bryan Ferry – Olympia

Bryan Ferry - OlympiaBryan FerryOlympia (Astralwerks)

I’m straight-up hetero, but there’s part of me that believes Bryan Ferry could pitch enough woo to successfully get me to drop my trousers like an uglier, hairier Country Life model.

The ban from Wal-Mart would be justifiable and necessarily swift.

Olympia does much to get my naughty parts tingly, mainly prompted by the record’s unabashed nod to Roxy’s quintessential soundtrack for gettin’ it on, Avalon. Like a found bottle of Hai Karate, Olympia brings back a lot of the same sounds and textures, making it a no-brainer for any fan of that Roxy Music album.

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