- by Kevin Orton Rating:9 Release Date:1973-03-23 Label: Virgin
“Everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band,” Brian Eno once famously quipped about the Velvet Underground’s debut album. Not only were Roxy Music one of those bands, they proved just as influential and subversive. Where would Glam Rock be without them? Along with T Rex, they were the vanguard. While they never hit big in the USA, it’s safe to say Roxy Music’s influence was smuggled in through the efforts of David Bowie and Elton John.
If you ask me, there are only two true Roxy Music albums: Their debut and For Your Pleasure. Afterwards, Eno would embark on a groundbreaking solo career, leaving Bryan Ferry to indulge in his own unique brand of tortured Romanticism. Essentially, reducing Roxy Music to his backing band. Not only is For Your Pleasure the only Rock album to feature the voice of Judi Dench, it’s the only album I know with a Keatsian ode to a blow-up doll. Perhaps Rolling Stone’s Paul Gambaccini best summed it up in his 1973 review, “Its either above us, beneath us, or on another plane altogether.”
‘Do The Strand’ launches the proceedings with a declaration and a madly insistent beat. Asking the time worn question, “Tired of the Tango? Fed up with Fandango?” Ferry’s phrasing here is as dazzling as it gets, tackling a mouthful of bon mots and name-dropping landmarks like, “Quaglino’s”. Much in the vein of their hit single, ‘Virginia Plain’, it’s a campy, tongue in cheek take on teen dance crazes. Listen to Rocky Horror’s ‘Time Warp’ and it’s not hard to see what provided the inspiration. A perfect opener to what is still, a total trip of an album.
‘Beauty Queen’ follows and true to title, it’s a knock out. Ferry’s hilariously over the top vibrato managing to be both campy and anguished. It’s a pleading ode to the one who got away. While it may not be evident in his later work, here Ferry maintains a healthy sense of humor in his delivery. A song that not only reaches for the stars but relishes in letting them fade with the coming of morning.
The morose, self-consciously melodramatic, ‘Strictly Confidential’ hints at what was to come with Stranded. Ferry warbling at times, like a dying insect. “Before I die, I will write this letter; here are the secrets you must know,” he confesses. What ensues is a tell-tale heart’s litany of failed romance. Complete with crippling insecurities and self-doubts. If there's something “Gothic” about it all, something tells me the boys from Bauhaus spun this one more than a few times in their bedsits.
The scathing ‘Editions of You’ ramps things up with Eno going to town on the synths. Add in some sensational caterwauling from saxophonist extraordinaire, Andrew MacKay. Going to show, Roxy Music could blast it out like a Punk Band, some 3 years before The Sex Pistols broke. None of which prepares you for the positively demonic, ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’. From the start, Ferry sets the scene like an overly medicated, upscale realtor. Then the sonic camera pans out to find him alone in his dream house with only an inflatable doll floating in the pool for company. “Lover ungrateful,” he pouts. “I blew you up but you blew my mind,” and the band explodes. Phil Manzera’s wailing guitar coupled with Ferry’s agonized cry, “Dream home! Heartache!” The perfect mixture of dread and high camp. While the band aren’t shy about plumbing the depths of misery, they never commit the cardinal sin of being dreary.
The ominous, nearly ten-minute, ‘Bogus Man’ is the one track that I tend to skip past. Granted, it’s the band at their most perverse and experimental. It certainly has Eno’s fingerprints all over it but it plods on a touch too long for my tastes. Back in the day, this is the part where you flip the vinyl over to side B and light a big spliff and stare at the walls. While I contend the track is a bit drawn-out, it remains unsettling and creepy. What else would one expect from a song about a sexual predator?
At the very least, ‘Bogus Man’ beautifully sets up the jaunty, ‘Grey Lagoons’. It would be the perfect cruise liner send off to sunnier climes, however, it’s the haunting and ambitious title track that brings this long player to a close. Again, Eno is all over this one. His synths, loops and tapes providing an eerie atmosphere to a song that sets its high heels on the dark side of hedonism. Effectively casting a light on Dorian Grey’s hideous attic portrait. The sonic equivalent of a tab of acid offered by none other than Lucifer himself.
In many ways, For Your Pleasure is the antithesis of the freewheeling decadent 1970’s. It’s a party record for the damned. Its cover star, Amanda Lear playing the perfect femme fatale to Ferry’s all too eager chauffeur. Unlike their somewhat sprawling debut, Roxy Music’s second effort was a much more concise offering. Far from a sophomore slump, this is the band at their peak.
After Eno’s departure, they cut some truly stunning records like, Stranded but were never quite the same. Their innovative spirit eventually conforming to Bryan Ferry’s singular vision and Casanova posturing. For two groundbreaking albums however, Ferry and Eno were the perfect foils. Ferry’s control freak tendencies magnificently in step with Eno’s restless, mad scientist.
Like the Velvet Underground, Roxy Music weren’t for everybody. And that’s part of what made them so special. Despite their success in the UK, their arch camp and off beat sense of humor didn’t translate well to the USA. So, from a strictly American perspective, they retained a cult, outsider allure. In terms of dark, Art Rock glamour, For Your Pleasure has few rivals. Put it on today and it remains cutting edge.
Amazing album. I love the lyrics and one always jumps out at me, 'A Danceable Solution'. I've no idea what that is but I can just imagine people solving problems by breaking out into a dance