Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Roxy Music


Released 1972 on Island
The Seth Man, June 2001ce
“Saturday nite at the Roxy the Mecca the Ritz – your fantasies realized…& are they still?” -Simon Puxley (from “Roxy Music”, 1972)


Are fantasies EVER realised?

Yes…but once they are, what they become is nostalgia.
And the nostalgia plumbed to the depths on “Roxy Music” was both specific and undefined -- for a time (or times) never passed, a future already passed…or both. Of a dream of a better life not yet lived, as promised by the insidious tendrils which speak and coo of drama, desire, reveries, dreams, sorrow and fantasies; those lived and cherished by those at the movie houses, when perusing glamour magazines, glossy advertising, radio and television, only to be immediately in turn outdated to encourage a long and steady line of future fantasies for consumption. But the particular future Roxy Music render throughout their first album was one already passed -- where modernism begun its decline into a mass-produced culture furiously obsessed with the trappings of wealth, beauty and fame; objects that beckon perpetually to be attained, but are as attainable as the past. This too is nostalgia, and being a handmaiden of Dame Desire (whose lithe and sinewy body lies both completely out of reach and at the very heart of “Roxy Music”) it’s also the most tragic of desires: that which is rendered null and void at its very inception due to the obvious and undeniable passage of time.

The first glimpse of the earliest incarnation of Roxy Music is inevitably visual: either the lushly art-directed album sleeves or promotional photographs of the group dressed to the nines in supreme sartorial elegance. And adorning their maiden album is a perfectly recreated forties cheesecake shot (risqué in its time) of a brunette in a matching pink and white swimsuit (revealing for its time) set off by a wrap with baby blue trimming which is echoed in her pink and painfully desirous bee-stung lips, set off by near-garish blue eye shadow. Clutching (or releasing) a pink rose in her left hand (closer to her heart and romance promised), this is perfectly contrasted by a gold album lurking behind the folds of her wrap’s blue trim on the back cover (coolly acknowledged fortunes to come.) Carrying over the newborn gender colour scheme (perfect for a debut album) is the group name set in Trafton Script, a typeface favoured in the 1940’s and 1950’s as a display face perfect in its glamour and elegance. And elegance and glamour are completely present and accounted for on this embarrassingly confident debut album. In all ways a completely off the wall and singular perfection, there’s not another record like it, past, present or -- no crystal ball required here -- future. The musical textures and moods are about as infinite as the emotions of both human intellect and heart. And it was all blended into the strongest vision cocktail by lead vocalist and songwriter Bryan Ferry, who constructed an extreme aural and visual pop art experience with style unsurpassed for its time (or any time, for that matter) as it captured and combined concepts so diverse and diametrically opposed, it verges on sheer, near alchemy. Throughout, myriad/hybrid frames of references spanning three decades of cultural, visual, stylistic and musical references are set upon its aural canvas with a framing device always begging to be experienced and interpreted repeatedly. The sheer scope of Ferry’s well-honed cultural research is shocking: as was his knowledge of conceptual fine art, popular culture, fashion, style, popular music and film, matched only by his equally acute insights into the spectrum of human relationships with the modern world as well as other humans, machines, object d’art and just plan inanimate objects. And entwining these affairs of both head and heart, he overlaid the whole scheme with several other obsessions, all with lyrics frighteningly simple and shot through with pearls of wisdom, cliché, catch- and ordinary turns of- phrase that flow together into heartbreaking, heartfelt, tongue in cheek, bright with excitement and always unflappable verses of quavering delivery straight from the gilded Ferry tonsils.

From the opening taped clink-of-glasses and general murmur to the final VCS3 firework and squiggle, “Re-Make/Re-Model” is about as appropriate a title for the introductory piece of this album as it would be to describe the entire record, as musical styles get appropriated as furiously as they are played. The middle section sees each player with a break to exhibit but a smattering of some of the group’s different facets, musically and culturally:

1) Drum break intro (showbiz flash)
2) “Daytripper” bass riff (reference to sixties pop music)
3) VCS3 synthesizer screech-out (electronic technology)
4) Saxophone melody (Fifties rock’n’roll satyr-icon)
5) Duane Eddy riff (Instrumental guitar proto-psychedelia)
6) Free-form piano skittering (avant garde)
7) Drum break outro (reconciliation)

Space does not permit further exercises in describing each and every dazzling display within, but it should be stated that Ferry’s piano parts, Phil Manazera’s guitar, Andy Mackay’s woodwinds, Eno’s electronic treatments and Paul Thompson’s excellent drumming facilities combine with such ease into so many different styles, this truly an album that has remained avant garde since the day of its release 29 years ago (Not to slight Graham Simpson’s bass playing, which was as oddball as his ‘look’ in the gatefold.)

This record seems contemporary every time I’ve ever played it. Maybe not contemporary in the strictest sense, as early Roxy Music’s (the first two albums and singles) own temporal habitat is an undefined, non-stop cabaret of the mind: an eternal, fashionable cocktail party of the romantic and the unreachable within a neatly assembled and perfectly collaged pastiche of everything from The Velvet Underground to doo-wop to Howard Hawks films to West Coast 60’s psychedelic guitar abuse to The Doors to films in general to memories of forgotten goodbyes on quiet English beaches overrun overhead by dark, overhung clouds as the lightest mist holds to the hair of her with the chestnut hair, a dearly-held pre-WW2 English Rose in her tweed greatcoat (presented at the cottage as a farewell) as well as all the other images far and wide we all hold so dear...Holding them closer and closer, never forgetting them and constantly re-arranging them in accordance with either their iconic importance or own our hearts’ and/or mind’s whims. The gamut of human emotions real and imagined swarm in our memory banks, some stolen from memories not our own (or from cultural artifacts which are just constructs of our the collective human psyche, anyway) into stories that have been told and retold over again and again and never fade and are always ready to be updated. But these memories we think are our own are not...they are the property of the silver screen or other dramas, the re-invention of life into lies…but lies that sometime speak of greater truths beneath their purposefully facile surfaces.

What Roxy Music did was reinvent and reinterpret nostalgia by using the trappings of several generations of style, culture and popular music as a precise stylistic backdrop for their music, whose pop art and pre-/post-modern soundscapes never lost the core essences of the most intangible and unspoken elements of all rock’n’roll. And “Roxy Music” (and its far darker sister album, “For Your Pleasure”) both exist in a time zone of their own constructions: always once removed and totally separated from reality while projecting an updated version of it back, like a shop front window reflecting your own gazing image back faintly transposed over the large glass before the display. And this particular large glass, the first Roxy Music album, is impeccably decorated as each and every detail is paid in full through an ultimate artifice of desire, lovingly constructed. As they usually are, when realising a fantasy so rich in all of humanity’s most treasured dreams.

“Shake your hair girl with your pony tail / Takes me right back / When you were young...”

I remember that song. And I'll always remember her...Always.