Top Artists – Roxy Music

Roxy Music – Roxy Music – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

The legendary first Roxy Music album returns to the site in tip top White Hot Stamper form, boasting no less than an incredible A+++ White Hot Side Two coupled with a superb A++ Super Hot Side One! Folks, it doesn’t get much better than this!

In considering both music and sound, this is arguably the best record the band ever made. Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album has the kind of dynamic, energetic, POWERFUL sound that their other records simply never show us. And we’ve played them by the dozens, so there’s a pretty good chance we will never find copies with the abundant richness and power we found here. (more…)

Roxy Music – Country Life – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

Many of the best songs Ferry ever wrote and Roxy ever played are on this album. Musically it’s right up there with the first album and Siren, both early ’70s Art Rock landmarks.

In our experience the right British original Sunray (Pink Rim) Island pressing will always win the shootout if you have a good pile of copies to play. There are some bad sounding Island LPs out there, so don’t assume the Sunray is the answer. It’s potentially the right answer. Without at least five copies in hand you won’t know for sure whether the copy you like is truly a Hot Stamper or not-that-hot-of-a-stamper.

The sound on some tracks is noticeably better than others. These British pressings give you the richest, fullest, biggest sound with the least amount of sibilance, grain and grunge. It’s the rich, full-bodied ANALOG sound — with some problems to be sure — that we adore here at Better Records. (more…)

Roxy Music – Stranded

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

Stranded is one of the higher quality recordings by the band, coming in second for sonics only to the first album, which is really saying something considering that the first album is a Top 100 title. The Tubey Magic on the early albums has to be heard to be believed.

In our experience the right British original Sunray Island pressing will always be the Ultimate Pressing. (There are some bad sounding Island LPs out there, so don’t assume the Sunray is the answer. It’s potentially the right answer. Without at least five copies in hand you won’t know whether the copy you like is a true Hot Stamper or a not-that-hot-Hot Stamper.)

The domestic, German, Japanese and Dutch pressings are not remotely competitive with the Brits on this album (which is not true for all of Roxy’s albums but true for this one, Siren being the clear exception to the rule).

Now for those of you who are not Roxy Music fans and don’t know this music, this album may take a bit of getting used to. We assure you it will be well worth your while. We think it’s brilliant!

The sound on some tracks is noticeably better than others. Amazona is a KNOCKOUT here. These British pressings give you the richest, fullest, biggest sound with the least amount of sibilance on the vocals, grain or grunge. It’s the rich, full-bodied ANALOG sound we adore here at Better Records.

We thank Chris Thomas for his production and John Punter for his engineering work at AIR Studio. This album and the first one are without question the two best sounding Roxy albums, and that’s true for any incarnation of the band.

Both belong in any serious rock and pop collection, and if you are a fan of Art Rock, every Roxy album should be on your shelf, along with all your Bowie, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Eno, Peter Gabriel, 10cc and so many others (most of which are personal favorites of mine, albums I have played hundreds of times over the last 30 years and plan to play hundreds of times in the next).

My Story

I’ve been a giant Roxy Music fan since 1975. Rolling Stone gave Siren a rave review that year, and I went right out and bought myself a copy on their say-so. I then proceeded to play it every day. This went on for weeks. I’m a bit obsessive that way. (Being obsessive is extremely helpful if you have a desire to excel in audio. It may in fact be the most important trait of them all.)

I consider Roxy to be one of the greatest Art Rock bands in the history of the world. Although the general public and probably most audiophiles would surely cast their vote for Avalon as the band’s masterpiece, I much prefer the music of these others — their eponymous first album, Stranded, Country Life and Siren — to the more “accessible” music found on Avalon. To be fair, that’s splitting hairs, because any of those five titles are absolute Must Own Albums that belong in any serious popular music collection.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Street Life
Just Like You
Amazona
Psalm

Side Two

Serenade
A Song for Europe
Mother of Pearl
Sunset

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Without Brian Eno, Roxy Music immediately became less experimental, yet it remained adventurous, as Stranded illustrates. Under the direction of Bryan Ferry, Roxy moved toward relatively straightforward territory, adding greater layers of piano and heavy guitars. Even without the washes of Eno’s synthesizers, Roxy’s music remains unsettling on occasion, yet in this new incarnation, they favor more measured material, whether it’s the reflective “A Song for Europe” or the shifting textures of “Psalm.” Even the rockers, such as the surging “Street Life” and the segmented “Mother of Pearl,” are distinguished by subtle songwriting that emphasizes both Ferry’s tortured glamour and Roxy’s increasingly impressive grasp of sonic detail.

