Roxy Music’s best album, the best glam rock album, the best thing Eno’s ever been involved with, the best album of 1973. You don’t ask. You don’t ask why.
Nah, kidding. You can ask why. To give those compliment some context: it’s atmospheric, but doesn’t use atmosphere as a replacement for songwriting as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon; it sounds like its cover, in other words. At the same time, it rocks, but with more subtlety and paradoxically, it rocks louder, than The Who’s Quadrophenia. Other glam rockers like David Bowie, Lou Reed and T. Rex knocked out solid albums that same year, but none of them managed to be as good as their masterpieces the previous year. In comparison to Roxy Music’s own 1972 effort, For Your Pleasure doesn’t let its unique members run around uncontrolled – it focuses more on unity but impressively still manages to let each individual member shine (and to top it all off, they proceeded to make Stranded before the year closed; the second best glam rock album that year.) The only misstep is “Bogus Man” whose only fault is its length: an unjustified 9 minute attempt at krautrock. The groove is good, but not that good, and the album could’ve been better had they shortened that one by half and threw in non-album single “Pyjamarama” (which sounds like Eno mixing the Kinks and the Who together with his own juices while Ferry offers his most reserved singing – ever). Oh, well. Morrissey – whose register is almost a carbon copy to Ferry’s – writes that this is the “only truly great British album.” He’s being idiotically hyperbolic as he often is, but it’s hard to say that he’s wrong in this case.
The instruments color in the empty spaces when Ferry’s not singing, making this a really moment-oriented album: John Porter’s funky bass fills on “Beauty Queen” and “Grey Lagoons,” Eno generating an actual sea breeze after the lines “Your swimming pool eyes / In sea breezes they flutter” in the former (at the 1:43 mark), the all-male band pretending to be sirens to Bryan Ferry’s “I heard those slinky sirens wail” in “Editions of You” (at the 2:30 mark), Andy Mackay’s saxophone wavering in and out underneath the organ of “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” – the most human aspect of a completely inhuman song (and the most “Heroin”-esque song since the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”), the backing vocals of “Grey Lagoons,” the sunniest track on the album not named “Editions of You,” Brian Eno allowed 7 minutes to himself for the most psychedelic closer since “Tomorrow Never Knows.” A bit broader, Paul Thompson injects thunderous drum rolls/fills everywhere, Ferry loves the punkish propulsion of hammering staccato octaves on the piano (“Do the Strand,” “Beauty Queen,” “Grey Lagoons”), and if there’s a solo involved by anyone, it’s probably one of the greatest solos of that instrument you’ll ever hear, from the train blazing through on “Beauty Queen,” to Andy Mackay’s solo on “Grey Lagoons” (both these examples aided by said piano), to Manzanera’s own solo right after, to the world crashing around your feet as soon as Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson are given the green light on “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” with organ screeches thrown in for good measure.
And the singer sells it. He takes more liberties here than ever before – if glam rock is a genre that’s more concerned about the image than the music, than you can practically see Ferry’s image throughout the album – but he doesn’t overdo it. The best examples are on “Editions of You,” where he stretches words out playfully, “Boys will be boys will be boy-ee-o-oys” and “In modern times the modern way-ay-ay-ay-ay” (the latter launching wonderfully into the solo), and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” where he completely detaches himself right before the climax to deliver the line “But you blew my mind” which somehow adds to the experience instead of detracting from it.Moreover, he sounds like he genuinely cares about the characters he’s singing about (ie. he explicitly calls women out by their names this time around, instead of their license plate numbers as on Roxy Music’s “Re-Make/Re-Model”) or the ones he’s pretending to be; squeezing words out soulfully on “Beauty Queen” to the frightening moment when he admits his addiction, “Can’t throw you away now” on “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.”
“Beauty Queen” and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” – which I’ve already mentioned explicitly – aside, my favorite song here is opener “Do the Strand”; if “My Generation” was the proto-punk anthem of the 60s, than “Do the Strand” is the proto-post-punk anthem of the 70s. In an article entitled “Do the Strand Explained,” Simon Puxley writes, “[The Strand] is, as the lyrics demonstrate, everything; or more particularly it is – to use inadequate platitudes where it’s at, whatever turns you on. The buzz, the action, the centre, the quintessence, the energy. The all-embracing focus, past present and future, the ineffable. The indefinable. And in the context of performance the Strand is also something else the here- and-now, i.e. the song, the music and the atmosphere themselves. The song metaphorically conceives of the Strand as a dance. No ordinary dance, but an eternal, universal or a tangible image of an indefinable aesthetic and emotional perfection.” And Ferry doesn’t get enough credit as a good lyricist. In that same essay, Puxley calls attention to the double entendre in the line “Louis says/Seize he prefer / Laissez-faire le Strand,” a reference to Louis the Sixteenth (or Seize) of France. All the while, Andrew Mackay plays his saxophone like a bugle rallying the people (best moment: the screech after “And mashed potato schmaltz” at the 3:28 mark).
Final thought: is it just me, or are fully clad women simply so much sexier than less clothed ones? Leaves more to the imagination, doesn’t it? I mean, in comparison, Roxy Music’s cover just looked like it craved your attention. This one looks like it commands it.