Graded on a Curve:
Roxy Music,
Roxy Music and
For Your Pleasure

Bursting onto the scene 50 years ago, Roxy Music’s blend of glam rock and art rock proved highly influential while being impossible to imitate, as the music of singer Bryan Ferry, synthesist Brian Eno, saxophonist Andy Mackay, guitarist Phil Manzanera, and drummer Paul Thompson was simply drenched in personality. On April 1, Virgin/UMe’s vinyl reissue program of the band’s eight studio albums begins with debut Roxy Music and its 1973 follow-up For Your Pleasure, both half speed mastered at Abbey Road Studios by the engineer Miles Showell. Bluntly, these four sides of wax are indispensable to any collection of 20th century rock music.

Looking back on it, it feels wholly appropriate to describe Roxy Music as coming out of nowhere in 1972. Their debut LP arrived sans any pre-release singles, with “Virginia Plain” b/w “The Numberer,” the band’s first 45, cut just short of a month after Roxy Music’s release, a short enough span that its hit A-side was added to nearly all later pressings of the album (on the subject, please note that Virgin/UMe’s release retains the sequence of the UK first edition).

The nature of the band’s arrival is nicely encapsulated by Roxy Music’s opening track “Re-make/Re-model.” After a passage of what might be intended as dinner party ambiance (shades of Ferry the pure sophisticate to come), Roxy explodes forth, maximally but methodically, and by song’s end it’s clear that in this particular outfit at this point in time, nobody was taking a back seat (well, except maybe bassist Graham Simpson, who exited after the LP’s release, with Rik Kenton stepping in for “Virginia Plain,” only to be quickly replaced on For Your Pleasure by John Porter).

This is not to suggest that Roxy Music lacked in restraint; “Ladytron” on side one of Roxy Music and “Chance Meeting” on the flip offer solid evidence of such, even amongst flare-ups of experimentation. However, Roxy’s reality during this era was much more inclined toward the audacious. In its own way, Roxy Music is as much a line in the sand as The Stooges’ Funhouse before it or The Ramones after.

Those examples might give the false impression of Roxy as a punkish proposition. Instead, they were a main progenitor of the New Wave. But more interesting is the band’s fleeting flashes of early R&R, both visually (in the gatefold of the debut LP the band members are sporting beaucoup black leather) and musically, particularly the rockabilly tinged “If There is Something.”

This desire to glean inspiration from stripped-down roots isn’t unusual in glam, but when blended with Roxy’s appealingly understated camp sensibility (something of a glam rarity that shouldn’t be confused with kitsch, which was abundant in the style) and by extension the suave nod to classic Hollywood “2 H.B.” (a Bogart tribute), the band’s uniqueness is solidified.

For Your Pleasure establishes the sturdiness of the band’s smarts, offering refinement without tamping down the strangeness or the edge. It’s also a more evenly distributed album, as their debut was frontloaded by design (showcasing that explosiveness, again), though to clarify, side two of Roxy Music is still highly worthwhile, opening as it does with the record’s boldest maneuver(s) in “The Bob (Medley).”

But from the opening moments of the rousing, full-bodied “Do the Strand,” it’s clear that this iteration of Roxy Music has hit its stride, even as its days were numbered (album #2 ends the Eno era). “Beauty Queen” exudes finesse to elevate the debut’s sheer chutzpah, while “Strictly Confidential” and the closing title track highlight Ferry’s growing songwriting prowess.

“For Your Pleasure,” along with the rockers “Editions of You” and “Grey Lagoon” (the latter strutting a few more ’50s R&R moves), and especially “The Bogus Man” (which has been appropriately described as Can-like) and the album’s standout track “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” reinforce Roxy’s strength as an instrumental unit. And while Ferry is in strong form throughout For Your Pleasure, he really shines during “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” hitting a bullseye of serious ambition that on first listen, can register as startling.

The bottom line is that there isn’t a bum track, nay, a duff moment even, on either Roxy Music or For Your Pleasure. They document the early stages of an enduring band (indeed undertaking an anniversary tour this year) and due to Eno’s departure, they also mark a culmination.

Roxy Music
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For Your Pleasure
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