History… it’s out of date
One of the people saying goodbye (“ta-ra”) at the end of For Your Pleasure was Brian Eno, who quit the band in a hail of rubber bullets and bad vibes in July 1973 (Viva). While the subterfuge surrounding his exit makes for endless good copy – Eno’s super-hyped sex life was one highly quoted justification for getting the boot; his enjoyment of interviews and grabbing attention, another – but anyone with even a passing knowledge of Eno’s solo career knows intuitively that the obligations to a successful touring band would pall quickly beside the endless experimentation available within the confines of a modern recording studio. This is a man, after all, whose favourite word is “interesting” – and you’d have to go a long way to call an extended rinse-and-repeat World Tour interesting – fun maybe, boisterous, probably, but hardly interesting: “We’re not the kind of band to find a formula and then stick to it. That’s deathly!” (Williams). The quote is, tellingly, by Bryan Ferry, not Brian Eno. Why Brian Eno left Roxy Music is not really the question then, nor is it particularly interesting – ideas change, people change – what is interesting is what came after. Now that’s a story.
Roxy Music really was Bryan’s band, it was his vision … The whole construction was his in conception…It wouldn’t have been as interesting a band if I’d have been able to co-opt to go in my direction.
For Your Pleasure remains one of Roxy’s most critically acclaimed albums, loved by fans, critics, and band members alike. The striking originality of the record still holds today. It was sexy, dark, mysterious, odd at times, musically inventive, lyrically potent – ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache‘ was pop song as novel – and, as Roxy cultural critic Michael Bracewell succinctly put it, the album was “as hard rocking as it was culturally knowing” (Bracewell). Contemporary reviews were ecstatic, the NME proclaiming the record “a staggering fine piece of work, easily outstripping the first album” (Shaar Murray), while contemporary views continue to rate FYP as the best of Roxy’s career: PopMatters likens it to a “music supernova”; Morrissey insisted it was the “only truly great British album”(Wiki); Soundblab reckoned “For Your Pleasure has few rivals”; Diffuser ranked it as #1 in the Roxy canon and so on. The band also highly regards the sophomore recording – Paul Thompson felt “that album was better than the first one…sonically better” (PT). And as recently as 2018, Bryan Ferry posited that he and Brian Eno had “stopped on a very high note. Our second album, For Your Pleasure, was one of my favorite ones” (Consequence of Sound). Released on March 23rd 1973, ‘For Your Pleasure‘ hit number 4 during a 27 week run on the UK album charts (Viva) and it’s sold steadily ever since, influencing scores of musicians, writers and, of course, visual artists and fashion designers.
Musically, the band were delivering the goods both in the studio and in concert – one critic described the Roxy live experience as “demonic, sinister, apocolayptic, monstrous, dazzling, flashy” (Palmer). Major tours were launched on the back of the album’s release, their first headlining tour (with Chris Spedding‘s The Sharks supporting) took in both the UK and Europe, the opening dates of which had Amanda Lear dressed in full black leather gear viz ve the For Your Pleasure cover (no reports on whether the panther was in tow). By now Roxy had developed a large and excitable European following with live appearances increasing sales in every city they visited, gigs rolling across England, Scotland, France, and the Netherlands like fashion parades. The band had become immensely popular style icons, promising their fans a glamour experience, a state of mind that coveted taste, refinement, adventure, and above all, escape. The buzz on that first headlining tour was such that the “European Roxy mania would be an experience the group would never forget” (Rogan). The itinerary was long (see John O’Brien’s excellent Roxy site Viva for tour details) and the reviews spectacular, with one journalist noting that musically, “it’s drummer Paul Thompson and guitarist Phil Manzanera that came over best.” Of course they did – by this juncture Roxy were morphing into a hard-touring rock band and Paul and Phil were the heavy fuel needed for the six week, thirty-four date tour. By the end of the trek however, Brian Eno had had enough of the touring life, and Bryan Ferry was fed-up with Eno – the man the press were calling “the major visual phenomenon of ’73” (Guardian).
