Icon: Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 05.16.11 in Icons

It was early 1976. Roxy Music was coming to town, and if I couldn’t see them, I would surely die. My mother – who almost cut my miserable life short by forbidding me to see David Bowie back in ’74 – thought she’d outfox me by allowing me to see these glam rock gods only if I had an adult chaperone. Somehow, I persuaded my Donovan-loving freshman high school Social Studies teacher to accompany me on what was to be both my first rock concert as well as the defining night of my life.

The set list was heavy on the recently released Siren and 1974′s equally splendiferous Country Life, but also included early tracks like Stranded‘s “A Song For Europe” and For Your Pleasure‘s “Do the Strand.” Bryan Ferry was wearing an army uniform cut to accentuate the hips he was swiveling in ways that servicemen from my hometown most certainly did not. My teacher asked the obvious question: “Is he gay?” Mortified, I cited Ferry’s girlfriend Jerry Hall, the beautiful blue mermaid that graced Siren’s cover. Saxophonist Andy Mackay’s pompadour was even more extreme than Ferry’s, and wooly guitarist Phil Manzanera made the most impulsive yet well-composed noise I’d heard in my 14 short years. Right then I knew that these freaks were the physical embodiment of how I felt inside, and if I could not somehow will myself to become one of them, I had to at least be in a place where there were more people like them. Three years later, I left for New York, and soon after became a rock critic.

It’s for this, and other reasons, that Roxy Music and their individual components are eMusic Icons. They unite the frivolity of glam with the adventurousness of prog, and presaged both the severity of punk and the sexiness of disco. Ferry and fellow former art school student Brian Eno established the defining concepts – Pop Art, Dada, Warhol and faded Hollywood romanticism. Mackay contributed jazz, classical and ’50s rockabilly elements; Manzanera offered a cosmopolitan rock fusion that reflected his Anglo-Colombian upbringing; electric violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson embellished the exotica already in place, while drummer Paul Thompson and a succession of assertive bassists brought the big beat. True only to its own wayward interests, Roxy kept evolving, and challenged listeners to change with it while encapsulating the best parts of the ’70s and early ’80s.

I was fortunate to witness one of Roxy’s 1983 Radio City Music Hall shows right before they split, as well as the Concord, California, stop on its 2001 reunion tour. And although that fateful ’76 Rochester, New York, show is naturally the one I’ll forever cherish, I can say that despite its many breakups and changes in personnel, Roxy Music has for me and many others never stopped being Roxy Music. As I write this, Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay, Thompson and co. are about to perform one of several Australian shows on their 40th-anniversary trek. An inspiration to some of the most divergent acts of the 20th century and others yet to happen in the 21st, Roxy will always be a fabulous and eternally fascinating creation, a sensation that remains forever new.

Roxy Music

Roxy Music

What's the precedent for this album? Like the London band that created it, Roxy Music sounded like nothing else in 1972, and the only thing it resembles today is Roxy Music's next album, 1973's For Your Pleasure. Bryan Ferry has an astonishingly mannered vocal approach here, as if he decided to sing what the celluloid heroes of yesterday's melodramas conveyed through silence. Like David Bowie, a kindred cracked actor of song, Ferry and his compatriots invented a new language by combining their favorite tongues — Anguish, Angst, Ennui, Lust and, of course, Make-Believe. The result is still recognizably rock 'n' roll: For a moment toward the end of "The Bob (Medley)," it's even boogie-woogie. The incongruous midsection of "Would You Believe?" sounds like crazy people trying to be the Beach Boys, while "Re-Make/Re-Model" points the way to punk. But all of these are so much more than the few inspirations one can trace.

Phil Manzanera's solo in "Chance Meeting" — the one that careens and crashes through this unconventional electric piano ballad — walks a thin line between stirring melody and extreme distortion. The oboe that Andy Mackay blows so strikingly in "Sea Breezes" had surely never appeared on a rock record before, and all other elements — Graham Simpson's tuba-like bassline, Manzanera's rock-as-free-jazz guitar solo, Paul Thompson's disjointed-yet-rock steady beats, Ferry's elemental electric piano chording, and Brian Eno's sonic tinkering — are nearly as unprecedented. At this early point as progressive as it was glam, Roxy Music embraced countless simultaneous styles at a time when most bands clung to one. Together with Bowie and Queen, the sextet reclaimed rock eclecticism from the Beatles and made it sensuous.

