Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Roxy Music [extended]

  • Roxy Music [Reprise, 1972] B+
  • For Your Pleasure [Reprise, 1973] B
  • Stranded [Atco, 1974] B+
  • Country Life [Atco, 1974] B+
  • Siren [Atco, 1975] A-
  • Viva! Roxy Music [Atco, 1976] B
  • Greatest Hits [Atco, 1977] A
  • Manifesto [Atco, 1979] A-
  • Flesh and Blood [Atco, 1980] B
  • Avalon [Warner Bros., 1982] A-
  • The High Road [Warner Bros. EP, 1983] B+
  • The Atlantic Years 1973-1980 [Atco, 1983] B+
  • Street Life: 20 Greatest Hits [Reprise, 1989] B+
  • The Platinum Collection [Virgin, 2004] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Roxy Music [Reprise, 1972]
From the drag queen on the cover to the fop finery in the centerfold to the polished deformity of the music on the record, this celebrates the kind of artifice that could come to seem as unhealthy as the sheen on a piece of rotten meat. Right now, though, it's decorated with enough weird hooks to earn an A for side one. Side two leans a little too heavily on the synthesizer (played by a balding, long-haired eunuch lookalike named Eno) without the saving grace of drums and bassline. B+

For Your Pleasure [Reprise, 1973]
These guys make no secret of having a strange idea of a good time, but this isn't decadent, it's ridiculous. Side one surrounds two pained, strained torch jobs with two classic neo-rockers and finishes with a song about an inflatable sex doll that's almost not stupid (title: "In Every Dream Home a Heartache"). Side two surrounds a fast fast one with two long mostly instrumental slow ones that are almost not boring. Verdict: almost not not bad. B

Stranded [Atco, 1974]
Any artist as oblique and ambitious as Bryan Ferry deserves an oblique, ambitious review, here provided (unintentionally) by Sidney Tillem in his "Figurative Art 1969: Aspects and Prospects": "By moral in the context of art I mean a style which executes the deeper social and psychological function of form, as opposed to a particular aspect of vanity called taste. Pop sensibility, pop consciousness, pop sentimentality have been invaluable in clarifying the provincialism and nostalgia that actually permeate a culture that has come to pride itself on sophistication. But they have not resulted in a new art simply because the requisite idealism has been lacking." B+

Country Life [Atco, 1974]
The Teutoni-textures of this music are proof negative of Bryan Ferry's deep-seated romanticism. But what happens when romanticism goes sour? And what is Phil Manzanera doing on that Nico record that closes with her version of "Deutschland Uber Alles"? Oh well, I've always said good rock has to be dangerous. But when did I say it could be slow? B+

Siren [Atco, 1975]
Good album--a lot of fast ones and a great hook. Of course, Roxy Music albums have always had hooks, but "Street Life" and "Virginia Plain" never told us as much about Roxy's less accessible music as "Love Is the Drug," an equation which represents not liberation from artificial stimulants but the breakdown of both sexual and emotional abandon into "just another high." Very appropriate to situate the song in a singles bar, for that '70s reality is the exemplary environment for Bryan Ferry's romantic pessimism. Much of what his music has to say about such environments is fascinating, even perversely attractive--but ultimately a little off-putting, which I guess is the point. A-

Viva! Roxy Music [Atco, 1976]
This isn't bad, not for a live album issued in lieu of current studio product. Concentrating on relatively obscure material from the first two LPs, which always sounded a bit thin, it adds humor and some untrammeled Phil Manzanera to "In Every Dream Home a Heartache." But I prefer the studio "Bogus Man" and "Chance Meeting," thin and all. And that is bad. B

Greatest Hits [Atco, 1977]
I've never thought average guys were compelled to ape the ruling class, I don't believe romance is inevitably corrupted, and the collapse of European culture is long overdue. In short, what Bryan Ferry has to say has never spoken very loud to this listener no matter how you break it down. So while others may mourn the nuance and conceptual integrity of Stranded and Country Life and Siren, I get off on this compilation, which puts his dialectic on display in its most entertaining guises. What with all the popcraft and robot energy and campy asides--and genuine emotion and ideas--I was even inspired to listen to "A Song for Europe" from beginning to end. Found I could translate the French part. A

Manifesto [Atco, 1979]
This isn't Roxy at its most innovative, just its most listenable--the entire "West Side" sustains the relaxed, pleasantly funky groove it intends, and the difficulties of the "East Side" are hardly prohibitive. At last Ferry's vision seems firsthand even in its distancing--he's paid enough dues to deserve to keep his distance. And the title track is well-named, apparent contradictions and all. A-

Flesh and Blood [Atco, 1980]
Except maybe on "My Only Love"--imagine a song of that title written for (no, rejected by) Perry Como--this never sinks to their Liebschmerz-drenched nadir. But the secondhand funk is getting too easy to take. Much as I enjoy the languorous "Midnight Hour" and above-it-all "Eight Miles High," I always get suspicious when covers overwhelm originals. B

Avalon [Warner Bros., 1982]
At its juiciest Bryan Ferry's romanticism has always seemed too arch and too sour, not to mention too juicy, which is why this minor triumph sounds mild or even dull at first: after all these years its sweet simplicity is unexpected. We've always known he recorded "These Foolish Things" in the fond hope that someday he'd believe it, and while I never will, I can enjoy his pleasure in the accomplishment. A-

The High Road [Warner Bros. EP, 1983]
At 26:28, a generous live mini. Limber amplifications of the putatively impassioned "Can't Let Go" and the formerly unbearable "My Only Love" grace the A. "Like a Hurricane" and "Jealous Guy" redefine the parameters of rocksy retro on the B. Next time you want to hear Bryan croon or Phil wail, take a flier. B+

The Atlantic Years 1973-1980 [Atco, 1983]
Borrows "Do the Strand" from For Your Pleasure (originally on Reprise, fellas) and "Love Is the Drug" from Siren and Greatest Hits, the better to showcase Roxy Music the creamy dance band. I wouldn't swear it's a better album than Manifesto, from which it appropriates four cuts. But I would swear it's a better album than Flesh + Blood, from which it also appropriates four cuts. B+

Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music: Street Life: 20 Greatest Hits [Reprise, 1989]
Their third compilation in twelve years is the third to include "Love Is the Drug," but I won't quibble. "These Foolish Things" was always better as a title than as rendition, but I won't quibble. The number in the subtitle follows the formula twenty = CD, and I'm quibbling. A great gift idea--for yourself you can buy less or more. B+

Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music: The Platinum Collection [Virgin, 2004]
The third disc will half convince you he didn't follow one decade of visionary shtick with two of waiting to meet Bill Murray ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Kiss and Tell"). ***