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.