Friday, September 25, 2009

September 25: Roxy Music, "For Your Pleasure"

Artist: Roxy Music
Album: For Your Pleasure
Year: 1973
Label: Virgin

If you combine one of the most visionary musical geniuses in history with one of the most amazing vocalists of his generation, it's quite hard not to have fantastic music. Holding down the ground somewhere between "art rock," "glam rock" and "prog rock" stand musical innovators and legends, Roxy Music. Pulling influence from everyone from The Velvet Underground to Pink Floyd to King Crimson, there has truly never been another band with the sound and approach of Roxy Music. With the finest of the groups' lineups being anchored by the combination of sound-savant Brian Eno and the unmistakable vocals of Bryan Ferry, the duo constantly challenged one another, and before it imploded, it helped to create some of the most amazing music in history. The songs of Roxy Music represent the epitome of fusing together avant, art rock with pop sensibilities, and this ability to fuse together these two distant sounds is the key to the genius behind the band. Truth be told, in many ways, it is the music of Roxy Music that paved the way for the "new wave" movement, as well has having a massive impact on the post-punk scene. Without their music, bands like Joy Division, Depeche Mode, and even Scissor Sisters most likely never would have formed. Representing the second, finest, and final pairing of Eno and Ferry, Roxy Music's landmark 1973 release, For Your Pleasure remains one of the most original and extraordinary albums in the entire history of recorded music.

Most likely, Roxy Music themselves never would have formed had it not been for Bryan Ferry being passed over when he tried out as a replacement for Greg Lake in King Crimson. Though he was not chosen as the replacement, King Crimson's Robert Fripp and Pete Sinfeld liked his vocal stylings so much, that it they would eventually play a central role in Roxy Music securing a record deal. On For Your Pleasure, the group enlisted the help of producer Chris Thomas. Having worked with everyone from The Beatles to The Sex Pistols throughout his career, Thomas was well versed in all musical styles, and this made him fit in perfectly with a group that was creating new sounds at every turn. For their second album, Roxy Music spent far more time in the studio than on their debut, and the results of this extra time are clear, as the songs are more polished, and the band explores each musical path completely. This also led to more experimentation by the group, and it is perhaps no more evident than on the "phasing" and seemingly odd fade in the latter section of "In Every Dream Home A Heartache." However, the album also features one of the groups most famous songs, and "Do The Strand" has been covered many times over the years, as well as remaining a crowd favorite at the bands' live shows. Though no UK singles were taken from the album, For Your Pleasure still managed to break into the top five in album sales in England, and this serves as a testament to the sensational music found therein.

The central, and most stunning aspect of the sound of Roxy Music lies within the amazing music that is created by the musicians. Truly a band that saw no instrument as "off limits," the soundscapes and moods created on For Your Pleasure are absolutely unparalleled. Though he was initially overlooked as the bands' guitarist, Phil Manzanera eventually got the spot after some rather odd circumstances, and it is clear that he is truly the perfect fit. Manzanera waves in and around Eno's textures brilliantly, and the more prominent, blistering guitar soloing sound at the tail end of "Strictly Confidential" is absolutely stunning and gives the song an amazingly spacey, psychedelic mood. Adding oboe, saxaphone, and organ work throughout the album, Andy Mackay gives the band much of their unique sound. Often sounding like a strange combination between the sound of The Stooges and Morphine, Mackay is truly stunning on every song. Drummer Paul Thompson (who would later found Concrete Blonde and Angelic Upstarts) is absolutely sensational throughout all of For Your Pleasure. Clearly able to follow the wild compilations of Eno and Ferry, his performance is flawless in every song, and the sheer power with which he plays is often nothing short of stunning. John Porter, an old friend of Ferry's, was invited to play bass on the album, and it is his only appearance with the band, as he did not even tour with the band in support of the album. His efforts however, are absolutely brilliant, and the fact that he was able to so quickly gel with the rest of the band shows his true musical talent. Surrounded by musicians who were eager to experiment and step away from the norm, it left the core duo of the band plenty of space to present their musical masterpieces.

While the rest of the band are unquestionably fantastic, at the end of the day, the band and album are all about the musicianship of Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno. Ferry possesses easily one fo the most unique and recognizable voices in history, and his distinct manner of delivery makes the songs even more amazing. On For Your Pleasure, Ferry also contributes harmonica, piano, as well as mellotron parts, which help to complete the incredible musical textures. Ferry also has quite a talent for turning a phrase, and it is no more clear than in his somewhat sinister send-up to blow-up dolls, "In Every Dream Home A Heartache." Along with the fantastic singing and vocals, the music on For Your Pleasure is centered around the musical experimentation of Brian Eno. Truth be told, there has never been another person who understood and approached music in quite the same manner as Eno, and his vision and techniques found on this album truly revolutionized how music was created. Working almost completely from an EMS VCS3 synthesizer, Eno constructs some of the most astounding soundscapes that the world has ever heard. For Your Pleasure also gives a glimpse into where Brian Eno was headed musically, especially on the title track, as his wild combination of sounds feature everything from loops of the bands' previous recordings to the voice of Dame Judy Dench speaking the words, "don't ask why." It is innovations like these, along with the sensational vocal performance of Ferry that make For Your Pleasure one of the most unique and phenomenal musical experiences ever created.

On songs like "The Bogus Man," one can clearly hear the musical tensions between Ferry and Eno, as it's clear Eno is trying to push into more experimental, spacey, textured territory, whilst Ferry is staying firmly rooted in a more conventional rock style. It is this clash that would lead to Eno's departure, yet the music captured on the first two records from Roxy Music present one of the most extraordinary musical duos in the history of music. There is not a dull, bad, or uninspired moment anywhere o For Your Pleasure, and each band member plays masterfully on every song. Phil Manzanera is absolutely on fire, and his guitar work throughout the album stands today as much of his finest recorded work. Infusing the band with an element like no other, the saxophone and oboe from Andy Mackay punctuate the songs and are often truly stunning. Cementing his spot as one of the greatest drummers in history, Pail Thompson slams and bounces across every song, and the way in which he blends and contrasts with Eno's textures is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Yet, there is no doubt that throughout For Your Pleasure, the true magic is in the interplay between Bryan Ferry's superb vocals and the masterful musical madness of Brian Eno. It is nearly impossible to find another pairing anywhere in history quite like Ferry and Eno, and the brilliant, unique, and absolutely unparalleled music that they create makes Roxy Music's 1973 release, For Your Pleasure, by far one of the most spectacular and essential recordings in music history.

Standout tracks: "Do The Strand," "In Every Dream Home A Heartache," and "For Your Pleasure."

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