Retro futurism at the Martian Hop – ‘For your pleasure’ by Roxy Music.

Posted: July 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

Summer of ’72. The freaks were making the charts. Hawkwind at number 2 with ‘Silver Machine’. Alice Cooper number 1 with ‘School’s out’.

Then, on came the real freaks.

They had a singer who looked like a glammed up Lawrence Harvey. A weird guitarist in bug eyed shades. A sax player in lurid green satin turned up collar.

Then there was the real weirdo on synthesizer. Brian Eno. He twiddled knobs like a boffin, had a sci-fi vibe about him and rivaled the singer for adulation.

Taking the contrived, the Oscar Wilde anti-authentic credo to new areas, Roxy Music was a band like no other. You could hear no Beatles or Rolling Stones or Beach Boys in their music. You could hear no heavy blues rock, no folk rock, no Dylan. It was like the sixties never happened for this band. But maybe the 2060s were happening for them.

I of course, loved ‘Virginia Plain’. It had a relentless 12 bar brilliance about it but somehow didn’t sound like a 12 bar. It had strange imagistic lyrics that referenced some kind of unattainable Hollywood glamour, pop art pastiche and camp archness. It was words with permanently upturned supercilious eyebrows.

I didn’t buy it, but I did buy their second single, the fabulously weird ‘Pyjamarama’. Even the title intrigued me. I knew I’d like it before I heard it – first on Johnny Walker’s radio one show one lunchtime when I was home from school. I remember Johnny Walker, obviously at a loss for description said ‘that’s great, so unusual’ or words to that effect.

I didn’t get to hear Roxy Music’s first album. I remember looking at the sleeve and feeling disappointed that ‘Virginia Plain’ wasn’t on it. And one of the songs was over seven minutes long. I didn’t bother with it for the time being.

It was ‘For your pleasure, their second album, ’ I heard first.

I borrowed it from a school friend’s older brother.

I had never heard anything like it. I was stunned by the opening track ‘Do the strand’. At that point, it was the weirdest pop I had ever heard. Was it pop at all? Was it rock? What the hell was it?

Roxy Music seemed to me to have a year zero approach to their music. They were punk before punk because they seemed to sneer at the past, or if they did reference it, they were clearly using it as a pastiche to elevate or desecrate if you prefer – rock n roll, doo wop, to kitsch levels. There was an audacious lack of respect for the past – this was music that was forcing pop into new elliptical shapes.

‘Do the strand’ captures the essence of everything that makes Roxy Music in 1973 so great – loopy, unpredictable chord sequences, brilliant and witty lyrics, Ferry’s un-rock voice – and the chaotic and thrilling interplay of the band, all taking cameos.

Ferry’s songwriting on this album leapt into a new dimension. Sure, his songwriting prowess on the first album must have given Bowie something to think about, but on this outing, Ferry really hit his stride.

‘Beauty Queen’ is a gorgeous melody, set to lyrics that play with clichés and have a knowing sense of the attraction of fading glamour. ‘Your swimming pool eyes…in sea breezes they flutter’…

It’s an album that explores the nether regions of beauty, glamour, decay and depravity. It has a creepy undercurrent to it.

You meet it head on ‘In every dream home a heartache’ which has the infamous reference to a blow up doll and a Ballardian sci-fi sex vibe about it.

The vacuous materialism of the consumer dream was a topic new to me at the time. It was a considerable lyrical advancement on ‘Metal Guru’ that’s for sure.

Roxy Music were weird. In a good way. They pinned it all on great songs and without Ferry’s skewed pop sensibility, would have been a great weird band – but without tunes.

It sounds lazy to use the word ‘weird’. But you must remember, this was a 13 year old mind’s reaction.

I was not prepared for the opening track on side two: ‘The Bogus Man’. To be honest, I thought at first it was rather turgid and droned on and on in a non-poptastic way. It had no chorus. It was repetitive. It went on even longer than I expected. No, I think I’ll take the needle off this track. But then, one night I put on some new headphones and I got it. It was a trance track before trance. Eno mentioned a band called Can in an interview. An influence on him apparently, as Eno had a big part in the writing of this track. I never got to hear Can until several years later and to be honest, I couldn’t hear the connection. Then I heard ‘Tago Mago’ and got it. But I admit this was only last year. So it took me 42 years to join the dots.

The time came to give the album back. I didn’t want to give it back and hoped the big brother of my friend would forget it. But he demanded it with menaces as I recall.

So I had this memory of this great album and my first introduction to music that was arty and strange and showed me that pop didn’t have to conform to the linear trajectory of its past.

I didn’t hear the album again until 1977, when I finally bought my own copy.

It sounded as fresh as when I first heard it. Still had that weird edge to it.

I still get that feeling today.

Sure, familiarity has made me render it normal. The strange is no longer so strange, the exotic now everyday to me. We’ve had jerky quirky new wave, the art punk of Devo – and it all owes a huge debt to Roxy Music.

Roxy went on to become hip yuppie music, culminating in their slick sound scapes of ‘Avalon’ in 1982. Bryan Ferry had long since perfected his tuxedo lounge singer image to the point of parody.

The Roxy Music of 1972-1975 are long since lost to an era when music seemed to willfully engage itself with the art fraternity and became the soundtrack for strange boys and girls that dressed like 1940s film starlets.

‘For your pleasure’ should be pulled out when your son or daughter asks you ‘Daddy…what does original sound like’.

You say, ‘THAT…is what original sounds like’…roxy 73

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