Top Artists – Roxy Music

Roxy Music’s Debut Is a Masterpiece

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  • 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…)

Roxy Music – Flesh + Blood

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

The British Original Polydor Super Deluxe pressings are the only way to go on this album. No domestic pressing or other import was better than passable; we know, we played them. The British LP is cut by one of my favorite mastering houses in England, which no doubt accounts — at least partly — 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. (more…)

Roxy Music – Siren – The Atco Pressings Can Be Killer

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  • You’ll find insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides of this early pressing of Roxy’s Art Rock classic from 1975
  • The sound here is incredibly rich and full-bodied with a ton of bottom end weight, much less grain, and much more Tubey Magic than every other copy we played it against
  • Some of Bryan Ferry’s strongest and most consistent songwriting – Love Is The Drug, End of the Line, Sentimental Fool and more
  • 5 stars: “Abandoning the intoxicating blend of art rock and glam-pop that distinguished Stranded and Country Life, Roxy Music concentrates on Bryan Ferry’s suave, charming crooner persona for the elegantly modern Siren.”

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. Even after more than thirty years the band’s music never seems to get old. That seems to be true of a lot of the records from the era that we offer on our site. Otherwise, how could we charge so much money for them?

Imports? Not So Fast

The British and German copies of Siren are clearly made from dubbed tapes and sound smeary, small and lifeless.

To be fair, Siren has never impressed us as an exceptionally good sounding recording. Like other middle period Roxy, records such as Country Life and Manifesto (the albums just before and after), it simply does not have Demo Disc analog sound the way For Your Pleasure, Stranded or the eponymous first album do (the latter two being the best sounding in their catalog).

One would be tempted to assume that the import pressings of Siren would be better sounding, the way the imports of the first four Roxy albums are clearly better sounding. There has never been a domestic Hot Stamper pressing of any of those titles and, since we never buy them or play them, there probably never will be.

But in the case of Siren it’s the imports that are made from dubs. It may be a British band, recorded in British studios with a British producer, but the British pressed LPs are clearly made from sub-generation tapes, whereas the domestic copies sound like they’re made from the real masters.

Go Figure. And another thing: when it comes to records, never assume.

The typical domestic pressing is flat, bass-shy and opaque, sounding more like compressed cardboard than analog vinyl. Unsurprisingly, the CD, whether imported or produced domestically, is clean and clear and tonally correct but lacks the warmth and richness of the better vinyl pressings. (more…)

Roxy Music – Avalon – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This British original EG Super DeLuxe pressing of Avalon has White Hot Stamper sound on BOTH sides. We guarantee you have never begun to hear this music sound this clear, open and present. Right from the start the synths on track one were breathy and floating on a bed of cool studio air — we knew this side was going to be awesome, and of course the more we played it the better it got. Nothing could touch it.

By the time we got to side two and heard its sonic equal we knew we had the Shootout Winner in hand. With quiet import vinyl, this copy sets a standard not one out of fifty Avalons could hope to meet.

This album rewards a stereo with many of 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.

That said, the copies that are exceptionally open, clear and big present this music the way it was meant to be heard. The mix is as dense as any we know. Only the best copies have the ability to show you everything that’s on the tape. Credit must go to the amazingly talented Rhett Davies for creating the space to put so many instruments and sounds in.

Side One

A+++. The vocals are full and rich yet the percussion is delicate and clear, surrounded by so much space. My notes read “Wow! Just right!”. Nothing could touch it. (more…)

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). (more…)

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

More Roxy Music

More Avalon

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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.