What does it sound like?:
In 1972, Roxy Music spent two weeks recording their debut album. 1972. It seems like yesterday. Listening to it 46 years later, it still sounds phantasmagorically space age and deservedly gets the super deluxe treatment of three CDs and a DVD in a glossy box.
Even before hearing a single note, the gatefold sleeve is full of wonder, especially for an impressionable teenage boy. The glamour model, Kari-Ann, in her pastel blue and pink, her gaze bold and direct, appears to be snarling. Her luscious legs unfurl as the sleeve is opened out. Inside, the band are dressed in their stage finery. Phil Manzanera sports his bug-eye glasses. Eno and Ferry compete with big cat tops but Bryan’s scythe-sharp quiff wins the hair contest easily. Judging by his vampiric smile, he knows it, too. Paul Thompson looks sweetly innocent, Graham Simpson has wandered in from the seventeenth century and Andy MacKay evokes a fifties rocker. Simon Puxley’s florid sleeve notes are knowingly arch. Antony Price is credited with clothes, make up & hair and there is a dedication to Susie, their previous drummer.
The album itself starts with the clearest statement of intent for any band. A cocktail party is interrupted by a Little Richard style piano, then all the band crash in at once. In the tradition of rock & roll, dating back to Rocket 88, it’s a song lusting after a woman disguised as a tribute to a car. Ferry’s vocal is tormented (“I could talk talk talk talk myself to death”) and the chorus is the car number plate. Tenor sax and electric guitar are traditional rock & roll instruments (the oboe is a different matter entirely) but Eno’s use of a VCS3 synthesiser make them sound turbo-charged. Thompson’s drumming is spectacular. The skins are loosened on his kit so that he has to wallop it harder to create a satisfying thud. The musicians trip over one another in their rush for the limelight but they do manage a few seconds each to solo. The momentum is so powerful, it takes a full minute for the song to grind to a halt, the kick drum finally getting stuck in the squelch of the synthesiser. Re-Make/Re-Model takes elements of the past and refashions them with the latest technology into a vision of the future.
The rest of the album follows suit, the musicians breathing fire into Ferry’s romantic whimsy, each song a potpourri of styles and sounds. In Chance Meeting, it’s the guitar that splinters a broken heart. The oboe of Sea Breezes is suffocated with loneliness. There are mutations of rock, pop, jazz, country, doo-wop, honky-tonk, cabaret, electronica, the blues, even prog. The songs feature sudden rhythm changes, musical hand-brake turns and left-field lyrical tangents. The opening melody of Ladytron, following Eno’s introductory impersonation of a moon landing, resembles a Prokofiev piano concerto. Wagner’s Valkyries appear in Re-Make/Re-Model. Cinema and art feature on a number of songs: 2HB is a touching tribute to Humphrey Bogart, topped off with a sax variation of As Time Goes By, The Bob is an acronym for The Battle Of Britain, Chance Meeting is inspired by Brief Encounter, Re-Make/Re-Model’s title is a nod to pop artist Derek Boshier’s piece, rethink/re-entry, and the Virginia Plain lyric is based on one of Ferry’s own paintings. Side one flows beautifully, even with the inclusion of Virginia Plain, a song composed and recorded a full month after the album was released and added to the U.S. editions when it was a hit. Side two starts with a jolt and is much harder work for the listener. They take even more risks and delve into dissonance more often, but Chance Meeting and Sea Breezes are amongst the best tracks on the album. Bitters End is the funniest performance with its ornate language, lyrical puns, satirical barber shop quartet, strange percussion and vowel-mangling lead vocal “to make the cognoscenti think.” The production, by King Crimson’s lyricist, Peter Sinfield, has its peculiarities, so much so that Ferry re-recorded four of the tracks as B-sides to his solo singles. He did, however, coax from Ferry the best vocal performance of his career, alternatively bellowing, tremulous, icily psychopathic, anguished, tortured, and downright “bizarre!” He croons only the once and, then, appropriately on 2HB. The album, as a whole, is as cool and stylish as it is raucous and wild. It confounds categorisation, especially that of its era, Glam Rock. There has been nothing quite like it since.
The demos from 1971 and the outtakes illustrate four things. Graham Simpson’s bass playing is soft and beautiful. Ferry’s piano is the bedrock of all the songs. He tends to play two notes, missing the middle note of the triad that normally sets the key. As a result, the band are free to take the tune in any direction they like. Eno is present throughout, an essential part of the creative process as opposed to simply adding colour at the end. Manzanera is the real cherry on top. He’s the youngest and joined last. He was often kept in the dark as to what was going on so that he could respond with improvised spontaneity. His virtual absence from the outtakes disc emphasises his achievement on the final product. The John Peel sessions, the first with David O’List on guitar months before the album’s release, are excellent, superbly played with top quality sound. The BBC In Concert recording is less good but no less well played. The videos are all a fascinating watch. There is the legendary Old Grey Whistle Test performance. Whispering Bob’s churlish introduction is edited out. The concert at the Bataclan and the other TV coverage are a feast for the eyes but there is a problem with their stagecraft. The two most visually appealing, the Brians, are wedded to their keyboards on either side. In between, MacKay blasts away with vigour and the bass player of the day tries his best not to look out of place but Manzanera’s air of insouciant cool steals these shows.
The big issue with this deluxe edition is Steve Wilson’s remix. Record Store Day in 2015 saw the release of a Steve Wilson stereo remix of an extended Ladytron and The Numberer. Neither track is anywhere to be found in this box nor any of his stereo remixes of the album as a whole, first completed in 2012. His 5.1 surround sound mix is on the DVD but, to hear it, you have to fork out the full asking price of nearly £130. That’s costly for three CDs, one DVD, a detailed booklet and a nice box. The master for disc one is Bob Ludwig’s from 1999, which every Roxy Music fan probably already owns. Disc one is paired with the BBC Sessions disc for a cheaper 2CD pairing, which means the average fan has to buy another copy of a product they own in order to obtain any extras of any kind.
This 45th Anniversary Edition consists of a beautiful deluxe box, an astonishing classic album, some tasty extras, especially from the BBC, great videos and a fabulous booklet, but it is a baffling, expensive product with no longed for Steve Wilson stereo remix.
What does it all *mean*?
Sometimes, the creators of deluxe box sets are beyond comprehension.
Goes well with…
An overflowing bank account and a completist mindset.
Might suit people who like…
“Like” isn’t anywhere near strong enough. This will suit people with a undying, non-judgemental, logic-defying, totally-besotted adoration of Roxy Music and their first album in particular.