Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Roxy Music-Avalon

Originally Written and Posted at on 6/26/09.

With the 1980s already underway with a slew of new bands coming out of the advent of the late 70s punk rock movement in Britain. A new scene was arriving in the form of bands with synthesizers as one of the acts the new bands were influenced by were Roxy Music. Taking the sounds and look of Roxy Music brought new inspiration as bands like Spandau Ballet, ABC, and Duran Duran acknowledge the great influence of the legendary 70s art-rock band. While Roxy Music was flattered by the compliment of the new acts, the band had lost some of its edge in the wake of two commercially-successful records that weren't well-received. The band, which was now a trio featuring vocalist Bryan Ferry, guitarist Phil Manzanera, and saxophonist Andy Mackay, now decided to forge ahead with a new sound that reveled in their sophistication and earlier experimental work for something more lush and adult-oriented entitled Avalon.

Produced by Roxy Music and Rhett Davies with several tracks written by Bryan Ferry with two co-written with Andy Mackay and one with Phil Manzanera. Avalon is an album that has Roxy Music diversifying their sound with more tribal beats but also a lush sound reveled in guitars and synthesizers that moved them away from the more commercialized material of the past two records. Featuring contributions from Squeeze/Mike & the Mechanics vocalist/keyboardist Paul Carrack on one track plus drums by noted session drummer Andy Newmark. The album is also the first to feature instrumental tracks that the band had never done in their career. The result is an intoxicating, mesmerizing, and atmospheric masterpiece from Roxy Music.

The album opener and leading single is the classic More Than This. With Phil Manzanera's ringing guitar melody and a swooning synthesizer, a smooth, bouncy rhythm arrives to accompany Bryan Ferry singing in a graceful, falsetto vocals. With its dreamy, imagery-laden lyrics, it's Ferry singing in a key that is unheard of but with such passion. With a chorus that includes an accompanying saxophone by Andy Mackay, it's a song that is purely rich with Rhett Davies' production maintaining a sense of atmosphere to the song as it includes an extended, instrumental coda with Manzanera's spurting guitar wails and a swooning synthesizer playing through. The Space Between is a song with tribal-like beats and bumping rhythms by its sumptuous bass lines, swanky guitars, and spurting saxophone wails. With Ferry singing in his cool, crooning vocal, the song is filled arrangements that is truly unique as it features array of percussions and sensual lyrics. With its production capturing every instrument that is playing, it's a track really sets the stage for the record.

The album's title track is a lush ballad with soothing synthesizers, bongo beats, swooning bass lines, and Ferry's melancholic yet cool vocal croon. With its mesmerizing yet enchanting lyrics, it's a song that encompass the lush atmosphere of the album with a female vocalist singing the chorus. With Manzanera's droning, scratchy guitars and Mackay's saxophone solo in its coda, it's a song that revels in its sophisticated yet trance-like presentation. The instrumental India is a track that is led by swooning synthesizer arrangements with Manzanera's droning, wailing guitars with smooth, wallowing beats, and Mackay's soothing saxophone. While My Heart Is Still Beating arrives with vibrant, bongo beats and flourishing pianos with spurting saxophones. Ferry starts to sing in an engaging, smoky vocal style with his melancholic, heartfelt lyrics. With Manzanera's ringing guitars and Mackay's swooning saxophone that plays to the song with its wobbly bass line and arrangements, it's a cut that helps maintain the lush tone of the album.

The Main Thing arrives with a warbling bass line and a thumping drum fill from Andy Newmark that is supported by hollow, tingling percussions. Along with a flourishing, wailing synthesizer and Manzanera's droning guitar, Ferry sings in an eerie, falsetto vocal with spurting saxophones from Mackay. With its arrangements of warbling bass and electronics, bouncy rhythms, and ringing guitars, it's a track that revels in the band's earlier, experimental work in its performance but from a more focused, trance-like feel in its performance and musicianship. Take A Chance With Me opens with a droning guitar solo from Manzanera with swirling synthesizers and hollow, pounding beats. Then it becomes a bouncy, mid-tempo track with Manzanera's ringing guitar, smooth bass lines, and Ferry's cool, crooning vocals. With its adventurous, nightlife lyrics, it features a great chorus that includes a wonderful synthesizer solo by Ferry as it's a song that includes top-notch production in capturing the rich sound of the instruments.

