INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Pitchfork OCTOBER 13, 2019 - by Rob Tannenbaum
ROXY MUSIC: FOR YOUR PLEASURE
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno's glam-rock, art-school masterpiece.
Roxy Music singer and mastermind Bryan Ferry grew up in the sooty industrial North. His father tended to pit horses in the local mine in Washington, where the glum employment options for men were the mine or the steel factory. Roxy Music keyboardist and troublemaker Brian Eno grew up in rural eastern England, where his dad worked as a postman and augmented his meager salary by repairing clocks on the side. Both Ferry and Eno felt rat-trapped by an impermeable class system, perpetuating privilege for the wealthy legacy students at Eton and Harrow. Neither could have afforded college if not for England's post-war education reforms.
Yes, the great flowering of British rock in the 1960s began, obscurely, with the 1944 Education Act. England's schools had withered, due to years of German bombs in World War II, evacuations of children, and general neglect; a study found Dickensian conditions in village schools, more than half of which still used buckets as lavatories. Among the Education Act's extensive reforms, two had impacts for the working class no one could have anticipated: Students were required to stay in school until they were fifteen and school fees were eliminated, making British education free to all.
As part of this scheme, the Ministry of Education accredited more regional art schools and greatly loosened entry requirements. By the late 1950s, those schools had become havens for misfits, truants, and strays, financed by local and government grants available to anyone who could hold a paintbrush. Art school was "somewhere they put you if they can't put you anywhere else," Keith Richards (who studied graphic design at Sidcup Art College after being expelled from his secondary school) told Rolling Stone in 1971. Chris Dreja of The Yardbirds later classified his fellow art students as "buffoons and social drop-outs."
Art schools were unruly outposts of free thinking, free drinking, and liberation. A few years ago, the artist Roy Ascott, whose students included Brian Eno and Pete Townshend, told me, "It was very releasing for students to come out of their horrific bourgeois backgrounds into an art school where they could fuck and drink and smoke." And also learn to play guitar, all under a government subsidy.
Collectively, these schools had a transformative effect on England's rock music. From the time the Beatles released their first UK single, Love Me Do, in October 1962 to the summer of 1973 when Queen and 10cc released their debut albums, nearly every significant English band had at least one member who'd gone to art school: The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Jeff Beck Group, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Deep Purple, and Roxy Music, plus David Bowie and Eric Clapton. Of these artists, Roxy Music is the one that most directly translated the radical, emancipating ideas of art-school into pop music. And For Your Pleasure, released in 1973, is their most art-school album, as well as their greatest.
During an unsuccessful, dispiriting U.S. tour for Roxy's debut album the previous year, they shared a few bills with Humble Pie, whose up-tempo boogie incited Ferry to write For Your Pleasure's most raucous songs, Do The Strand (the album's lone single) and Editions Of You, models for the ferocity of punk rock. Both songs pledge themselves to the moment: "In modern times, the modern way," Ferry trills in the latter, and in the former, which opens the album, he begins, "There's a new sensation." In Editions Of You, a song about the beauty of pining for someone long gone, Ferry builds a chilly metaphor for love out of mechanical reproduction and Andy Warhol's silkscreened paintings.
Ferry had studied at Newcastle University under England's preeminent Pop Art painter and theorist, Richard Hamilton, who compelled his students to consider fashion, pop music, industrial design, TV, comic books, and other dismissed aspects of lowbrow culture. Hamilton was working largely in collages, most famously in his 1956 work, "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" where he uses images of American consumerism, clipped from magazines. Hamilton regarded a painting, not as a canvas, but a mood board, an array of inspirations and goals that could as easily clash as blend together. Ferry applied this idea to Roxy's music, which careened across the past and into what still feels like the future. Editions Of You jump-cuts from Andy Mackay's 1950s R&B sax invocations to a madcap, pitch-bending synthesizer solo by Eno, who torques the synth's frequency control to create what he later approvingly termed "quite unpalatable noises."
Hamilton's influence was so significant that he later, a bit grandly, called Ferry "my greatest creation." The most tangible residue of his influence is In Every Dream Home A Heartache, Ferry's macabre, hilarious love song to a blowup sex doll, referring back to Hamilton's "Just what is it...?" collage. The song is a two-part essay about interiors and illusions - there are glimpses of modern sophistication, but behind it, only horror. "But what goes on? / What to do there? / Better pray there," Ferry sings, gazing in awe at a mansion. Then the fa&ccedul;ade cracks. After three minutes of transfixing melodrama and funereal organ, the music stops asymmetrically on the one, and Phil Manzanera takes a staggered guitar solo, chalked with distortion, shaking with vibrato, and phase-shifted through Eno's signature electronic treatments. Perhaps, the song implies, the modern way is not the best way.
