Coming quickly after the Rock n’ Roll genre piece Would You Believe? Roxy Music deliver one of the album’s stand-out tracks, Sea Breezes. Recorded mid-way through the 2nd and final week of recording at Command Studios, the track delivers as a real group effort, highlighting not only Bryan Ferry’s exquisite melody and lyrics, but also the genuine musical sophistication and interplay of Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera as they shine in solo instrumentation passages, adding much-needed emotional texture to this unique and satisfying song.
I’ve been thinking now for a long time
How to go my own separate way
It’s a shame to think about yesterday
It’s a shame
A shame, a shame, a shame
We’ve been running round in our present state
Hoping help would come from above
But even angels there
Made the same mistakes in love
In love, in love, in love
Thematically, ‘Sea Breezes’ finds us on familiar ground as the narrator ponders the difficulties of love. The tone is lofty and elevated, the words used to express love are not spoken in a manner that would suggest maturity or emotional availability: for this chap, the end of love’s promise is merely a shame. In Roxy Music, love is always spelled with a capital L and is never mocked or undercut, unless purposely so (Would You Believe?). In this game the stakes are high, as love takes on a religious or artistic idealism which forms viewpoints, morals, and spiritual destinies. But what happens when love is not seen as a force of nature, a deep and lasting kinship with another person, but rather as a solipsistic way to marvel at your facility for cleverness and moral detachment? In lighter moments you might say, fine, I’ll take it, but in all likelihood that path is lonely and unsatisfying:
Now that we are lonely
Life seems to get hard
Alone what a word lonely
Alone it makes me cry
The focus on alone is so acute that the mere utterance of the word “lonely” wracks the narrator: Alone what a word lonely/Alone it makes me cry. What makes the narrator cry is not the prospect of lost love or companionship, but word choice. We’ve been here before on the album – the love object in Re-Make/Re-Model is a (witty) recollection of the license plate CPL593H, not the woman herself. Throughout the ages it has been the job of the poet to discuss love, loss and loneliness with words that convey significant meaning, but that effort has meant different things over time, from Classicist ideals, to Romantic, Modernist, and Post-Modernist (and many more besides). In ‘Sea Breezes’ Bryan Ferry assumes the cloak of narratorial disguise enjoyed by the Romantic poets, in this case most associated with Lord Byron (George ‘Goodtime’ Gordon), a man who, in the words of one biographer, created an immensely popular Romantic hero — defiant, melancholy, haunted by secret guilt — for which, to many, he seemed the model. This is the narrator hero of ‘Sea Breezes’- defiant, melancholy, and guilty enough to blame everyone but himself for his predicament. This is Love as solipsistic self-analysis, and Ferry is fully aware of this narrative angle and, thankfully, plays it to the hilt.
Mad, bad and dangerous to know
– Lady Caroline Lamb on Romantic poet Lord Byron
We’d often go to the seaside when I was a child…Whitley Bay or Marsden.
– Bryan Ferry, before a 2016 festival gig in his hometown
Born in Washington, County Durham, England, Bryan Ferry knew the Tynemouth coastline and its windswept landscapes well. Schooled at Washington Grammar school and Newcastle University, the young man was rarely less than 25 minutes away from coastal shores and beaches. The landscape of his youth was the North England coast and weather-beaten seascapes, 7th Century monasteries, and fortified castles.
This is Romantic territory, in landscape if not in social graces. Clearly the sea-swept ocean imagery was fertile ground for Ferry’s imagination (see the beached damsels of Stranded; the blue-stained mermaids of Siren). In lyric and in tone, ‘Sea Breezes’ revels in the Romance poet’s suffering as the heightened emotion crashes against the cold sandy Tynemouth surf. Alone! he cries – what a word lonely/ Alone it makes me cry/I’ll cry, I’ll cry, I’ll cry. The Smiths later adopted this pose too, as Morrissey held his weary hand to brow and begged to Please please please let me get what I want…/this time. Ferry is the early master of the idiom of self-obsessed or narcissistic narrator, and the real love-object of the first Roxy Music album is the self-love of the narrator as he marvels at his ability to, at any given time, associate himself with the love trials of the Epic Hero Odysseus (Ladytron); or align himself with the Romantic poets Byron and Shelley by melancholic over-emoting (If There is Something); and even takes sides with a dangerous sociopath, seeing love first as possession and ownership (Chance Meeting).
