Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Roxy Music-Country Life

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/17/09.

After the release of Stranded in November 1973, Roxy Music proved that they can survive without original keyboardist Brian Eno as Eddie Jobson provided new dimension to the band's sound. After a tour to promote the album that yielded the top-10 U.K. hit song Street Life, Roxy Music was clearly moving into a new direction. Even as the band's vocalist and main songwriter Bryan Ferry was starting to get more help in the writing from members such as Jobson along with saxophonist Andy Mackay and guitarist Phil Manzanera. With drummer Paul Thompson, the band returned to the studio in the summer of 1974 to record their fourth and most consistent record to date called Country Life.

Produced by Roxy Music and John Punter, Country Life is a sprawling yet dark album that shows the band finding a balance with the wild experimentation of their first two albums with Brian Eno as well as the sophisticated, fully-realized song craftmanship of their last albums and later records that would come. With songs written by Bryan Ferry with two songs each co-written by Andy Mackay and two more with Phil Manzanera. It's a record that is wild in its performance and musicianship along with songs that features themes about decadence, women, and escapism. The result would be the band making their first real great album with Country Life.

The album opener The Thrill Of It All is a fierce number with hard-hitting drums from Paul Thompson, driving guitar riffs from Phil Manzanera, Eddie Jobson's melodic piano flourish and wailing synthesizers. Along with wobbly, swift bass lines, Bryan Ferry sings in a smooth croon as he is accompanied by Jobson's swooning violins. With its decadent, nightlife lyrics and a section where the song slows down a bit, it returns to that fierce sound carried by an array of sounds including Andy Mackay's spurting saxophones. Three And Nine is a bouncy beat that features a smooth, bopping mid-tempo rhythm and spurting sounds of Mackay's oboe and Ferry on a harmonica. With Manzanera's washy guitar, Ferry delves into his crooning vocal persona with stylish lyrics about the nightlife as it features a soft, swooning keyboard by Jobson. With its rich, crisp production, it's a track that plays to its sophisticated feel while the song's co-writer Andy Mackay displays his talents with the oboe and saxophone.

All I Want Is You is a blazing, charging rocker with powerful drums by Thompson and driving guitar growls from Manzanera. With Ferry singing in a powerful, crooning vocal style about a woman he just wants. It's a song that is filled with amazing production that is layered to complement the wild performances in guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards as Manzanera takes charge with his wailing guitars. Out Of The Blue arrives through a rising mix of wobbly bass, steady mid-tempo drums, swooning synthesizers and screeching violins by Eddie Jobson. The tempo picks up a bit with a striking piano as Ferry sings in a crooning vocal style filled with lyrics filled with paranoia and sadness. The song moves back and forth into different sections as includes a bass solo from John Gustafson along with Manzanera's wailing guitar in this abstract yet amazing cut. If It Takes All Night is a bouncy number led by a bluesy piano and clap-like rhythms with Manzanera playing country-like guitar wails. With Ferry's smooth, crooning vocals filled with sexual-laden lyrics, he also plays a harmonica solo as the band delves into the blues with style with wailing saxophones and striking pianos.

The album's big centerpiece is Bitter-Sweet, a haunting ballad of sorts that revels in European decadence. With a melodic bass accompaniment and an eerie piano track with slow, chilling beats from Paul Thompson. It's Ferry's eerie vocals that is sung in a crooning style that is its highlight as he's accompanied by bass, drums, and piano. Then the song goes into a thunderous section with growling guitars and Ferry singing in a snarling vocal style that slows down with Mackay's somber saxophone style. The song moves back and forth in its presentation from a slow, ballad-like arrangement to something more eerie in which Ferry would sing that section in German. Triptych opens with a harpsichord solo from Eddie Jobson as he is accompanied by pounding bass drums from Thompson. With melodic guitar flourishes from Phil Manzanera, Ferry's vocals delve into various styles as it features layers from its production as it is filled with dark lyrics as Mackay accompanies the vocals with an oboe.

Casanova is a funky, bopping track with charging rhythms from Paul Thompson's smooth, rumbling drums and Jobson's bouncy performance on the keyboards. With Manzanera's swanky guitars, Ferry sings in a crooning vocal style about the famed Casanova as it features wailing saxophones and soothing keyboards. A Really Good Time arrives with Jobson's ominous violins and Mackay's soothing saxophone as Ferry arrives with his somber vocals as he is accompanied by a smooth piano. With its lyrics of escapism and wanting a good time, Ferry is accompanied by Thompson's smooth, cadence-like drums and waa-waa guitar riffs from Manzanera's as it's a wonderful piece showcasing the band's sophisticated sound. The album closer Prairie Rose is an upbeat song with bouncy beats, shimming bass lines, Manzanera's driving guitars, and Mackay's wailing saxophone spurts. With Ferry singing in his cool vocal style, it's a song about his then-girlfriend, model Jerry Hall. With Mackay's wailing saxophones and Manzanera's blazing guitar solos, it's a song that is all over the place but giving each member a chance to perform as it's a fitting closer to the album.

Released in November of 1974, the album drew rave reviews from critics as it peaked at #3 in the U.K. album charts. The band also finally achieved some considerable success in the U.S. as the album made it into the top 40. At the same time, the band drew controversy over its album cover that featured two scantily-clad women on the cover. The album cover was banned in the U.S. and a few countries for a few years with an alternate version of the cover just featuring the background the women were standing behind. Despite the controversy, it helped Roxy Music's profile in America while in the U.K., they were now part of the rock establishment as they were sporting suits and clothing by their fashion specialist Antony Price.

Country Life is a sprawling, haunting, yet mesmerizing masterpiece from Roxy Music. Of the records they've made in their career, this is the album that channels the balance between the experimentation of their earlier work and the sophisticated soundscapes of later albums. Thanks to some amazing production and a musicianship that is very tight, it's a record that is filled with diverse song styles ranging from wild and chaotic to dark yet fascinating. In the end, Country Life is an amazing album from Roxy Music.

(C) thevoid99 2011

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