Melody Maker NOVEMBER 10, 1973 - by Michael Watts


Roxy: an air of lush decay

Without intending to notch up critical scores, I still think little of Bryan Ferry's solo album and that his single is a good idea taken to inordinate lengths. I mention this because it seems to me that what he lacks in interpretive talent he more than compensates for with a highly idiosyncratic and original intelligence. It's not unreasonable, I think, to argue that he's the most interesting figure in British pop at present in that he and Roxy Music are offering an individual viewpoint that bears little relation to the work of their contemporaries or indeed rock artistes who've gone before.

Stranded is Roxy's third album, and immeasurably die best so far, because it's more cohesive in outlook (understandable in view of the length of time they've now been together and the fact that the departure of Eno has removed a divisive influence). It's certainly not a masterpiece, but it's not that far from it. Moreover, it contains one track that most definitely is - A Song For Europe - which is a kind of rock chanson, voluptuous in its cadences of a remembered affaire and, expressive of the decaying grandeur of a fading camelia; for all it's Parisian setting it could be sub-titled Death In Venice; not only is the mood appropriate but Ferry exhibits the exquisite sensibilities of a Visconti without the stodge. It takes an Englishman to render accessible the accents of Continental music, after all.

As a whole, though, Roxy Music evoke on this album an impression of lush melancholy, full of elusive bitter-sweet fragrances. I can see why some critics find it hard to like them while appreciating what they do. Their music isn't warm or embracing here it's suffused with an exotic, Poe-like quality that distances the creators from their listener, while Ferry's strange voice lends it the chill bloom of the corpse. This can have marvellously eerie results, as on Mother Of Pearl, which begins with a fast, curiously elliptical rift that's almost Beefheartian and then blows chilly with Ferry near-reciting monologue that's as desolating as it's impenetrable. The same song also points up his phrasing and ear for nuance, as in the beautifully effete line, "Well I've been up all night again, party-time wasting is too much fun" which could have come straight out of Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point (it's stretching the literary parallels, but Ferry seems eminently literate for a rock musician).

It's unfortunate that Warner Brothers haven't renewed their contract in America because Roxy Music would seem ideally poised for that kind of international expansion. Theirs is a baroque and inventive talent, and Stranded, only fails to be a true tour de force because some of the inventive ideas don't quite come off. Psalm, for example, is a very odd liturgy with its Blackpool pier organ and doctored harmonica sound, but it's hard to sustain interest over eight minutes on the strength of bizarreness alone. Ferry's writing is wonderfully atmospheric, but his theme as a lyricist is unclear. Still, as with all tales of mystery and imagination, doubtless it will one day be revealed.