For Your Pleasure

Roxy Music

Given that Roxy Music's debut was one of the wildest records of 1972 or any other year, it's fairly astonishing that 1973's follow-up is even more extreme. For Your Pleasure amplifies both the pounding pop and the fleecy freak-outs of its predecessor via sharper lyrics and more commanding sonics. Where Roxy Music had ex-King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield acting as producer, this one's got Chris Thomas, who worked on the Beatles' White Album and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and who'd go on to the Sex Pistols, the Pretenders and Pulp. Rather than reigning them in, he helps them blast off in opposite directions. Lead track "Do The Strand" is the perfect starting place for beginners curious about Brian Eno-era Roxy. Like the debut's "Re-Make/Re-Model" and its amended single "Virginia Plain," it's got pile-driving drummer Paul Thompson hammering the snare on every beat like vintage Motown as Bryan Ferry spits Dr. Seuss-ian lyrics celebrating the ultimate dance craze: "Tired of the tango? Fed up with fandango? Dance on moonbeams! Slide on rainbows!" There's so much density and intensity here, manifested in blaring and grinding and toot-tooting, that this exemplary Roxy anthem never gets old.

While dramatic ballads, frantic rockers and tracks that flit between the two ("Strictly Confidential," "Editions of You," and "Grey Lagoons," respectively) further connect For Your Pleasure to its predecessor, the longer songs stretch out into even bolder territory by building drones that show off Eno's early sound-sculpting quirks and the band's growing ability to sustain tension. With its near-reggae rhythm and proto-dub textures, "The Bogus Man" is too syncopated and chic to be conventionally psychedelic, but notice how Phil Manzanera's many funky and buzzing guitars and Andy Mackay's wailing sax come and go. The title track pushes Eno's sonic manipulation even harder: Check the clever doubling of Manzanera's surf guitar with Ferry's underwater keyboards while the reverb builds and builds until it swallows everything like the waves of an unforgiving ocean. The other fuzz-fest, "In Every Dream Home a Heartache," heads into primal Velvet Underground territory, but instead of heroin, Ferry's seeks to ease his existential ache with an inflatable doll. "I blew up your body but you blew my mind," he delivers his utterly ridiculous and yet sublime punch line before the music goes POW.

These Foolish Things

Bryan Ferry

Released in the U.K. the same fall 1973 week as David Bowie's Pin-Ups, Bryan Ferry's first solo outing, together with that album, invented rock covers while setting a precedent that few could follow. Like Bowie, Ferry is both reverent and iconoclastic on this idiosyncratic collection, which spans '30s pop (the title track, a jazz standard), '50s rock ["(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care," popularized by Elvis and Buddy Holly], and '60s soul (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Tracks of My Tears," the Four Tops' "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever").

But whereas Bowie risked less by doing amped-up glam renditions of songs that already rocked in their original form, Ferry goes further on a limb with a far more eclectic song selection, creating Roxy-meets-big-band-R&B renditions of sacrosanct rock. The band here is For Your Pleasure bassist John Porter on guitar and bass, Roxy drummer Paul Thompson, and brand-new Roxy addition Eddie Jobson on violin and keys together with a bunch of horn players and background singers. Inventing plastic soul before Bowie claimed credit for the concept on Young Americans, These Foolish Things polarized critics, expanded Roxy's U.K. fan base, and did little to charm American audiences still scratching their unkempt heads over Ziggy Stardust.

Beyond the U.K. and parts of Europe, realness was really the only respected rock aesthetic of the early '70s, and when Ferry opened with a tremulous, melodramatic rendition of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," the hippies weren't having it. "Why was he holding her hand when he's supposed to be mine?" Ferry queries, daring to not change the gender of Leslie Gore's already camp-crazed "It's My Party." Despite the fact that Ferry bedded most of the knockout females who graced Roxy LP sleeves (possibly even Manifesto's mannequins), there were few Yanks at this point who thought a dude named Bryan Ferry with comic-book-hero blue-black hair was straight. America was not yet ready. Her loss.


Roxy Music

Released in the UK only seven months after For Your Pleasure and less than a month after leader Bryan Ferry's first covers album These Foolish Things, 1973's Stranded ushers in the beginning of Roxy Music MK II. Out went Brian Eno, and another temporary bass player. In come keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson, a full time member, and the greatest of the hired bassists, John Gustafson. Together they both stay for three studio albums. Combined with the band's rapid increase in skill, these changes prove monumental. Although opening salvo and single "Street Life" connects new Roxy with old there is, on its third album in two years, less full-throttle rocking/droning out, fewer sudden twists in the arrangements, and more sophisticated soul-searching.

