‘Re-think/Re-entry‘ (Derek Boshier), oil on canvas, 1962
‘I’ve always liked what Goethe said: “The greatest thing a person can achieve is astonishment”.’
Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry introduced their art-manifesto to the world with ‘Re-Make/Re-Model‘, the opening cut on first album Roxy Music (1972). With ‘Re-Make’ the listener is presented with the image of a Goddess sweeping by in her car, the glimpse of which stirs our Artist as Young Man to write a modern pop song. Ferry took his inspiration from Derek Boshier and his pop art painting Re-Think/Re-Entry (1962).
‘Re-think’ highlights the motifs of change and transformation: pieces of a Union Jack jigsaw are sucked into an umbilical cord and transported across time from 1644 (the period of the first English Civil War) to modern times. During the process these pieces of Britannia metamorphose into human figures falling towards the base of a modern space ship. Boshier was critical of the space race so it is safe to assume that he did not intend the trans-formative image to be a symbol of positive change for the Brits. Instead, the painter undercuts narrative expectation by opening the possibility that the human forms are in fact being catapulted back to 1644. In this reading, trans-formative forward motion is only achievable by going (looking) back and re-thinking the quality of the political, social and economic decisions since that time. A wonderful and playful painting, ‘Re-Think/Re-Entry‘ is an invitation to look at the process of perception and narrative expectation viewed through the visual language of art. In this regard, the young Bryan Ferry – student of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle – crafted one of his earliest songs to convey his fascination with artistic change and new and exciting ways of seeing:
I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away
Next time is the best time we all know
But if there is no next time where to go
‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ moves within a series of musical and narrative collisions and transformations. The song also provides the earliest example of Bryan Ferry’s career-defining artistic and emotional concerns: that of the sensitive aesthete searching for love in a looking-glass world, knowing full well that memory of the chase is better than the catch (Next time is the best time we all know). In evidence is Ferry’s hallmark structural simplicity set to a sublime outcome: the poetic scheme of the song is straight-ahead rhyming couplets (way/away/know/go) set within a time-shifting verse. The playfulness becomes evident when we realize that the object of desire (the sweetest queen) is actually missing in action, comically absent from the narrative. While we might reasonably expect our day-dreaming lad to describe his Queen with shimmering bedroom eyes and Greta Garbo hair, instead he riffs and obsesses on the license plate number of the car she was driving – CPL593H. Has there ever been a song of passion whose chorus name-checks a car license plate? (Surrey registration no less). Clearly, our boy knows which side his postmodern signified/signifiers are buttered, ‘Re-Make‘ demonstrating amply that the trigger for memory can be more important (and more rewarding) than the memory itself. Ohhh show me!
Roxy Music has always had humour in spades and it is a shame that this aspect of the band’s output is often over-looked. “The early 70s,” John Peel once complained, “were kind of boring apart from Roxy Music.” This was the era of The Band, CSNY, and George Harrison‘s lush and opulent beard. Jesus Christ Superstar was the biggest US seller of 1971. In the UK it was no better: on the positive side, Bridge Over Troubled Water was a chart topper, but then so was Andy Williams Greatest Hits. The art-school trio of Ferry, Eno and Mackay looked to the visual arts, cinema, magazines, and 50s pop to provide the band with a dress code that emphasized pastiche and theatricality at the expense of typical rock group posturing. Early band pictures highlight a hilarious collision of styles: Teddy Boy vs. Tarzan (nice leopard suit Paul); Boa Boy vs. Space Child (Andy Mackay particularly striking with Star Trek sideburns and green sparkle regalia). The approach was a consciously disposable art that drew attention to the creative process while gently mocking it. Even the credits for Roxy Music were fresh, famously crediting “clothes, make-up and hair” to fashion designer Antony Price. “Cover concept” by Bryan Ferry; “Cover girl” by Kari-Ann; “Photography” by Karl Stoecker. The whole thing read like the Hollywood movie it was pretending to be.
In June 1972 – over 50 years ago – seven months after the release of Clockwork Orange spooked a nation (truths too close to home), the first wave of glam punk delivered the troubled spawn of the Age of Aquarius in the form of Roxy Music and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Both albums released in the same month, Roxy were even Bowie’s opening act on the Spiders of Mars tour. The shows were glammed up and hot, musically tough. A sense of humour was necessary to crank it out and take it in. Yet, in spite of the theatricality and irreverence, Roxy were asking a perfectly honest and important question: where do we go from here? The answer of course was the future, but what did the future look like, musically..?
To fresh young ears it must have sounded like a mess. It still does. The music is harsh and in your face (future Sex Pistol Steve Jones was certainly taking notes – the name of his first band was called The Strand). The sonics are thin, the vocals shrill and gimmicky (something Ferry tried to address with his re-recording of four of the original tracks for his solo album Let’s Stick Together) but the record’s overall buzz, ingenuity, energy and sense of fun are palpable. ‘Re-Make’ takes off in the key of F and races like a locomotive up the neck. It’s thrash-rock in full flight, the F root chord holding down its tubby arse as it recoils from the move to G# (not the expected G major) and then, worse, to D#, the sharps upping the tension with sustained off-program momentum. Three chords and attitude. (Buzzcocks eat your heart out). And when the song takes a breather it’s still got plenty of sass: throwing out line and quotes from The Beatles (Day Tripper), Eddie Cochran (C’mon Everybody) and even Wagner (Ride of the Valkyries) while Brian Eno blows sploodge bubbles with his VCS3 like there is no precedent. (There wasn’t).
“This song is a mashup before mashups existed, and it fuckin’ rocks!”
– Song of the Day, We Ball Harder
Strident, in-your-face, a trio of firsts (first recorded, first cut, first album), ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ is the manifesto for the group aesthetic. From here the journey would be variants on a theme of the Roxy Machine..
Derek Boshier’s career is long, varied and innovative. He has recently updated his website with fascinating links to his back-catalogue: take a moment to check it out, www.derekboshier.com – you won’t regret it.
Bryan Ferry re-recorded “Re-Make/Re-Model“, “2HB“, “Chance Meeting” and “Sea Breezes” for his Let’s Stick Together solo collection (1976). The voice is deeper, the funk is tuned, the result surprisingly strong. In bar fights I am quick to point out that the musical guests are Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson, John Wetton, and Chris Spedding. Highly recommended.