[a]Roxy Music[/a] weren’t the first rock stars to attend art school, but they were among the first to integrate their training into their compositions. [a]Bryan Ferry[/a] placed words on a musical canvas with all the self-consciously jarring artificiality of Matisse. Andy McKay‘s sax and Phil Manzanera‘s guitars often worked against the grain of the song, recalling the dissonant [I]musique concrhte[/I] of the Surrealists. And Eno tinkered subversively in the background, sculpting the future.
Culled from the Eno period, that fertile sprint between early-1972 and late-1973 which produced the first three Roxy albums, ‘The Early Years’ aches with soulful retro-futurist longing and screen-age sci-fi romance, from the spine-tingling ‘Pyjamarama’ to the mock-sophisticate ballad ‘A Song For Europe’. Ferry‘s swooning narrators were forever entangled with disposable, man-made lovers, from the sublimely strange ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ to the windswept ‘Editions Of You’ and robot fantasies ‘Re-make/Re-model’ and ‘Ladytron’. Strange chap.
But their arty agenda is only half the story. Roxy ruled because they looked like heroically decadent peacock androgynes and wrote killer space-boogie epics like ‘If There Is Something’, ‘Virginia Plain’ and ‘Do The Strand’, thumping monuments to tortured romanticism which cloaked their pulsating passions in arcane ’30s language. Roxy were forever leaving the best party ever, too riven with ennui to face even one more cocktail.
Roxy were camp in the highest sense, projecting real emotions via studied theatricality – the lie that tells the truth. Ferry, a miner’s son from Newcastle, remodelled himself as a Nokl Coward-esque playboy pastiche, musing on “life’s inner meaning and my latest fling” in ‘Mother Of Pearl’. He also sang like he had ice cubes in his knickers, but with sufficient panache to carry it off.
Legendary US critic Lester Bangs branded Roxy “the triumph of artifice”, an unwitting compliment which helps explain why Britain has always led the field in nuanced, ironically-slanted art-rock. America never got Roxy, preferring Alice Cooper and Kiss instead. Later, when we produced Suede, Pulp, Blur and Moloko – all Roxy‘s children – they got Limp Bizkit and Marilyn Manson. Go figure.
‘The Early Years’ is the sound of untethered genius, a steam-powered future symphony of art and soul. Every dream home should have one.