In a 1960 lecture, Hamilton said, "In its efforts to gain and hold the affections of the mass audience, a product must aim to project an image of desirability as strong as any Hollywood star. It must have gloss and glamor..." Everything is a product, he believed, including fine art. So Roxy Music was one of the first groups who understood that music is a product in need of a package, a mission that began with their carefully constructed album covers, which are like advertisements for the male gaze. For Your Pleasure was released as a gleaming gatefold, in a blue-black hue, showing a statuesque model (Amanda Lear) in tight black leather, walking a panther, silhouetted by a gleaming urban skyline, while a smiling Ferry, dressed like a chauffeur, waits next to a limo. It was an enthralling, modern image of desirability, danger, sexual satisfaction, and luxe living, a tableau as posed and planned as a fashion magazine spread of Helmut Newton photos. Like a lot of rock, the cover offers adolescents a misleading fantasy of what adult life is like.
Throughout the album, the band is puffed up with ideas, and desperate to make an impression. Ferry summarizes his passions for artifice and postmodern thought in manifestos: "Part false, part true, like anything / We present ourselves," he sings in a theatrical baritone that recalls, at various times, Noél Coward and Dracula. For Your Pleasure is happily pretentious and self-involved, the juncture where glam and prog meet with the greatest degree of success. Glam steals from prog's song lengths and love of soloing, and prog swipes glam's exclamation marks and sex appeal.
Ferry was drawn to the anxious, feminine side of R&B, evident on the album's most retro moment, Beauty Queen, which the band bookends into a salmagundi of a song, complete with tempo changes navigated by stalwart drummer Paul Thompson. Ferry is dumping a woman who has "swimming pool eyes," but it sounds more like he's pitching woo. He lavishes her with purple praise, promises she'll be fine without him, and carefully lathers his words with his heaviest Scott Walker vibrato. Ferry, with his fondness for dualities, uses theatricality and even camp to prove his sincerity, implying that everything make-believe is also real, and vice versa.
For Your Pleasure's two longest songs, The Bogus Man and the album-closing title track, leave plenty of time for Eno's deviations. This first sketches out a musical design for trance, years ahead of it, with a long, minimalist break that confirms Eno's mantra, "Repetition is a form of change." Each instrument mutates, minutely transmogrified, on some mysterious cycle. On For Your Pleasure, Ferry makes only a brief vocal appearance. Over the last four and a half minutes, producer Chris Thomas and Eno are playing the recording studio as though it's an instrument, conducting the song at a mixing board, and building a panoramic disorientation. They add more echo on the electric piano, more reverb on the guitar, phasing, tremolo, the drums slip away, and it gently becomes hazy and puzzling: Chopped-up bits of Chance Meeting from Roxy's first album come in - Roxy are sampling themselves - then Judi Dench murmurs, "You don't ask why," and almost randomly, la fin. An album that began with Ferry's request for your attention ends with Eno placing you in the strange new world you were promised. A new sensation has delivered new sensations of arousal and uncertainty.
Roxy aimed for a melding of American R&B and avant-garde European traditions (Mackay's oboe on For Your Pleasure sounds like the last thing you'd hear before bees stung you to death). You don't hear a struggle between Ferry and Eno, just two guys with similar ideas and a band juiced on its early success and acclaim, trying to get farther from earth while still holding on to The Marvelettes and The Shirelles. The playing is so adept and surprising, and Thompson and Manzanera do such strong jobs of grounding the music's outlandish shifts, that you only slowly realize none of the album's eight songs has a chorus.
A few months after For Your Pleasure was released, Eno left the band, quitting before he could be fired, and starting an unparalleled career as a solo artist and producer. Bryan and Brian were incompatible. Ferry was a neurotic - Woody Allen trapped in the body of Cary Grant - while Eno was a disruptor. In interviews, Ferry withdrew like a turtle; Eno excelled at them, and talked fluidly about Marshall McLuhan, Steve Reich, or his ample pornography collection. Eno most avidly pursued the band's androgynous style, and dressed like he was Quentin Crisp's glam nephew (leopard print top, ostrich feather jacket, bondage choker, turquoise eye shadow). Out of the chute, he was a cult hero, and Ferry grew tired of hearing punters yell "EEEEEE-NO!" in the middle of ballads, or seeing Eno credited as his co-equal.
The music had no immediate impact in the U.S., where it grazed the album chart at Number 193. The band's two-album deal with Warner Bros. had expired and the label happily left them go. American audiences, Ferry told a British interviewer, "are literally the dumbest in the world, bar none."
But in England, it was the album of the moment, and Roxy returned to TV's Old Grey Whistle Test, where Whispering Bob Harris, a stodgy presenter who was still stuck in the '60s, sneered at them, as he had the previous year as well, dismissing them as great packaging with no substance.
The notion that style and substance were contradictory was a holdover from the '60s, and it's one that has never gone away, revived periodically by fans and critics who long for seeming authenticity. Years later, those Roxy TV appearances would start to feel almost as significant as The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Harris' contempt was recommendation enough for lots of kids, of myriad genders and sexualities, who would soon come to Roxy shows dressed in sparkling tunics, glowing frocks, and immaculate dinner jackets, boys and girls both in drag. But glamor and self-invention were only part of the aftereffect: Within the next few years, plenty of future punks and new wavers went on to art school, where they immediately started acting, dressing, and playing like Roxy Music.