For Your Pleasure was a dark and important album for me to make – it cleared the air of all that angst.
Clearly Bryan Ferry was working through some thorny problems while writing the lyrics on For Your Pleasure, and much of it appeared to congregate on the problem of the direction Roxy Music should take. “I’d been nursing the idea for Roxy since 1964-65,” Ferry told the NME in 1973, “The actuality of Roxy is frighteningly close to what I wanted. Thank God it is – I’m very pleased with the way it’s worked out” (NME). As “chief architect” of the group, Ferry became increasingly alarmed as Eno started to obscure the hard-won vision of Roxy Music as an art-project and a successful band:
[Eno] loved doing interviews…And I sometimes thought that maybe he was taking credit – not wholly intentionally – for some of the things that I was doing. I didn’t want to be perceived as just the singer. I had written, and was the primary arranger of, the songs on the records. I felt that I was the main architect of everything, and I didn’t want to let go of that recognition. It was important to me. It was all I had. I was very proud of it, and I wasn’t very good at sharing.
Taking his concerns to management as early as December 1972, Ferry was writing words and music that expressed anxiety and guilt, analyzing his personal insecurities while reviewing his future options. “I didn’t really like the interview process,” he admitted, “I used to be really tongue-tied. I guess that’s what made me a singer; it’s a way of overcoming this verbal insecurity, verbal shyness… Brian of course had confidence in spades. He could give a lecture; stand up in front of any number of people about anything” (Buckley, 130). As an album defined by the “cloak of evening shadow” we cannot help but feel the personal turmoil:
‘Strictly Confidential‘ situates the anxiety –
Rolling and turning
How can I sleep?
And the agonizing internal dialog –
Haunting me always are the voices
Sometimes I wonder if they’re real
While lifting wording from music press interviews such as “tongue-tied” –
Tongue-tied the thread of conversation
Weighing the words one tries to use
And the possible feelings of guilt for actions that need to be taken to move Roxy Music forward –
Could it be evil thoughts become me? /
Guilt is a wound that’s hard to heal
‘The Bogus Man‘ struggles too with language –
Focused his mind on something he cared about
But it came out a shout just like before
As does the narrator in ‘For Your Pleasure‘ –
The words we use tumble/…
Gravel hard and loose
But the presentation of “such extremes” also provides a way forward, the undefined issue thoroughly investigated and fretted over, the author a shy and sensitive man who is a fighter at heart (“my work has to stand for everything I’m about really”) –
But you’ll wake up soon and fight
In the morning
Things you worried about last night
Will seem lighter
I hope things will turn out right
And by album close the solution has been found – through every step, a change.
We feel you’re ready for a solo career
EG Records drops the hint to Brian Eno
The emphasis on the in-fighting between the two Bryan/Brians obscures a critical aspect of the Roxy Music story: namely, the presence and contributions of the rest of the group – Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson and Andy Mackay. It is no coincidence that the For Your Pleasure album sees a brilliant advance on the musicianship and creative input of the Roxy band-members, with Brian Eno providing an equal share, yet no more important or transformative than the others. Indeed, critics and writers have often over-stated Eno’s contribution to Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure in particular, and in doing so have done a disservice to Thompson, Manzanera, Mackay, and even Bryan Ferry’s honest and original writing. “Eno’s stamp is all over the record” (BBC), is a common pronouncement made by critics and some fans, yet in point of fact producer Chris Thomas‘ stamp is all over the record, deploying the classic techniques he learned from working with The Beatles and also his contemporaneous co-mixing work on Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon. The warmer more “organic” sound of the album is an outcome of Thomas’ production, and suits perfectly the Gothic countryside, night-time voices and haunted corridors that blanket the album.
