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A fabulous creation: Paul Haig reviews Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure at 50

“The second Roxy Music album was recorded at the old Air Studios, by Oxford Circus in London’s West End, which was to be our home for several albums. The band by now was much more experienced and the songs seemed more assured and focused. 

“I had long been a fan of Cole Porter and other songwriters from that era, and in particular I admired the sophistication of their lyrics. Do the Strand’ was an attempt to emulate that style of writing, with a lot of cultural references that I found interesting. 

“There was a particular genre of songs based on dance crazes, like Do the Twist, The Jerk and The Madison etc. which I found amusing, and Do The Strand was a nod in their direction, although it attempted to be more highbrow, or a bit further uptown, inasmuch as I wanted to turn the Sphinx and Mona Lisa, Lolita and Guernica into a rhyming couplet… Do The Strand became a sort of anthem for Roxy fans, and we traditionally made it the closing song at all our shows.” — Bryan Ferry, 2009

Arguably the most influential rock group of the 1970s, Roxy Music’s originality and importance was something everyone from David Bowie to Kate Bush could agree upon. With his unconventional synth playing and mysterious sonic “treatments”, Brian Eno burnished his leftfield credentials as a founding member of the avant-garde troupe before quitting over the ‘battle of the Brians’ on 2 July 1973, the day before a future-shock colleague also decided to “break up the band” by killing off Ziggy Stardust at Hammersmith Odeon.

Alas, Roxy’s art-rocking reputation for DIE — distortion, invention and experimentation — outlived the oblique strategist’s two-album tenure, and when it came down to it, Roxy Music was primarily Bryan Ferry’s project. The towering Tynesider wrote the bulk of the material and shaped the band’s dystopian vision. 

It’s generally accepted that For Your Pleasure is also Ferry’s favourite Roxy album, though, curiously, when I met BF at a personal appearance at London’s Selfridges on 19 October 2010 (the centenary of my paternal grandmother’s birth, apropos of everything and nothing), I asked him about the promotional blurb for the band’s 2011 reunion shows, which were being billed as Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure.

That leather-jacketed fella really needs to put his mobile telephone away…

“Does the title of the tour mean you’re doing the For Your Pleasure album, Bryan?”

“Oh, you mean play the whole thing? I’m not sure. I don’t know if people would want that.”

They didn’t go down that route, by the way. Still, the record celebrating its half-century still sounds utterly unique to my reasonably modern ears; a gloriously unsettling spin on glam rock and all its theatrical conceits. Stylish and somnambulant, and spooky in its weirdness. The knowingly arch vocals laid over beguilingly ostentatious instrumentation is the kind of beautiful abstract noise only slightly mad Englishmen could do, as if a contorted Noël Coward had joined King Crimson warped on acid.

In other words, R-oxymoronic, Four Your Pleasure.

Without further ado, here’s Scottish indie icon Paul Haig (Josef K, Billy Mackenzie etc) waxing lyrical about the second Roxy Music album, released as Island ILPS 9232 on 23 March 1973.

I remember seeing a billboard in Edinburgh for something called Roxy Music, it was 1972. The blown up image was a 1950s-style album cover featuring a stunning female model (photographer Karl Stoecker shot the cover with model Kari-Ann Muller) and I thought to myself, what is Roxy Music? 

It didn’t take me long to find out in the music press that it was the debut album by an English art school band who dressed in totally out-there glam gear and got shouted at when they played live for being somewhat effeminate looking. The first Roxy music I heard was the single Virginia Plain then I bought the album, which was amazing in every way. 

Unfortunately, I was a bit too young to be going to rock concerts so the closest I ever got to seeing early Roxy Music was when I was on the top deck of a bus going up Lothian Road and saw them get out of a black limousine to walk into the foyer of the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh’s West End. They were wearing all their glam clothes and looked amazing so it was a real bummer to miss the concert, which I think was at the Odeon cinema.

I first saw the sleeve for the second album For Your Pleasure at Bruce’s record shop in Rose Street. Due to lack of pocket money funds I was unable to buy it for what seemed like an eternity so I would go in just to ogle it and try to imagine what tracks like The Bogus Man would sound like. 