Hardly about love at all, and ‘Sea Breezes’ is no different: if you look closely you notice that for a song that calls itself ‘Sea Breezes’ there is actually no water or sea imagery used in the lyric and certainly nothing even loosely resembling a beach, wind, salt, storm – not a word. Then there is the amazingly abrupt and odd-metered musical interruption half-way through the song. Out of nowhere the meter changes, and Ferry sounds like he has been kicked in the knees and told to keep singing – gone is the gentle appeal to the angels, Romantic or otherwise. Why the change? Because the poet cannot help but present his greatest love: his genius. In keeping with first album’s gleeful subversion of expectation, the lyric and singer becomes increasingly self-absorbed,to the point where what we are seeing and hearing is the sound of meditation and composition, of a brain working, of the poem being written: a thought-train set in motion – words in fog being prepared for paper, hard and alone, before the crack down.
Sea Breezes – Part 2, next week.
The Rex Hotel where BF visited sea swept Whitley Bay with his parents; Lord Byron has his eye on a charming lady on beach, grabbed here; when you’re obsessed with music you Google Map your hero and the route he would have taken to the seaside as a boy (Nabokov: be obsessed with scientific yet artistic appreciation of detail); before selfies you had to stare into the abyss for days to know your true self, Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818.
The Smiths, bringing literary irony and anti-glamour to the 80s.
I can only think of one truly great British album: Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure.
From left, clockwise:
Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now: Viv Nicholson, found fame in 1961 when she won £152,319 (roughly £3m/$6M today). She famously said she was going to “spend spend spend!” And she did, squandered it all and battled with alcoholism and 4 husbands. On the bright side, she is still with us today, 79 years old. Great Beehive Viv!
This Charming Man: Swashbuckling actor Jean-Alfred Villain-Marais, in a still from Jean Cocteau’s film Orpheus (lovers in real life, Jean Marais also starred in the Cocteau masterpiece Beauty and the Beast). Easily a contender for a never-produced picture cover of ‘Sea Breezes’.
The Queen Is Dead: Of course he isn’t – Morrissey lives on as petulant and litigious as ever. Here is another French actor, Alain Delon, taken from the 1964 noir film The Unvanquished on the cover of The Smiths masterpiece album.
It is true, Morrissey told The Observer that he could “only think of one truly great British album” and that was For Your Pleasure. He later took it back because he was pissed off at one of Bryan Ferry’s sons support fox-hunting, but nevertheless the reference does confirm Morrissey as serious contender as England’s hand-me-down rock poet laureate: ‘Cemetry Gates‘ is a re-take of Ferry’s ‘Sea Breezes’, portraying as it does the artist as young man, the self-absorbed aesthete impressed by his talent and lecturing on his art (If you must write poems/the words you use should be your own/There’s always someone, somewhere/With a big nose, who knows) and greeting the horrors of a rare sunny day in Manchester: A dreaded sunny day/So I meet you at the cemetery gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side/While Wilde is on mine. There are no apologies for high-brow literary references or taking sides in this scenario: Keats the Romantic & Yeats the Modernist take on Morrissey & Oscar Wilde, the Comic Realists. May the best man(ic) poet win!
The record covers were stunning; this was anti-glamour. As much as Roxy Music had aimed glamour towards the seedy, The Smiths sold the forgotten sex objects of British tabloid and European film as presented them as projections of Morrissey’s fantasies. In the UK you spend a lot of time In Your Room with your posters, wet dreams and soundtracks. (Years before fame, Steven Morrissey stayed in His Room writing letters to the New Musical Express – and they got published). In the 70s Bryan Ferry projected male dissonance and sexuality with Humphrey Bogart. In the 80s Morrissey projected the same with gay French stars and kitchen sink drama queens. As in Roxy as is in The Smiths – who you watch, read and listen to is who you are.