Roxy Music, Country Life

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

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 first Roxy album to garner universal critical acclaim

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.