Roxy Music – Stranded

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1. Brian Eno calls this one Roxy Music’s best, apparently. I think we can chalk that one up to modesty, because For Your Pleasure is clearly the winner there.

2. That being said, Stranded is their second best (I might feel worse about making this statement had “Virginia Plain” been on the original). It’s also the second best glam rock album of 1973 – which means that Roxy Music made the two best glam rock albums that year.

3. Much has been made about Stranded with respect to Roxy Music’s preceding two albums since this is their first album without Brian Eno on board. The answer? There’s not much different at all. That’s partly because both Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera replace Eno on “treatments” – the last Roxy Music album to feature that instrument. Take opener and sole single “Street Life,” as an example. Sure, it’s their most radio-friendly single at this point in time, complete with Motown-style handclaps and a chorus that fades into backing vocals during the verse (but recall that neither “Virginia Plain” or “Pyjamarama” had a chorus), but it opens with twenty seconds of outsideambience, a word that’s associated with someone else. Or, listen to “Amazona,” where Phil Manzanera’s guitar goes through such processing treatments until it barely resembles a guitar and when the main funky riff returns, it couldn’t be called funk anymore. Elsewhere, the first part of “Mother of Pearl” features the same percussion (it sounds like a toy being winded up) that powered “Bitter’s End.” And considering that the cello isn’t a featured instrument according to the liner notes, I’m left wondering just what is generating that bowed string sound on closer “Sunset.”

4. Meanwhile, song structures share similarities with what came before. Sure, you’re not going to get anything like the Krautrocking “Bogus Man,” but you do get multipartite songs everywhere – even “Amazona” manages three distinct parts in four minutes. The thing is, they know what they’re doing here, whereas they sounded like they were just hopping on the progressive rock train on their debut. “Mother of Pearl,” for example, wisely begins with a burst of energy from the emotionally exhausting “A Song for Europe” before switching gears into a completely different song. Elsewhere, “Psalm,” the longest track here, isn’t anywhere as sonically interesting as “For Your Pleasure,” but it earns its length in the way the band create a controlled crescendo – one of Eno’s trademarks. The electric violin that’s prominent in that one is a new trick, too, courtesy of newcomer Eddie Jobson.

5. That being said, and the admission that I haven’t heard most of Bryan Ferry’s solo career (nor do I ever intend to), Stranded is Bryan Ferry’s best album, by which, I mean, it’s the album where he does his best singing. This is both a result of his need to reassert dominance on the band after Brian Eno’s leaving and the induction Eddie Jobson, who, in addition to filling out Brian Eno’s old spot, adding his own touches on the album (as already mentioned), takes on keyboard duties so that Ferry could concentrate elsewhere.

Obvious examples of what I mean forthcoming: there’s the fabulous falsetto launch of “’Cause loving you is all I can do” and how he growls “The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down” almost right after, both from “Street Life.” There’s the way he whispers sweet-nothings while decked out in a blue suit, sitting on top of a piano in a classy lounge for “Just Like You” – seriously, I always try to read along to what he’s saying, but after “Buttercup daisies,” you realize it’s not what he’s singing, but how he sings it and I just get lost in the falsetto (and when he’s not singing, Phil Manzanera occupies my attention). Then, he does the complete opposite on “A Song for Europe” – abandoning the over-the-top theatricalities of glam rock for pure, believable drama – allmusic’s Dave Thompson sums it up nicely, “It is the empty champagne-glassed lament of a weary jet-setter, flicking through his photo album and remembering lost love, and it’s completely up to the listener who the lover actually was. Flesh and blood? Or Europe itself, as the modern age consigned more of its heritage to the dustbins of progress, and the history which once was all around was swept off the streets and into mere books?” It’s in the fact that he bothers with details like singing the last verse of that same song in Latin and French (“JAMAIS!”), it’s in the fact that he bothers overdubbing himself everywhere on “Mother of Pearl” (“No, no, no (yes!), NOOOOOO!”) sneaks in a couple of smooches (“Few throwaway kisses” indeed) and carries the song by his lonesome in it’s a capella outro, it’s in the fact that he bothers with a four-note climb that’s the centerpiece of centerpiece “Psalm” (yup, you read that right). He’s trying harder than he ever was (or will), and he’s succeeding at every turn.

6. ”Sunset” is one of those less impressive Elton John songs that goes on for longer than it should. But even those songs had something to look forward to: in this case, it’s the piano bridge (see the 2:43 mark).

7. This is also the last good Roxy Music album. Sure, they’ll have great moments left in them, but after this, they’ll completely throw away everything Brian Eno taught them and descend into a decade ranging from utter mediocrity to unoffending and unfortunate genericism. The thing is, they never belonged to either category.

8. I don’t really keep track of these things, but this is probably the best album that shares the same birthday as I do.

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One response to “Roxy Music – Stranded

  1. Pingback: Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure | Free City Sounds·

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