Webr Rave Review (Author Unknown)

Feeling that the band couldn’t handle two egos (and talents) moving in opposite directions half the time, Eno quit the band after For Your Pleasure. This move made Roxy Music less quirky (and innovative), but more focused, without ugly synth grunts unsettling Ferry’s mannered music and melodies.

There’s still plenty of weirdness and odd sound effects, but these are incorporated more subtly – the telephone ringing on “Street Life”, the castanets punctuating “Mother Of Pearl”. Roxy practically reinvented their sound on each album, and here they are elegant and stately, with Latin rythms reinforcing its Mediterranean flavor. Smoothed out, they sound like a much different band – no longer would their music contain the hint of anarchy; every piece is integrated without seeming patched on. When Manzara’s guitar cuts through the stroll of “Amazona”, it’s the kind of shock that you live for, a half-court jump and slam-dunk through the net of Ferry’s pretensions.

The operative adjective for Roxy’s first true masterpiece is gorgeous (it’s the same adjective for their final one, too), a far remove from the first two albums. “Just Like You” contains lovely falsetto singing from Ferry, and a razor-lyrical guitar solo from Manzanera. The futurism of the first two albums gives way to the world-weary nostalgia of “Song For Europe”, which admits “There’s nothing left for us to share but yesterday.”

The centerpiece, “Mother Of Pearl”, might be Roxy’s finest seven minutes. Charging in with blazing guitars, the music suddenly gives way to a stately piano ballad – the effect is startling. Ferry soliloquizes on the elusiveness of true love, rhyming odd metaphors like “serpentine sleekness/was always my weakness”, summing it all up with the so-true phrase, “If you’re looking for love in a looking glass world, it’s pretty hard to do.” Continue that quest for thy damsel in distress, Bryan, as long as you always keep it this interesting.

Roxy Music – Rhett Davies, Yanick Etienne and the Making of Avalon

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I consider Roxy Music to be one of the greatest Art Rock bands in the history of the world. The general public and most audiophiles would no doubt cast their vote for AVALON as the band’s masterpiece. (The long and involved story of the making of the album can be seen below.) I much prefer their eponymous first album, Stranded, Country Life and Siren to the more “accessible” music found on Avalon. To be fair, that’s splitting hairs, because any of those five titles are absolute Must Own Albums that belong in any serious popular music collection.   (more…)

Roxy Music – Avalon – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Avalon. 

The best British original Super DeLuxe pressings of Avalon are sweet and silky, big and lively, with the kind of sound that drives us audiophiles wild — which of course it the main reason this album was on Extra Heavy Rotation at most stereo stores back in the day.

It’s records like this that get people (otherwise known as audiophiles) to spend wads and wads of money in pursuit of expensive analog equipment good enough to bring this wonderful music to life.

This album rewards a stereo with the qualities that audiophiles prize most highly when selecting equipment — spaciousness, transparency, clarity, detail, depth, soundstaging, speed, high frequency extension, and the like. Those qualities are important but not enough for big speaker rock and roll guys like us, but on this record they are key to reproducing the best of what Avalon has to offer.

We would add to that list presence and energy, along with warmth, fullness and lack of smear on the transients. Whomp and rock and roll power do not seem to play much part in separating the best from the rest, although it’s nice when the bottom end is big and solid. (more…)

Pitchfork’s Review of the New Roxy Music Box Set

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(The sound is surely mediocre at best, but Tom Ewing has written a beautiful piece here about one of my favorite bands of all time.)

 

This career-spanning box set to mark Roxy Music’s 40th anniversary is often startling, usually wonderful, and more affecting than expected. It’s also fascinating as the story of a gradual hardening of an elegant, enigmatic persona, of Bryan Ferry’s transformation from art-school pop star to self-made sphinx.  

In their 1970s heyday, Roxy Music enjoyed enormous critical and commercial success, but even so, they and their art-school rock were admired more than trusted. American critics snipped at leader Bryan Ferry’s arch romanticism, while the Brit press considered the models Ferry squired and the suits he doffed and dubbed him “Byron Ferrari”. Almost everyone affirmed that the band were great, while disagreeing as to when, exactly. For some, the great achievement was 1982’s farewell, Avalon– impeccably designed pop for weary grown-ups. Others went a decade further back, to the early, playfully experimental albums Roxy released when Brian Eno was in the band, playing androgyne peacock to Ferry’s tailored lothario. Whether you see their development between those points as progress or cautionary tale, it’s easy to let this contrast define the band.