Another popular misconception is that Eno was responsible for every “weird” sound on Roxy Music and FYP, and had more a hand in the studio manipulating sound effects then he actually did (a misconception that Tony Visconti endured under Bowie/Eno for Low, Heroes, et al – the subject of a hilarious cartoon here). The suggestion that Eno wanted “to move toward texture and Ferry want[ed] to stay in more conventional rock territory” (allmusic) is easy journalism: that Eno wanted to push for a move towards texture is true, but he did not want to do so within the confines of a modern touring band such as Roxy Music. Indeed, it was the recording of For Your Pleasure that enabled Eno to familiarize himself with the studio environment and the technology within it, learning the possibilities of sound manipulation: “I was completely comfortable in the studio. I was very at home there and in fact it seemed to me that I had finally found my instrument” (Eno, 2009). Eno saw the potential, freedom and opportunities while learning from Chris Thomas and the crack engineers at George Martin’s AIR studios. Indeed, his production skills were still raw and underdeveloped several months after the split when he produced the fantastic Here Come the Warm Jets his first proper solo album and a record that hearkens directly back to rough and ready, punkish recording of Roxy Music. Recorded in twelve days in September 1973, Warm Jets sounded very much like the experimental style of Roxy Music, an album described as sounding like a “half-a-dozen separate bands clamoring for attention” (Chapman). Warm Jets was a cheap album to make and utilized most of the Roxy team – Mackay, Manzanera, Thompson and Thomas – sans Ferry – as Eno needed the help and support. As Eno biographer David Sheppard points out, Eno was “still a relative greenhorn when it came to twenty-four track recording” (Faraway Beach, 150). One engineer on the album stated flatly: “Brian didn’t know what he was doing – didn’t have a clue” (ibid). Chris Thomas’s job was to organize Eno’s “clamorous multi-track master tapes on which so many of the instrumental overdubs were doubled or trebled, injecting some clarity into what was in places a wall of opaque noise” (ibid).
The point being made is not to dismiss Brian Eno or his contribution to For Your Pleasure but to see the split of July 1973 for what it was: inevitable (for starters) but also the beginning of an expanded Roxy Music, whereby the white-hot talents of Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson achieve greater heights as Roxy re-configures after the hand-wringing angst of FYP, kick-starting solo careers that cross and conquer musical genres and influence new trends and generations of young people entering rock, music, art and television. Comments like “When Eno left the band it was all down hill from there” (Martyn Ware, Human League) needs reassessment and even challenge, for the art-project that was defined as “Roxy Music” had many more features than just glamour and irony – the nucleus of Mackay, Manzanera, Eno and Thompson performed across a number of musical and mass media platforms: books and television shows were written (Andy Mackay’s Electronic Music and hit TV series Rock Follies); production assignments included John Cale, Nico, Godley & Creme, Split Enz (Manzanera), Ultravox, Talking Heads, Devo (Eno); and inter-band collaborations included epoch defining records by David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp, 801, Talking Heads (again), Cluster, Bryan Ferry, and more. All the while they co-wrote, recorded, and co-produced four more brilliant 70s Roxy Music albums. And we haven’t even mentioned the solo records, many of them – particularly by Manzanera and Eno – are as good as the heights achieved by Roxy (Diamond Head, Another Green World, Music for Airports). In short, Roxy Music did not nose-dive after Brian Eno left the band in that hot summer of 1973 – a new and expanded ‘state of mind’ was just beginning:
What’s interesting about Roxy is that most people in bands don’t do solo albums until they’ve been together for years. We all started doing solo albums almost immediately. We always had our own agenda, and as long as there was enough common ground we stayed together – Andy Mackay
Usually people think that it is the musicians who create the music, but in fact it is music who creates the musicians
Eno feather “theater” suit (’72-73) currently in storage at the Victoria and Albert museum (V&A), by Carol McNicoll; Japanese For Your Pleasure poster; stock photo Ferry/Eno; 2001 Re-union Tour brochure, courtesy John O’Brien’s vivaroxymusic archive; FYP US DJ copy; Roxy producer Chris Thomas; the Roxy Music New Musical Express Rock Family Tree
Next, March 2019: “Make me a deal”: Roxy Music solo careers kick off with Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things. Hard rain falls but Roxy keep it together.