INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Observer APRIL 15, 1973 - by Tony Palmer
SHOCK TACTICS FROM THE ROXY
Roxy Music is a fashionable six-piece group which apes some of the more grotesque mannerisms of '50s rock 'n' roll, while revitalising that tradition with the help of synthesizers and similar gadgetry. The group's name with its pun on rock, is obviously intended to convey a revered, but tatty, glamour.
To date, Roxy Music has produced two LPs, the latest of which, For Your Pleasure, has just been released. Neither record is immediately pleasurable. Both are over produced. Relying heavily on electronic gimmicks and distracting sound effects, they rarely allow the songs, such as they are, to speak clearly. The material is curiously haunting, but the melodies are infuriatingly fragmentary. Ingenious ideas, both melodic and rhythmic tumble out in profusion but they seem to lack either coherence or purpose. The singer has a vibrato a mile wide and his diction is poor. Worse, itchy fingers on the echo chamber have made the sound muddy and undistinguished.
Nothing, therefore, prepared one for the shock of a live performance such as the recent one at The Rainbow. (Next week Roxy Music sets off an a tour of Europe). On stage, the group is demonic, sinister, apocalyptic, monstrous, dazzling, flashy - what opera might have been in the 1970s before it lost its nerve. In Roxy Music's lead singer, Bryan Ferry, who also writes the material, the group has the new Mick Jagger. He has the same magnetic brilliance, the same supreme self-confidence. With his black, greasy hair sleeked back, Ferry threatens the audience with the same arrogance that characterises Jagger's performances. He looks mean and cold and struts with the precision of a matador.
The golden age of rock'n'roll is looked upon with affection. Now it can be seen for what it really was: shoddy, misbegotten and ugly. And in Roxy Music, that age has now found its true apologists. Other groups have merely imitated the madness that was rock'n'roll, such as the American combo Sha Na Na. They were pop as show. Only Roxy Music seems to have caught the seediness quite so accurately. This it achieves partly through caricature through costumes, for example, which are, for the most part, exaggerated versions of dandified Teds with various Frankenstein-like additions and partly through a considerable skill in musical parody.
Tunes that on disc seem fragmentary and faintly familiar take on new and more intelligible overtones when seen in the context of this sinister, leatherbooted performance. As with any experimental group, Roxy Music still has its teething problems. Bass players have come and gone and the present incumbent, adequate though he may be musically, looks as if he has strolled in from some flower-power convention. Both the saxophone player (once head chorister at St Margaret's, Westminster and principal oboist in the London Schools' Symphony Orchestra) and the lead guitar often seem more intent on displaying their instrumental virtuosity than welding themselves into the image that they have collectively chosen to personify. But, almost alone, this group, whose professional and public life is less than a year old, has understood that while the immediate roots of all pop lie in that bastardisation known as rock 'n' roll, there is simply no point in wheeling out the oldies and not so goldies just for the sake of yet another fix of nostalgia.
Roxy Music is clearly about to become one of the top bands of the '70s. It will need to hold on to the style it has developed, however, and not succumb to the easier commercial gimmick - such as the four tatty go-go girls who ponced around at The Rainbow concert. That kind of tease is irrelevant and diminishing.