The members of Roxy Music insist that their new album, Manifesto , is by no means a "reunion" effort. Althougfh the group hasn't recorded together since 1975, Roxy Music was never officially disbanded - it was, they contend, in "suspended animation" while some members engaged in solo projects and two left to form a new band called U.K.
Before going into hibernation, Roxy Music released five excellent albums and become quite popular in England. But the American public virtually ignored them. By the time "Love is the Drug," from their fifth album, Siren , became an AM hit, the band had already adjourned (although a live album and so-called Greatest Hits collecttion were released in 1976 and 1977).
America hadn't known what to make of Roxy Music. The band appeared in 1972, the heyday of "glitter-rock," when the likes of Alice Cooper and David Bowie werae devising rock extravaganzas that entertained audiences with clear, simple, larger-than-life images. Roxy Music - particularly songwriter and vocalist Bryan Ferry - projected its own image: continental, debonair, jaded, with shades of both nostalgia and futurism. But from the start, Roxy Music has reveled in ambiguity.
Behind his tuxedo-and-champagne perona, Ferry is distant, impenetrable, contradictory; he sings passionately, yet his voice is a virtual monotone. Ferry's songs are, among other things, about alienation and the tragic inevitability of heartbresak in an impersonal world, and his attitude implies that his own careful image - like all other images - is a mask that traps its wearer. Freey toys with the meanings of his persona, undercutting each interpretation with a new twist. And there's not much of a mass market for irony, romantic or not.
Roxy Music's approach to rock is just as shifty as Ferry's persona. The songs have simple chord progressions, but the band rarely plays them straight. On the first two Roxy LPs, the sounds of the instruments were mixed and "treated" electronically by the relentlessly experimental Brian Eno: digresssive elements and dissonances pop out at unpredictable moments, and the band sound like it's about to either fall apart or explode. Ears accustomed to the thud of heavy metal found Roxy Music bizarre and unbalanced.
Even after Eno left the band, Roxy Music kept the tangents in the tunes; although each successive album was a little more streamlined, Siren Still sounds like no other band. Roxy Music knew exactly what it wanted, regardless of whether Amercia paid attentiion.
Other musicians were definitely listening. While Roxy Music was dormant, a host of other bands - from Automatic Man to Be Bop Deluxe to the Cars to Ultravox - emerged with styles derived from Roxy Music. Ferry's detachment was widely imitated (and a string of solo albums kept him in thepublic ear), but no group successfully matched Roxy Music's peculiar ensemble interplay. Solo albums by Ferry and woodwind player Andy MacKay were arranged and mixed along conventional lines; guitarist Phil Manzanera collaborated with Eno in al band called 801, but the result only hinted at the uniqueness of full-force Roxy Music.
Manifesto reasserts Roxy Music's eccentricity with a vengeance. No two previous Roxy albums sound alike, but Manifesto doubles the surprise factor with two disparate sides: a dark, foreboding, arty "East Side" and a seemingly nonchalant "West Side." On both sides, for reasons known only to the band (Manifesto is the first self-produced Roxy LP), Roxy Music has turned to the '60s for inspiration. Earlier albums had a lean, sparse sound that somehow connected to the '50s images Ferry enjoyed, but on Manifesto , particularly on the East Side, the mix is deliberately dense and murky. Instruments are blended more thoroughly-and confusingly-than ever before, while odd noises still work their way in and out of the foreground. The arrangements are a careful hodge-podge of modern and decade-old effects: psychedelic backwards guitars, fuzz bass lines, echoey key-boards, punchy soul horns. And there are unmistakable homages to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and vintage Motown.
Despite the allusions to the communal '60s, the message of Manifesto is contemporary, bleak and solitary: "too much sorrow/flesh is weak/no more feeling/no more tears." Where Ferry's older songs held up romantic dreams only to see them shatter, his new lyrics are about renunciation-now the dreams are gone, too. On the East Side, Ferry descends from the stirring and inconclusive title cut into the chilling void of "Stronger Through the Years," for which the band provides alternately spooky and threatening guitars, chattering oboes and icy keyboards while ferry's voice turns inhuman as a flanger distorts it electronically. On the West Side, he re-emerges with two defenses: a mask of superficiality and a firm underlying nihilism. The album's catchiest song, "Dance Away," is a ballad about disco as escape, complete with a rhythm machine and a mock-disco percussion break. Ferry alleges he'll "dance away the heart-ache," but he hopes that "out of reach is out of touch."
Accessible and unreachable, blase and despairing-Roxy Music continues to deliver multiple impressions, images that won't stay simple. Is America ready for ambiguity? Roxy Music is here to pose the question once again. CAPTION: Picture, "Roxy Music, particularly songwriter and vocalist Bryan Ferry (at left), projects an image that is continental, debonair, jaded - with shades of both nostalgia and futurism." by Rolling Stone