This box set of remasters to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary– not lavish, but thorough and reasonably priced– is an opportunity to break free of narrative and see what sets every phase of Roxy Music apart. The answer is Bryan Ferry, one of rock’s great, sustained acts of self-definition. In classic 70s style, like Bowie or Bolan, Ferry invented a pop star. A sybarite with a plummy, awkward croon, gliding through his own songs like they were parties he’d forgotten arriving at. A flying Dutchman of the jet set, doomed to find love but never satisfaction. Having worked his way into character over an album or two, he simply never left it, becoming more Bryan Ferry with every record and every year, whether performing or not.

Which might have been insufferable, except Ferry’s performances could hit an emotional core nobody else in rock was getting near. He made enervation his own– a real, neglected feeling, if a hard one to sympathise with. On Avalon’s title track he puts it plainly: “Now the party’s over/ I’m so tired”. Roxy were never drained by hangovers or comedowns, more by moments of rueful self-knowledge. But you hardly needed lyrics to spot it: from first to last, Roxy Music scattered moments of exquisite exhaustion through their songs. The hanging chords on the intro to early single “Pyjamarama”, as if the song can’t decide whether to get out of bed. The smothering synthesised pall of “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”, from their masterpiece, 1973’s For Your Pleasure. The hilariously overwrought dolour of “A Song For Europe”. Or the band rousing themselves on “Just Another High” for a quixotic chase after one last thrill, futility nipping at their heels.

That song, closing out 1975’s Siren, was one of the great career-ending statements. Except Roxy reformed and returned– a three year break counted as a split in the frenzied 70s– for a trio of albums that explored ennui in ever smoother, prettier, and more laconic ways. They restarted well. The glowering, compelling title track from 1979’s Manifesto promises a meaner and darker band than we ever quite got. But the later material isn’t always worthwhile. There are moments on 1980’s Flesh and Blood, in particular, where the band stop sounding tired and start sounding bored, a fatal difference. There are also moments, like Avalon’s “More Than This” and “To Turn You On”, where the entropic gloss is a feint to let heartbreaking loneliness get in close and floor you. The ultimate late Roxy Music song, oddly, might be their cover of “Jealous Guy”, released after John Lennon’s murder. Here genuine loss is paid tribute by studied melancholy, soul-baring replaced by poised regret, and in the greatest tribute a narcissist could pay the song stands revealed as a Roxy tune all along.

Exhaustion was Roxy Music’s speciality, but if it was all they could do they’d be a footnote. The band earn their ennui by convincing us how hard they can party. The superb mid-70s albums in particular– For Your Pleasure, Stranded, Country Life and Siren– are giddy, muscular displays, and vicious when they need to be. They’re also Ferry’s peak as a vocalist: by Stranded (also from ’73) he’d found his voice but hadn’t settled into the lounge lizard comfort zone, and was confident playing things staccato, mocking or sentimental. More importantly, his band had the same freedom to roam. If they lack the impertinent invention of the Eno years, these records are generous with opportunities for Roxy Music’s lynchpins– Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Eddie Jobson– to shine and stretch. When they reach full steam behind an inspired Ferry, on “The Thrill of It All”, “Street Life” or “Mother of Pearl”, it’s the best, most exciting music the band created.

Eno’s departure, as he himself admitted, helped Roxy become that more focused, energized band. But his contributions had been colossal. Eno helped Ferry mutate his songs into referential collages and eerie synthscapes, and that experimentation gave the early Roxy their identity. He’s easier to spot on their flashy, daring self-titled 1972 debut, the inventiveness of songs like “Ladytron” and “The Bob (Medley)” helping cover up rattly production. But For Your Pleasure is a greater testament to Eno’s importance: it’s hard to imagine an album that better exploits the tension between two fast-diverging creativities. Its best tracks play games with sincerity and emotional tone: the preposterous schmaltz of “Beauty Queen” resolving into real anguish, while “In Every Dream Home an Heartache” lurches from creepiness to hilarity. Speculating on what would have happened if Eno had stayed with Roxy Music past two albums is wistful fun. But once you’ve squeezed nine-minute krautrock jam “The Bogus Man” and light-footed pop manifesto “Do the Strand” into the same space, and made it work so magnificently, where do you go? Besides, Ferry needed room to obsessively refine himself.

