Wow, what just happened? While listening to the eponymous debut of Roxy Music, one thing that will strike you is the way it's prickled with unexpected turns and surprising elements. Still, if you think it's far out of left field now, then try to imagine how it would've been to listen to it when it was released in 1972. Given that you first had to cut off all the genre clashes and degrees of ‘musical awareness’ provided through the last four decades of music history. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes this album remain that edgy and poignant. Instead of just shallowly 'hailing it as a masterpiece', perhaps it's time to get a bit more analytic. Evidently, it has a lot to do with the musicians' combined conviction but I will also dare to imply that the album's evergreen feel is much a result of its reluctance to ‘fit in‘. The difficulty to label it instead becomes what truly defines it. Roxy Music surely contains a lot of glam and progressive rock but it's way too progressive to be glam and too glam to be prog. It definitely adds a lot of rock'n'roll into it but is far from rock'n'roll as we know it. Truth is that even Bryan Ferry a few years after the release was quoted expressing the debut's production, signed by Peter Sinfeld, to be too far off. Luckily, nothing could be changed at that point, allowing this remarkable musical document to still prove how well it stands the test of time. And to be honest, the unorthodox angle of Roxy Music is not at all an issue of production matters, it dives deeply into the band's own arrangements, the song structures and the use of instruments and vocals.
Let us take it from the beginning, here we have an emerging band being active a few years, achieving some sprouting acknowledgement but being constantly rejected by the leading music biz. The journalist Peter Frame describes the situation strikingly in Crimson & Roxy (one of his famous Rock Family Trees) as “Ferry's demo tape was greeted with universal thumbs down ... but Melody Maker and John Peel were sufficiently interested to give them national exposure". So how insane it may sound now, Roxy Music were not currently having a record deal when they entered Command Studios in London to record their debut album in March 1972. Even when being helped by EG Management, their budget forced them to limit themselves to merely two weeks of studio time. This is far from the situation indie bands with convenient bedroom studios have got now, not to mention the unlimited studio excess the biggest names in the music business at the time could enjoy. Roxy Music had two weeks, no more.
And guess what? It turned out just lovely and maybe the limitations were just what kept the sextet on their toes, that kept their minds and creativity fresh and what made them aware of how crucially important the weeks of preparations prior to the recordings would be. The album starts off with placid murmur, actually a sound sample taped at their very first stage appearance, at the Friends of Tate Gallery Xmas Show in London, only three months before entering the studio. Subsequently, the chattering becomes interrupted by a brief piano intro, giving way for the band to show not only The Friends of Tate, but the whole world what they've got. Brass instruments, electric guitars and Ferry's characteristic vocals are fiercely running through the opening track Re-Make/Re-Model. The song reaches a climax before weird micro solos from all individual members, small snippets of other songs like Peter Gunn Theme and Day Tripper, end the song. The lingering aftershock transits into Brian Eno's eerie keyboard intro of Ladytron. His spacey drone notes eventually meet a bit more conventional song style here and all of a sudden the album's variety reaches all over you. From the laid back rock'n'roll of If There Is Something to the sophisticated brass section's bridge midway through 2HB. Then on the flipside, we hear Ferry trying out his vocal's vibrato limits to the maximum on The Bob (Medley) before the album eventually reaches a bit more normal grounds again on Would You Believe? At the very last part of Roxy Music, the slow orchestral ambience of Sea Breezes is turning into an experimental and noisy crescendo before all ends with the amusingly bizarre rendition of the 60's pastiche Bitters End. That song not the least proves that Roxy Music is an album taking you absolutely everywhere. When music journalist Sid Smith wrote an extensive article on the subject in Classic Rock Magazine, his list of acts who've influenced Roxy Music included, side by side with Bowie, King Crimson and Pink Floyd, the usually ever so unholy alliance of Velvet Underground and The Andrew Sisters.
Shortly after the master tape was finished, Roxy Music got signed to Island Records and the rest is history. Roxy Music reached a striking number #10 on the UK album charts and the single Virginia Plain went even further to a #4. The band and Bryan Ferry, as we know, made their way to world fame. Now, when 40 years have passed since their debut's release, its legacy remains obvious as a favourite album of listeners all over the world and it has served as a solid influence for countless emerging bands through the following decades to come. Not at least during the new-wave movement of the 80's and the late 90's bloom of neo-symphonic rock fronted by bands like Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips and their ilk. Musical history would scarcely have sounded the same if not six unsigned English musicians had decided to give their music a shot in the Command Studios in London in March 1972. Happy 40th birthday, Roxy Music!