Roxy Music, Avalon

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

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.

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


Roxy Music

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.