What they lost, over time, wasn’t so much inventiveness as playfulness. Country Life (1974), in particular, is an album of delightful variety– the genre pastiche of “Prairie Rose”, the gothic folly of “Tryptych”, the gentle reflection of “Three and Nine”. None of these survived the three-year gap. The box set has two discs of non-album material– singles, mixes and edits– including all the instrumentals they put on B-Sides. Relaxed studio goof-offs (“Hula Kula”, “Your Application’s Failed”) give way to portentousness (“South Downs”) as Ferry, or the group, evolve, and it’s a shame. There were trade-offs, of course. The final records may not be so much fun but Ferry had found an occasional knack of crafting brilliant, swooning radio choruses– “Dance Away”, “Oh Yeah”, and “More Than This” fully deserve their thrones in AOR Valhalla.

Direct Roxy Music copyists are few, but their themes– romantic gloom, and the weariness of hedonism– will be pop-relevant as long as self-conscious twentysomethings get famous, or want to. The music on this box set is often startling, usually wonderful and more affecting that you might have expected. But it’s also fascinating as the story of a gradual hardening of an elegant, enigmatic persona, Bryan Ferry’s transformation from art-school pop star to self-made sphinx.

Roxy Music – Manifesto

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Manifesto

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  • A killer copy of Manifesto, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • Big, rich and lively throughout – the Tubey Magic on this early UK pressing will show you just how good this Rhett Davies’ recording can sound
  • This one may have won our shootout, but it has some minor condition issues, so we’re keeping the price down  
  • “The songs ending each side fade out with real grace and leave you hanging, wanting more — drenched in a romance out of reach.” Rolling Stone

Good pressings of Manifesto are hard to come by — this kind of rich, full-bodied, musical sound is the exception, not the rule. And there’s actual space and extension up top as well, something you certainly don’t hear on most pressings. (more…)

Roxy Music – Siren

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Siren is one of our favorite Roxy albums, right up there with the first album and well ahead of the commercially appealing Avalon. After reading a rave review in Rolling Stone of the album back in 1975 I took the plunge, bought a copy at my local Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it. As is my wont, I then proceeded to work my way through their earlier catalog, which was quite an adventure. It takes scores of plays to understand where the band is coming from on the early albums and what it is they’re trying to do. Now I listen to each of the first five releases on a regular basis.

Somehow they never seem to get old, even after more than thirty years.

Of all the Roxy albums (with the exception of Avalon) this is probably the best way “in” to the band’s music. The earlier albums are more raucous, the later ones more rhythmically driven — Siren catches them at their peak, with, as other reviewers have noted, all good songs and no bad ones. (more…)

Roxy Music – Flesh + Blood

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  • Two incredible sides, each rating a Triple Plus (A+++) — rich, smooth, spacious sound
  • Credit as always goes to the brilliant engineering of Roxy’s go-to guy, Rhett Davies
  • Flesh + Blood from 1980 is the precursor to Avalon, with much the same style and sound
  • Some of Roxy’s best material and biggest hits are here, on exceptionally quiet British vinyl too

The British Original Polydor Super Deluxe pressings are the only way to go on this album. No domestic pressing or other import in our experience has ever been better than passable; we know, we’ve been cleaning and playing them for more than thirty years.

This British LP is cut by one of my favorite mastering houses in England, which no doubt accounts for the excellent sound. The estimable Robert Ludwig cut the domestic pressings. Unfortunately for us Americans it sounds to us like they gave him a dub tape to master from. (The same thing happened on Avalon by the way.)

This is a transitional album. Some of it sounds like Avalon (Oh Yeah, Over You, etc) and some of it sounds more like their earlier material. It may not be as consistent as Avalon but it’s well worth owning for its best songs (listed below) and highly recommended for fans of the band. 

Best Tracks

Standout tracks on side one include In the Midnight Hour / Oh Yeah / My Only Love

Standout tracks on side two include Over You / Eight Miles High / Rain, Rain, Rain (more…)

Roxy Music – Avalon

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  • A stunning early UK pressing of this Roxy classic: Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first 
  • Superb sound from start to finish — full-bodied and warm with wonderfully sweet vocals
  • Copies that are exceptionally open, clear and big present this music the way it was meant to be heard
  • Credit Rhett Davies with creating the sonic space that clearly displays so many singers, instruments and sounds
  • “Ferry was never this romantic or seductive, either with Roxy or as a solo artist, and Avalon shimmers with elegance in both its music and its lyrics.” – Allmusic, 5 stars

It is records like Avalon that get people (often known as audiophiles) to spend wads and wads of money in pursuit of expensive analog equipment good enough to bring this wonderful music to life. (more…)