To Turn You On is another mid-tempo song with a wobbly bass line, soothing keyboards, and Ferry's intoxicating vocals filled with sensuality as he plays the seducer in the song. With Manzanera's melodic-flourishing guitar, Paul Carrack's piano accompaniment, and a thumping drum fill. With a spurting guitar solo from Manzanera that is played with such richness, it is a song plays up to its sophistication without going into bland territory. True To Life arrives with a melodic-bouncy synthesizer with Andy Newmark's smooth, rumbling drum fills. With Ferry's cool, crooning vocals filled with dreamy lyrics and soft vocal notes, it's a track that is rich in its production and arrangement that includes some fantastic guitar playing from Manzanera. The album closer is the instrumental Tara that features Ferry playing a soothing synthesizer with Mackay's somber yet enchanting solo on the saxophone. With an accompanying bass line and a piano from Ferry, it's a cut that serves as a fitting closer to the album.

Released in June of 1982, the album became the band's biggest hit in the U.K. reaching #1 while the critical response was overwhelmingly positive. In the U.S., the album went platinum though it peaked at #53. Yet, the album become a huge hit in the college radio circuit as did the song More Than This which attracted a new audience for the band. The band went on the road for about a year to support the album as it was a huge success. When the tour ended in 1983, the band announced that they were done for good as Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, and Phil Manzanera each embarked on different solo projects.

While Mackay and Manzanera went on to do careers as solo artists that was moderately well while working together on other projects and delve into other people's work. Bryan Ferry managed to maintain a very successful solo career in the 1980s which included the hit singles Slave To Love and Kiss & Tell that decade which included contributions from the likes of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and the Smiths' Johnny Marr. Original drummer Paul Thompson, who left the band in 1980 following a motorcycle injury became a session musician working with the likes of Gary Moore. Then in 1990, Thompson briefly became a member of the L.A. alternative rock band Concrete Blonde where played in the band's biggest hit single Joey. Of all the members in Roxy Music, no one had a bigger profile than original keyboardist in Brian Eno. Since leaving the band in 1973, Eno created a string of widely-acclaimed albums while pioneering the musical style known as ambient. Eno also gained success as a producer working with the likes of Devo, David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads, and many others that continue to this day.

With the various members of Roxy Music taking low profiles in the 1990s with the exception of Brian Eno as a producer. Rumors about a reunion began to swirl about a possible reunion. There was speculation when at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival for the screening of Todd Haynes' glam-rock film Velvet Goldmine that featured several covers of songs by Roxy Music where attending the screening were Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno. A year later when promoting an album of standards, Bryan Ferry answered the rumors of a possible reformation with Roxy Music. Ferry revealed that he is considering reforming the band but with its original line-up though is aware that Brian Eno won't be touring since he rarely performs live.

Then in 2001, Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, and Paul Thompson reformed Roxy Music with various backing musicians for a successful reunion tour that spawned a DVD and an acclaimed live album in 2003. Though Brian Eno chose not to be part of the reunion tour, talks about a possible album with Eno's involvement finally started to happen in 2005 though material that is being recorded is still in the works along with what label that is set to release it. As of 2009, the album is still in the works while the members of the band including Brian Eno are each doing different projects.

Avalon is a brilliant, sensual, and evocative masterpiece from Roxy Music. While it may not have the chaotic sounds of the band's earlier work from 1972-1975, it's a record that does match those predecessors in terms of consistency, strong material, and superb production by Rhett Davies. With a lush sound, intoxicating arrangements, and fantastic musicianship, it's a record that is dreamy as it leaves the listener in a trance. In the end, Avalon is soothing yet adventurous masterpiece from Roxy Music.

(C) thevoid99 2011

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