No longer jockeying for leadership with Eno, Bryan Ferry starts sharing songwriting credit here, and yet he feels more in control. This is more of a songwriter's album: There's more piano, and it's more suave, while Phil Manzanera's guitar is less noisy. He's still pretty out-there, though, and chances within the rest of the band are still taken: Listen to how "Amazona" nearly grinds to a halt for the beginning of his convulsive solo, shifts into what feels like another song, and then reverts back its initial pattern. "Psalm" is out on another, less successful limb: Ferry puts on his best Elvis impersonation as the gradually rising instrumentation goes for gospel, but mostly goes on too long, a rare misstep for one of the '70s most surefooted bands.

The second half trumps the first. With thunderous drum fills, ringing oboe riffs, and a typically tuneful Manzanera guitar solo, "Serenade" showcases the reconfigured band's new cohesion. An allusion to the Eurovision Song Contest, "A Song for Europe" situates Ferry at the bottom of his vocal register for an exploration of pre-rock French and Italian pop styles. There's no orchestra, but the band climaxes as if it were one. A one-album teenage veteran of prog-rock's Curved Air, Jobson remains a supporting player here; his electric violin is employed for texture and extra heft. "Mother of Pearl" bursts out of the gate rocking, then abruptly shifts into a piano-led trot, while "Sunset" suggests the contented subtleties that would later be explored on 1982's Avalon. All and all, Stranded is a transitional album, one that introduces themes taken to the next level of elaboration by Country Life.

Country Life

Roxy Music

As its opening cut "The Thrill of It All" announces, 1974's Country Life rocks far harder than its predecessor, Stranded. That album's addition to the lineup — keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson and sideman bassist John Gustafson — come to the fore: Jobson's shrieking electric violin and Gustafson's intricate yet aggressive basslines are all over Roxy Music's fourth album. There's a new straightforwardness to the band that transcends not just art-rock but also glam, which in the United States had yet to generate many hits. Although the group still goes off on stylistic tangents, such excursions, like the Elizabethan "Triptych," are now compartmentalized into separate songs. Both self-consciously elegant yet critical of the upper class and far more mainstream accessible, Country Life was the first Roxy album to garner universal critical acclaim and impact the U.S. market.

The song to snag Roxy's first significant FM play wasn't "All I Want Is You," the last of Roxy's stomping glam anthems and a U.K. smash, or even the American single "The Thrill of It All," but "Out of the Blue," which showcases both Jobson's violin and a stinging guitar solo from co-writer Manzanera. It's among the least Ferry-esque tracks in the Roxy catalog, one that acknowledges the validity of simple expression: "Throwaway lines often ring true," quips the singer, a lover of poetry and puns. There's a lightheartedness to several songs that reflects his relationship with Jerry Hall, the latest of several extraordinarily beautiful girlfriends who graced Roxy covers. The Texas-born model is celebrated on album closer "Prairie Rose," another rousing Manzanera co-write. The guitarist introduces a chiming, treble-intensive style eventually heard on key records by Talking Heads and the Smiths, while Gustafson and Thompson strike a dance groove that would soon give the group even larger U.S. success.

Despite this levity, Country Life isn't all upbeat. "Bitter-Sweet" takes the Continental fascination of Stranded's "A Song For Europe" over to Germany for a Cabaret-esque examination of the split between a joyous public persona and an anguished private self. A disjointed funk rhythm animates "Casanova," which points a finger at the archetypal playboy, here updated for the '70s: "Now you're flirting with heroin, or is it cocaine?" Ferry's performance is even by his own standards dramatic, enraged. Is he railing against the man he'd become? Attempting to distance himself from his image in light of his relationship with Hall? "I know my place is here with you tonight but not together," the song ends, ambiguously, in the European fashion.


Roxy Music

Where Country Life introduced Roxy Music to FM audiences, 1975's Siren opened the band up to AM radio listeners via the song that remains its most familiar, "Love is the Drug." As always, Ferry needs to score, and he streamlines his lyrics into urbane images and Motown-like catchphrases that sound as good as they mean: "Lumber up, limbo down/ The locked embrace, the stumble around." Swinging on co-writer Mackay's sax hook and a syncopated dance beat that evokes the bordellos, nightclubs, and singles bars in which the lyric is situated, this is Roxy's most uncharacteristically direct track, yet also its most quintessential.

