Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Roxy Music—
For Your Pleasure


Released 1973 on Island
The Seth Man, July 2001ce
As credited on the label itself, “For Your Pleasure” was ‘the second Roxy Music album’ and was every inch a memento mori doppelgänger of their preceding maiden voyage on vinyl. “For Your Pleasure” was about as dark and sleek as its originally laminated sleeve with its depiction of a Helmut Newton type stylisation of nighttime decadence, informed as it is with elements of symbolic death and sexuality. A black Lincoln Continental with Bryan Ferry as the grinning escort for the evening’s pleasure sits parked in front of a distant, Las Vegas-y skyline: both of which operate as a dark backdrop to the cruelly Teutonic and statuesque presence of cover star Amanda Lear. Leading a black panther on the thinnest leash, her limbs tilt, angle and arch in all directions unnatural as they threaten to almost tear away from her body (mirroring the female subject in Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending A Staircase,” the artist whose conceptual work Bryan Ferry grasped perfectly.) Both uncomfortable and highly sensual, her body is sheathed in a strapless black evening dress, long (and presumably velvet) gloves and precariously balanced on top of a pair of very high-heeled stilettos. Projecting a femme fatale persona worlds apart from the comparatively innocent cheap glitz and romance of Roxy’s previous cover star, Kari-Ann, it perfectly represents the music on “For Your Pleasure” as sleaziness at its most civilised becomes one of its several main themes alongside those of obsession, sex and death. And these far darker plumbings of the psychological depths -- many set off by Ferry’s equipment switch from acoustic to over-phlanged electric piano -- are set apart by three anthems of cheering fascination: “Do The Strand,” “Editions Of You” and “Grey Lagoons.” Their contagious buoyancy charges with lyrical devices of catch phrase, cliché and sheer name-dropping as they collect not into a stream of consciousness, but an imagistic white water rapid of consciousness whose delivery is so dizzying quick and crooningly slick, it’s a wonder how the skewered narratives keep their intents and purposes intact. The LP opener “Do The Strand” is a perfect example of this as geographical locations, trends and plain disconnected imagery merge into a “danceable solution/To teenage revolution” but you’re never entirely sure how or why -- or even if it’s a dance craze or just a state of mind. But one thing is for sure: Roxy Music, for all the trappings of deluxe glittery-glam, was inhabiting a far more conceptual place at this time than most bands of their time -- or any time, for that matter.

“Beauty Queen” is the first appearance of the sinister overtones that will wind up swallowing the album whole on the highly disturbing second side, but after the introductory e-piano reverb drones the band breaks in with a steady, mid-tempo pace as Ferry’s jilted croons bitter sweetly speaks of love lost until the middle passage where guitarist Phil Manzanera and VCS3 technician Eno spur on an explosive blow out where all their experimental elements have finally combined into a full force, raging ensemble whose experimental edge was being pushed to the limits. Manzanera’s super-slow slide works both against and with the battering ram gentleness of Paul Thompson’s skilled drumming, the woody bass playing from ‘guest artiste’ John Porter as Eno’s sparkly-gloved hands gingerly apply VCS3 treatments to the whole rocking, monstrous thing. It falls gently in place back into the main theme of Ferry’s late night, star-filled reveries, only to end on a single note and boom: end of song. Andy MacKay’s low and mournful woodwinds open and direct the dirge-like “Strictly Confidential” which slowly builds into the contemplation (or is it the composition?) of a late night suicide note. Charged by further blistering Manzanera guitar runs of piercing-ness, Ferry depicts the final somnambulant moments before sunrise and when it ends on his sung lines “there is no light here…is there no key?” another abrupt ending is in the cards. Again Roxy confound the proceedings by barging down the door with “Editions Of You,” a cheery, witty and explosive cocktail whose lyrics are even more juxtaposed than “Do The Strand” and are as quickly cut and pasted as a Burroughsian toboggan ride. Manzanera cuts loose, Eno goes completely gaga on synthesizer oscillations and Paul Thompson drums like he never lost a single beat in his life as MacKay’s sax and Ferry’s cheez-oid electric piano riffing all recklessly jockey for position. Which is what the song is all about come to think of it: with its loose, casual talk of “boys will be boys” and “love’s a gamble hard to win, easy lose” and generally letting the chips fall where they may in a careless manner befitting of such bon vivants. And the intensity of the playing on this track serves up such a rocking storm it lands hands down as one of the absolute peaks of joy on an album that concerns itself with matters entirely graver. Like the following track, “In Every Dream Home A Heartache.” An ultimate bachelor ballad sung late at night by a Bel Air mansion poolside, it’s in every way the answer to Richard Hamilton’s pop art painting metaphor for consumer goods, “Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?” Talk about your ‘modern’ love song; it sticks pin in the heart when you realise that many love songs are sung to inanimate objects, but when said object is a life-size inflatable woman, it’s a dramatic showdown between love and lust, reality and fantasy, compassion and cruelty and all the arguments in between. But when Ferry lovingly intones, “Your skin is like vinyl” it’s a true crusher because her skin IS vinyl and makes you question the whole battery of romantic allegories (“lips like cherries,” “teeth like pearls,” etc.) and what they’re meant for and how what those terms serve to do is to distant the person into an unattainable object, anyway. And Ferry was a genius for hitting upon this, writing it and singing about it in as modern a way as possible. So this is love in the modern world, but the sexual tension remains just the same as it just builds and builds unbearably until it all BREAKS LOOSE with an orgasmic, spurting instrumental coda (and subsequent slight return) where Manzanera exhibits his prowess and intelligence towards 60’s West Coast guitar playing and general mind-zapping finesse and tone -- even as it goes gurgling down, courtesy of Eno’s greasy VCS3 knob-twiddlings.

Side two is even more sinister. Opening with “The Bogus Man”, whose title and lyrics are about as brief as its length is extended, this repetitious, electronic trance-inducer is a real curveball zone, even for Roxy Music at this time. Paul Thompson’s simple drumming and John Porter’s thick bassline are sparse but strong enough to endure the successive layers of electronic piano, mellotron, sax riffing, guitar plucking and Ferry’s vocal “chu-ka” punctuations. An understated, textured approach about as civilised as it is sleazy. “Grey Lagoons” opens the only sunny spot on the album side, squeezed as it is between “The Bogus Man” and the final song “For Your Pleasure.” The title track is a place where funereal drums slowly rap upon tom-toms as Ferry reappears for the last time, singing the opening words and sounding weary in all the vain pursuits of love that only ended in disappointment. A slightly surf guitar twang riff floats by the ghostly arrangement and once Ferry’s last “tara” is sung, razor-sharp riffing and perfect tom-tom fills enter gently. Soon, a mellotronic choir emerges, and the entire track is haunted with disembodied voices, seeming to mock in slow motion with each step. All descends into another world where everything starts to shift and slid into the unknowable territory. Is this death? “You didn’t ask why...” is the final communiqué, whispered gently over the lurching electronics and otherworldly choral. A few hand-held cymbals and a final whammy-barred wail from Manzanera, and it’s over.

“For Your Pleasure” never lets up, never tells you where it’s going and doesn’t even use a blindfold.