Top Artists – Roxy Music

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…)

Roxy Music – A Heavy Vinyl Winner!

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Roxy Music

Sonic Grade: B-

Hey, this is a good sounding pressing! I had to pull out my best imports to beat it, which they did handily of course, but the typical audiophile trying to find a pressing superior to this one will have to do a fair bit of homework in order to succeed. We had multiple copies of Islands, Polydors, Atcos, Reprises and one copy of the Heavy Vinyl import I used to like. This pressing trounced most of them, and it’s cheap. 

I highly recommend it to anyone who likes Art Rock from the ’70s and is never going to lay out the kind of bread our Hot Stamper pressings command. For around $20 you just can’t beat it.

 

Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

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  • With two seriously good Double to Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this UK LP is sure to be one of the best sounding Roxy Music records you’ll ever play
  • These sides are unbelievably rich and Tubey Magical – Roxy just does not get much better than this!  
  • We’ve been working on this shootout for over ten years – here is one of the better copies we have to show for our effort
  • AMG 5 Stars: “…another extraordinary record from Roxy Music, one that demonstrates even more clearly than the debut how avant-garde ideas can flourish in a pop setting.”

This album is a MASTERPIECE of Art Rock, Glam Rock and Bent Rock all rolled into one. Spacious, dynamic, present, with HUGE MEATY BASS and tons of energy, the sound is every bit as good as the music. (At least on this copy it is. That’s precisely what Hot Stampers are all about.) (more…)

Country Life – A Killer Roxy Album from ’74

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  • This killer early British Island import pressing had two amazing sides, each rating a Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • This one is simply bigger, richer, more clear and more Tubey Magical than almost every other copy we heard in our shootout
  • As quiet as any Island original we’ve ever heard – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they don’t come quieter
  • AMG raves that “…Country Life finds Roxy Music at the peak of their powers, alternating between majestic, unsettling art rock and glamorous, elegant pop/rock. Roxy Music rarely sounded as invigorating as they do here.”

Many of the best songs Bryan Ferry ever wrote and Roxy Music ever played are on this album. Musically it’s right up there with the first album and Siren. All three represent the high watermark of early- to mid-’70s Arty Rock. (more…)

Roxy Music’s Music Debut Is a Masterpiece

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – this is some of the most dynamic sound the band achieved
  • Andy Hendriksen’s engineering (over the course of a week!) is superb in all respects and practically faultless
  • A Top 100 album, the band’s Masterpiece, and truly a Must Own Desert Island Disc of Glamorous Arty Rock
  • “Falling halfway between musical primitivism and art rock ambition, Roxy Music’s eponymous debut remains a startling redefinition of rock’s boundaries. Simultaneously embracing kitschy glamour and avant-pop, Roxy Music shimmers with seductive style and pulsates with disturbing synthetic textures.”

Folks, this is a true Demo Disc in the world of Art Rock. It’s rare to find a recording of popular music with DYNAMICS like these. (more…)