Flanked by "Love Is the Drug" and its companion song "Just Another High" (a slower reprise of the chiming guitars introduced by Country Life's "Prairie Rose"), Siren is the first Roxy album all about love, and, often indirectly, Ferry's ongoing relationship with its cover model Jerry Hall. It eases up on Manzanera's guitar, but unapologetically asserts John Gustafson's bass — here a fusion of funk and Paul McCartney-esque melody — and Paul Thompson's drums, which are now at their most R&B-influenced. The result is Roxy's leanest and most rhythmic record.

As a result, it's also the band's least eclectic. Eddie Jobson's country fiddle on "End of the Line" is the sole stylistic departure; other elements are grounded in the R&B that animates the entire disc. Balancing this sharpness are some of Ferry's smoothest melodies. In the early days, Ferry got by on phrasing, delivery, and wit: It's hard to imagine anyone but him doing early songs like "Re-Make/Re-Model." Grace Jones and others have made their own mark on "Love Is the Drug" because he's here writing substantial tunes to subvert.

Ferry's also become a far more finessed singer, and the sincerity of these Siren songs is striking. Its ostensibly most unassuming cut, "Could It Happen to Me?" is upon closer inspection among its most remarkable. Ferry finally pulls back the curtain of lounge lizard cool to reveal that when it comes to love, actually expressing it and asking for it in return, this Casanova is actually an insecure pussycat desperately in need of reassurance. Two years later, Hall dumps him for Mick Jagger. The facade returns.

Viva! Roxy Music

Roxy Music

Recorded over three years at three U.K. venues with three different bassists, this 1976 live album issued during the extended break between the '75/'76 Siren tours and the late-'78 sessions for Manifesto is more of a sampler of what the band sounded like live between '73 and '75 than a coherent concert document. It's a cross section of Roxy Music MK II covering — aside from accelerated and intensified renditions of "Out of the Blue" and "Both Ends Burning" — Roxy Music MK I.

Released during the mid-'70s vogue for blockbuster live albums, Viva! failed to do for Roxy what Kiss Alive and Frampton Comes Alive did for Kiss and Peter Frampton. But it did provide an opportunity for the American following that had formed in the wake of Country Life and Siren to catch up on Roxy's Eno-era songbook. For such a fastidiously produced band, Viva! is strikingly raw and raucous: Ferry's thespian delivery is even more severe here than in the studio. Particularly wild are extended takes on "If There Was Something" and "Every Dream Home a Heartache," which both offer ample evidence that Phil Manzanera was the most radical rock guitarist between Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Ramone.

In Your Mind

Bryan Ferry

With Roxy Music on indefinite sabbatical, Bryan Ferry had no other outlet for his songwriting. His fourth album, 1977's In Your Mind is his first and only '70s solo album comprised solely of self-composed material, and it's his finest from that decade. Like its predecessors, it's got Roxy drum dynamo Paul Thompson, plus cameos from For Your Pleasure bassist John Porter, Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera, and other top players like Chris Spedding. The ample background vocals, larger horn section, occasional orchestration, and continuous R&B bent distinguish it from a Roxy album, but this is the closest solo Ferry gets to replicating his band's sound: If not for the absent synths and diminished rhythm guitars, this would essentially be the Roxy disc between '75's Siren and '79's Manifesto.

That's not to slight the interpretive skills Ferry exhibited on '73's pioneering covers album These Foolish Things; '74's similar sequel Another Time, Another Place, '75's Let's Stick Together, a U.S.-label assembled but nevertheless coherent collection of stray R&B covers and solo interpretations of Roxy tracks; or '78's The Bride Stripped Bare, a somber blend of remakes and original material recorded in the wake of his split from Jerry Hall. The Roxy frontman is like few others when singing his favorite songs; he's a personal yet stagy showman who never fails to bring the drama. But when he's on as a songwriter, as he was throughout the '70s and '80s, Ferry's a consummate artist. Unlike so many art school vets who became musicians in the '60s and '70s, he never simply rocks out. The art concepts don't ever leave him.

Yet the quotation marks are implied more gently this time: In Your Mind offers more soul than "soul." It's got the catchiest tunes of all his solo discs with no duds, and it swings like his inspirations. Revered by the leaders of Chic, who clearly knew a thing or two about grooves, Thompson here definitively proves he's the '70s' most dynamic rock drummer: Check his rapid-fire syncopations on "All Night Operator," or the way he drives "Love Me Madly Again" past the seven-minute mark without tiring. "Don't talk about it, show me," Ferry implores on the later while doing the same. He's truly engaged here. The rhythms are unrelenting, and Ferry submits.


