‘Ladytron‘, (David Tran)
The sly and clever ‘Ladytron‘ is the second cut on Roxy Music and the first of the album’s many punning titles: ‘tron‘ is, in part, a bit of word play referencing the Mellotron keyboard used so prominently in the song – and it is also a refreshing early introduction to Bryan Ferry’s love quest narrative. In this instance, the object of desire might be (take your pick): a mechanical fantasy woman; a love letter to the writer’s ego; or maybe even an homage to the beauty of music, its difficulties and distance, and its eventual betrayal and submission at the hands of the multi-talented poet rock star.
In this regard, ‘Ladytron’ is the first entry in the canon of Ferry’s Greek Odysseus siren theme of dangerous yet beautiful women who lure seafaring sailors (read: lost men) to shipwreck and ruin with their haunting music. The pinnacle of this idea is played out most fully in The Fifth Roxy Music album Siren, but this early sketch is an excellent example of the artist’s curse (“why am I so sensitive & talented!”) and his attempt to avoid being destroyed by all this useless beauty.
A watery death may well have been the fate of this shipwrecked sailor, but Bryan Ferry is having none of that, and with a wink and a dab of post-modern irony, he equates himself and his experience with the trials of Odysseus – the only man on record (that I know of) tie himself to a ship’s mast, weep and wail uncontrollably while his mates berate him for resisting the charms of an island full of naked women. Odysseus does eventually resist the siren’s call for, as the story goes, their power is defeated by his male cunning and will-power in the face of lute (and feathers).
The Siren, by John Waterhouse.
His life ebbed away as she dragged him still further, And laughed when she saw she’d accomplished her goal. – Charlotte Lester
Bryan Ferry’s good friend and confidante Dr. Simon Puxley points out in the album’s liner notes that the title ‘Ladytron‘ “conflates the lady of the lyric with sound of the music.” As a result, the lyric captures Bryan Ferry’s heart-felt confession about the difficulties in writing (possessing) the song (You’ve got me girl on the run around run around), while offering himself completely to the service and mastery of his art (if you want a lover/look no further/I’ll find some way of connection). At the mid-juncture of this mellotron Odyssey, the author/suitor springs his trap, revealing the extent of his deviousness and cunning (hiding my intention/I’ll get to you).
In ‘Ladytron’ seduction roles are reversed: the song writer uses and confuses his lady/melody thereby assuming the role of predator and instead of suffering certain watery death, rides this new-found dominance, presumably, all the way to the top of the charts. This process does not make for pleasant reading (still you won’t suspect me) but Bryan Ferry is almost alone in his willingness to reveal right off the bat the ‘sinister overtones’ of the crippled male imagination and the unbridled ego of the modern rock star/poet.
I’ll find some way of connection
Hiding my intention
Then I’ll move up close to you
I’ll use you and I’ll confuse you
And then I’ll lose you
Still you won’t suspect me
‘Ladytron’ lays bare Ferry’s awareness of his increasing power as a talented tune-smith – an awareness that would have seismic repercussions for Roxy as they shifted from a critical darling art-house collective to smooth pop masters. Yet the song’s success also comes from an opposite impulse: collaboration, group dynamics, and a unified sense of purpose and effort. Here Ferry’s lyrical and narrative insights are given equal weight by the visceral impact of the music, and ‘Ladytron’ provides the first indication of something special working within this group of miscreant musicians.
“‘Ladytron’ is a sort of sci-fi lunar landscape with the oboe playing what I call the The Haunted Landscape Theme.”
Bryan Ferry, NME, 1973
Haunted Landscape…Lunar Landing... the first 66 seconds of ‘Ladytron’ announces Brian Eno‘s musical gifts as he lays down a sublime sonic synth-bed for Andy Mackay‘s deftly blown oboe theme. Interrupted by a line of cackle interference that will be heard again (a rare repeat) on Manzanera/Eno solo cut Miss Shapiro, the sound double-tracks and lifts off, replicating the cadence of a lunar module arriving on some strange musical landscape. The production is good here and clearly announces that the Eno/Mackay unit is as much an essential a sound to classic Roxy Music as Ferry’s quivering tenor vocal delivery and towering presence.
‘Ladytron’ brims with collisions and allows each of the musicians to take a solo, albeit at odd angles. It is like musical blocks are purposely being built to rub against one another in order to generate the necessary spark and tension needed to get to the next track. Even a cursory breakdown of the song reveals eight or more distinct sections running over the course of its 4:26 minutes:
1. Opening/Lunar landing – Eno/Mackay
2. Melodic and lyrical introduction: “You got me girl…” – Ferry
3. Verse 1, drums and bass intro: “Lady, if you want to find a lover…” – Thompson/ Simpson
4. Break 1, galloping oboe and drum trot: Mackay oboe/Manzanera slash-chords
5. Verse 2, “I’ll find some way of connection…” – Ferry
6. Break 2, Deep theme: Mackay switches instrument (saxophone)/Manzanera switches approach (chords to solos)
7. Break 3, Heightened response: Manzanera reprises chords/Eno launches synth attack
8. Ending/Lunar Demise: Eno explodes the lunar pod; renders the moonscape barren.
Structurally ‘Ladytron’ pits musicians and musical ideas against one another: it’s not so much a contest to see who will remain standing, but rather to see if the results should be filed under harmony or car crash. This approach had already been successfully utilized by many classic jazz bands – notably Miles Davis’s second great quintet (1964–68) – but jazz instruments and Moog pop pastiches were pretty fresh to rock fans in mid-1972. In this regard ‘Ladytron’ became a template for future recordings (not all necessarily by Roxy Music) and the song still holds a cultural and punch-to-the-gut visceral impact. Or, if you prefer – as one notable US critic proclaimed – “the most painful yet psyche-grabbing moment in rock this year!”
Recorded: Command Studios, London 15 March 1972
Photo Credits: Andy Mackay, consequenceofsound.net; Andy Mackay‘s book on electronic music – “Electronic Music – The Instruments, the Music & the Musicians.” A wee bit hard to find. My copy: Ebay; Australia.; Brian Eno, early 70s
Passing the Sirens: Bryan Ferry has lots more where this comes from: In addition to Ladytron and half the songs on Siren, my own temptress favourite is found in ‘Editions of You‘ (And as I was drifting past the Lorelei/I heard those slinky sirens wail, whooo…!).
Elvis Costello, “Useless Beauty”
If you reference useless beauty, you better reference Useless Beauty. Indispensable.