It looked dark and sinister and featured model Amanda Lear (who also started a career as a disco singer in the mid-seventies) in a contorted pose, wearing a skin tight leather evening dress and tottering awkwardly on high healed stilettos while leading a black jaguar on a thin leash. The background seemed like a futuristic Las Vegas city skyline and if you opened out the gatefold Bryan Ferry was on the left dressed as a chauffeur beside a black stretch limo, grinning ambiguously from ear to ear.

FYP has always been slightly overlooked as the progressive and cutting edge follow up to the eponymous first album that it was. Released only eight months after the slightly more tuneful eponymous debut, it takes things even further in terms of sonic experimentation and artiness. 

Eno was still in the band at this point and his contribution to the overall atmosphere and ambience was crucial to the depth and texture achieved. He left due to tensions in the band after they toured the album in 1973 and things were never quite the same. Amongst the highlights are the sound effects on the title track and his crazed synthesizer solo, which is pure sci-fi jumping out of Editions Of You.

You can just imagine his ostrich feathers being ruffled as he was playing it. Like most great records the opening track demands attention, Do The Strand is a precise and accurate introduction and a perfect album opener. Stabbing staccato electric piano chords jump straight in along with the lead vocal:

“There’s a new sensation, a fabulous creation, a danceable solution, to teenage revolution”

Which is reminiscent of ‘dance craze’ records from the sixties like The Twist and The Locomotion except Strand appears more sinister, as if it could be the clinical answer to placate and quell the rise of the troublesome teenager. However, it’s probably nothing to do with a fictional dance craze we never learn the moves to and more likely an overall present moment coolness encompassing music, fashion, lifestyle and image. If you did the Strand, you were ‘in’ the ‘in crowd.’

There are only eight tracks on the album possibly due to side two featuring the nine-minute and twenty-second progressive, psychedelic tinged uneasy sounding and weirdly wonderful epic The Bogus Man which features saxophonist and oboe player Andy Mackay playing incongruous and atonal parts which somehow work in the context of the song. It easily could be the soundtrack to a horror b-movie or a cry in the dark at Halloween. Towards the end you get Bryan Ferry’s heavy exhausted breathing with the faint sound of the backing music track bleeding from his headphones.

In Every Dream Home A Heartache was one of the songs we covered in TV Art, which was the band before Josef K. I have a vague memory of performing it in a cellar bar in Edinburgh and instead of attempting to emulate the flanged psychedelic finale of the original we stopped it dead after the famous climatic line “But you blew my mind!”. Probably a wise move. It’s an amazing lyric for the time, a sinister monologue that portrays the dissatisfaction and ennui of the narrator over his self-indulgent living and vast wealth.

Phil Manzanera is an integral part of the sound on early Roxy albums and shows off the uncanny ability to throw really catchy and commercial guitar riffs into most of the songs, as well as punky rhythms and memorable solos. His rhythm part on Editions Of You really drives the track. The guest bass guitar player is John Porter, who became a successful record producer as well as working at the BBC for a couple of years. I actually ended up working with him when I was doing a session for the Beeb in 1983, which he produced. One of the tracks, On This Night Of Decision appeared on the B-side of the Justice 12-inch single released on Island records. I wish I’d realised that he’d played on FYP at the time!

Eno is again very present in the title track and final song on the album. It is testament to how his synthesizer doodling and taped echo/delays could weird out and enhance a Roxy track, something that was sorely missing in future productions as the band became more commercially orientated from the third album onwards. It’s a haunting kind of stop/start track with precise tom-tom fills throughout, one of drummer Paul Thompson’s best recorded performances with Roxy. 

A Duane Eddy style guitar part follows the vocal melody and warped taped echo/delay piano/keyboards. Mellotron strings and choir (also used on The Bogus Man) build slowly with distant tortured distorted guitar, endless drum rolls and cymbals tumbling around everywhere. I still like the part around two minutes in, just before the long finale where everything is stripped away to leave Ferry’s dry a cappella vocal:

“Old man, through every step a change, you watch me walk away, Ta-ra”

“Ta-ra” repeats over and over until it slowly fades into a cacophony of dark sound then distant monk like chants, before it closes with the voice of Judi Dench sampled by Eno from a poem quietly saying “You don’t ask why” in the background. 

What does it all mean… eh? 

Paul Haig

© 2016 Paul Haig. Reproduced by kind permission of the New Perfect Collection blog

Birthday Bowie: Paul Haig has assessed The Next Day and ★ Blackstar is here

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