Roxy Music

A lot happened between the promotion of 1975's Siren and the recording of 1979's Manifesto, but not much to the band; its members announced midway through 1976 that they've decided "to have a rest from Roxy Music for awhile." A live album, the first hits LP, reissued singles, and several solo recordings are released in the interim, all featuring different member configurations. Most of these did well until 1978, when the singles from Bryan Ferry's The Bride Stripped Bare faltered in the U.K. charts. Soon after, a reconfigured Roxy reunited minus John Gustafson and Eddie Jobson. In their place is keyboardist Paul Carrack (formerly of Ace and eventually of Squeeze and Mike + the Mechanics), and bassists Alan Spenner (ex-Kokomo) and Gary Tibbs (briefly of the Vibrators, soon to be a one of Adam and the Ants), as well as uncredited session musicians.

The first offering from Roxy Music MK III picks up where the Ferry solo albums left off while responding to both punk and disco. Since both of those styles eschew guitar solos, there's less flash from Phil Manzanera, and Paul Thompson's rhythms are also sometimes more straightforward. However, there's enough of Andy Mackay's sax for Manifesto to present itself as Roxy Music album, particularly on the Siren-eque "Still Falls the Rain," a Jeckyl and Hyde saga that lets Manzanera rip through the monstrous refrain. The songwriting from Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay is uniformly strong with traces of prior quirks still remaining: The stately opening title track harkens back to For Your Pleasure's drones, while the jaunty "Trash" updates the old glam with punk succinctness.

More striking and commercially successful are the subsequent singles. Whereas some initial Manifesto pressings include "Dance Away" with a fluctuating rhythm that ramps up for a disco finale, the far more familiar single version included on the U.S. LP and all subsequent pressings is a shorter and steadier nightclub ballad that feels like the hit it was. The "Angel Eyes" included here is the original, and suggests a lithe variation on the Stranglers' menacing punk. The single substituted on later pressings and best-ofs is the rerecorded and far more spacious disco arrangement that provided a stylistic blueprint for the burgeoning New Romantic scene, particularly Japan, Spandau Ballet, and Duran Duran. Even while catching up to the present, Roxy pointed the way to the future.

Flesh And Blood

Roxy Music

With its shrunken band lineup (goodbye drummer extraordinaire Paul Thompson), increased reliance on session musicians, and inclusion of lackluster cover versions, 1980's Flesh + Blood at its worst feels like an uneven, synth-laden Bryan Ferry solo album. As such, it's Roxy Music's sole inconsistent studio effort. In retrospect, it suggests not that the band had gotten too slick, which seemed to be the case at the time, but that it had not yet refined itself enough, which it of course did for its final blaze of glory, 1982's Avalon.

At its best, it both picks up where Manifesto left off and points the way to Avalon. There's an elegiac thread running through its best cuts; Ferry is once again as sincere as he was on Siren, but this time he's aching. With a drum machine rhythm reminiscent of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and then a cascade of rippling guitar and synths, "Same Old Scene" peaks and plummets like the finest disco it evokes. Ferry's back on the block with a younger paramour, but this time his love drug is fraught with flashbacks and bad trips. "I can't believe it's the same old movie that's haunting me," he sighs with palpable anguish as the instrumentation flips from heartache to elation and back again.

The U.K. hits "Oh Yeah" and "Over You" also struggled with broken and failed relationships, but the ballad that cuts the hardest is "My Only Love." Manzanera's soloing is once again stinging, if no longer careening out of control: His guitar work now evokes the slow burn of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Ferry, however, is wrecked. He can't get over that one exceptional woman (is it still Jerry Hall?), and he seems as nearly on the brink of suicide as Joy Division's Ian Curtis on that same year's Closer: "There's a river flowing by a willow tree/ When you find yourself there remember me."

The only way was up.


Roxy Music

Flowing from start to finish, Roxy Music's eighth and final album announces itself as a major, sustained work. Although this 1982 disc features even more session musicians than 1980's Flesh + Blood, Avalon feels more like a proper Roxy Music album because of its sumptuous elegance, and because — more than any Roxy disc since Stranded — it takes serious chances. It dares to evoke high-intensity romance with low-key embellishment.

