For The Records #2 - Roxy Music's Siren
For The Records #2
Roxy Music’s Siren
By Mike Tomano
© 2023 Michael Tomano / Fossil Entertainment Group
I grew up in a time when listening to music was a focused activity. Like watching a movie or reading a book, there was nothing passive about the activity. You dropped the stylus and listened to both sides, often wearing headphones; the only distraction being perusal of the cover artwork and liner notes. A portion of chore and part-time job money during elementary and high school was allocated to new tunes.
I first became aware of Roxy Music during my frequent bus rides to Kroozin’ Music on Archer & California in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood. Their Greatest Hits album sat in their cassette case for months before I decided to make a blind purchase. I had eyed it numerous times on prior visits. I was intrigued by the cover: a glamour girl visage reflecting on a gold album with a leopard skin print background.
I took the tape home and popped it into my portable Panasonic cassette player/recorder. I sat transfixed at the kitchen table. I hadn’t heard anything like this band. From the opening of “Virginia Plain” to the closing of “Street Life,” every note held my attention. Drummer Paul Thompson played solid and heavy, propelling guitarist Phil Manzanera’s strange, experimental riffs and solos, Andy Mackay’s haunting, melodic reeds and Bryan Ferry’s affected, cool vocals. I was hooked.
Roxy Music became my band. None of my friends knew of them and I took every opportunity to turn them on to this magic discovery, to varying degrees of reception.
I hunted their albums out at various stores to no avail. Kroozin’ Music had a small book section, and, on one trip, I found an imported paperback Roxy Music bio. I plunked down the six hard-earned dollars and dived right in on the bus ride home.
I eventually collected their catalogue, from their first two wonderfully strange offerings with Brian Eno on board manipulating tapes and adding strange synth motifs to their diverse songcraft. Their third and fourth albums, Stranded and Country Life, found them streamlining their sound, adding progressive and hard rock elements.
My friend Rick and I took a green limousine (Chicago Transit Authority) to the U.I.C Pavilion on May 14th, 1983, and caught their Windy City stop in support of their moody masterpiece Avalon and subsequent e.p, The High Road.
Roxy Music’s entire output is a rewarding rabbit-hole excursion for any music lover with a penchant for the British art-rock roots of 80s New Wave. Their influence can be heard in bands like Human League, Echo & The Bunnymen, Japan, Simple Minds, Tears for Fears and countless other New Romantic bands of the period.
For me, the band’s apex was reached on their fifth studio album, Siren. Most cover art of the time suggested the type of music contained within. Even the uninitiated could deduce Yes Fragile would lean progressive rather than pop and vice-versa for The Go-Go’s Beauty and The Beat. Siren’s cover, continuing the fashion model cover of their previous releases, with a fin-footed mermaid Jerry Hall lying atop a rocky shoreline drenched in blue hue was enigmatic. (At the time, Hall was Ferry’s girlfriend. She would split to become the long-time paramour of Mick Jagger. Jagger and Hall would “marry” in a null-and-void rendered Hindu ceremony and have four children before splitting in ’99.)
The album kicks off heading straight for the dance floor with the four-on-the-floor stomp of the album’s hit, “Love Is The Drug,” an anthem for the lust-fueled club life of the 70s. “End of the Line” follows. No one does "lovelorn hopeless romantic" like Bryan Ferry. A timeless melody with lyrics that would make Cole Porter proud.
Faint, ethereal keys blend with Manzanera’s fuzz-laden guitar to introduce “Sentimental Fool,” whose shimmery verses segue into a juxtaposed beat for the chorus. “Whirlwind” starts off rockin’ and doesn’t let up for three and half minutes of driving prog-pop perfection.
Side two kicks off with the rockin’ “She Sells”, another gem with a hook that sticks in the brain, followed by the whimsical “Could It Happen To Me?”. “Both Ends Burning” is more top-shelf Roxy, revisiting the romantic theme that Ferry is known for, describing an addictive lust of a fire in his soul that can’t be controlled.
“Nightingale” with it’s beautiful lilting melody and poetic lyrics leads into the album closer, the sublime, “Just Another High”, with Ferry pondering a love lost, suffered by being merely a “high” to be chased. The outro, driven by Paul Thompson’s Bonham-esque drum beat, perfectly describes the after-break up that every broken heart goes through:
Maybe I should start anew And maybe I should find someone who Will maybe love me like I love you Maybe I'm too stuck on you Maybe I got stuck on you
Few albums reach a point of every song standing on their own as perfect realization of vision. Bringing art-rock experimentation, prog-rock virtuosity and poetic lyrics into the realm of pop, Roxy Music’s Siren is a perfect album.