Despite Roxy's accolades and European success, none of its previous albums could go gold in America. Avalon's highest chart placement was a meager No. 53 (lower than the last four studio albums), but the disc nevertheless went platinum and became the band's best-selling album. Like classic records by the R&B crooners it emulates, Avalon is awash in sensuality, a make-out album par excellence for, once again, Bryan Ferry was smitten: A month after its release, he married model and London socialite Lucy Helmore, who wears the Arthurian helmet on its album sleeve. And once again, Ferry sings solely of love and its impact. Like Siren, Avalon is strikingly and almost thoroughly optimistic, although this time from a far more experienced perspective:

Sometimes I get so blue/ People say I'm just a fool/ All the world, even you/ Should learn to love the way I do

That verse from "Take A Chance With Me" remains one of Ferry's wisest and most self-aware. Rather than weeping over his vulnerabilities and vagaries as he's wont to do, Ferry wholeheartedly embraces them. That's Avalon. While other veteran bands stripped down their arrangements to keep up with the New Wave kids, Roxy Music created its most elaborate album by far, one that blended with both with the au currant New Romantics and the latest synth-smitten R&B because it was both up-to-the-minute and heart-on-sleeve.

The synths are even more prominent than last time around, but here they integrate seamlessly into a far more intricate whole that often downplays hooks in favor of delicate velvety textures woven from exquisitely engineered instrumentation: The languid intro to "Take a Chance on Me" and the lengthy outros to "More Than This" and "Avalon" are just as striking as the songs themselves. The mixing board acts as conductor: Check how guitars and keyboards come and go and rise and fall in "More Than This," and how the guest percussionists and wordless cameo singer Yanick Etienne are just as prominent in the mix as Roxy's core trio. You can bet Sade, Massive Attack, Destroyer, and other smoothies have worn out multiple copies studying the ins and outs of this album.

Heart Still Beating (Live)

Roxy Music

Released in 1990, eight years after the final MK III-era European tour it documents, this isn't the best way to remember Roxy Music. Heart Still Beating captures the band at the height of its popularity just before its 1983 split. Whereas Viva! Roxy Music skimmed the surface of the group's raw mid-'70s live sound, this one plunges into the deep end of early-'80s arena rock.

Given that then-recent Avalon was both the group's most relaxed and successful record, one would think that Bryan Ferry and company would've paced themselves accordingly. Instead, most songs are performed considerably faster than their studio incarnations, particularly Siren's "Both Ends Burning." Even "Avalon" itself is rushed.

Phil Manzanera's trademark tastefulness and ear for melody is nowhere to be heard on his jarringly generic instrumental showcase "Impossible Guitar." The other tracks not on Roxy's studio albums — a ramped-up rendition of "Can't Let Go" from Ferry's 1978 disc The Bride Stripped Bare, and extended versions of Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" and John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" (a U.K. chart-topping hit when released as a superior 1981 single in the wake of Lennon's death) — had already appeared on 1983's four-song live EP The High Road.

Boys And Girls

Bryan Ferry

Having fronted Roxy Music's beloved 1982 studio swan song Avalon, Bryan Ferry could do anything he wanted in its wake. So he resumed his solo career, this time on a far bigger budget. Recorded in a half a dozen studios with hot-shots Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, King Crimson bassist Tony Levin, jazz sax star David Sanborn, and Luther Vandross collaborator Marcus Miller, 1985's Boys and Girls further refines Avalon's exquisiteness. Rather than having Roxy's Phil Manzanera evoke Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, Ferry calls in the real thing. There's no mistaking the stuttering rhythm guitar intro on album opener "Sensation" as coming from anyone but Chic's Nile Rodgers.

As before, a small army of female background singers act both as musical foil and embodiment of his desires. While holding back vocally and achieving more with fewer lyrics, he's speaking through them. That's why it's not offensive that he's hired black women to wail, "I'm a slave to love," because if you know anything about Ferry, it's that he's one himself. For that reason and because it's so damn beautiful, "Slave to Love" remains his quintessential solo single, and one, like "Love Is the Drug," that sums up his worldview. "To need a woman you've got to know/How the strong get weak and the rich get poor," he cries. Like a junkie understands his fix, Ferry knows.

Boys and Girls isn't as thoroughly memorable as Avalon; it's more of a sonic environment than a collection of songs, and a ravishing one at that. Beyond "Slave to Love" and its equally sublime follow-up "Don't Stop the Dance," a fitting end-of-the-night club cut, much of it is heavier on mood than melody, and that's as it should be: Ferry's reaching beyond self-portraits to create Impressionistic landscapes of love. These are his water lilies.