For Your Pleasure

A song-by-song analysis of the lyrics and music of Roxy Music and the solo work of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera in the 1970s


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Ladytron

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//Ladytron, David Tran//

Ladytron‘ is Roxy Music‘s second track and the first of the album’s many punning titles – ‘tron’ is, in part, word play on the mellotron keyboard used so prominently in the song – and is another take on Bryan Ferry’s love quest narrative, this time the object of desire being (take your pick): a mechanical robot fantasy woman; a love letter to the writer’s artistic ego; or, thankfully, an homage to the beauty of tune, song and melody, its difficulties and distance, and its eventual betrayal and submission at the hands of the multi-talented poet rock star.

the-siren

The Sirenby John Waterhouse.

His life ebbed away as she dragged him still further, And laughed when she saw she’d accomplished her goal. – Charlotte Lester

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 (damn, why am I so sensitive and 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) to stuff his ears full of beeswax, 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).

Dr. 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, like all good Romantics, 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). Seduction roles are hereby reversed: the song writer uses and confuses his lady/melody; assumes 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 (David Bowie the exception) in his willingness to reveal 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 the 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

“[Our] best work best work tends to come from a bit of struggle…” -Andy Mackay, Uncut, 2012

Haunted Landscape…Lunar Landing… the first 66 seconds of ‘Ladytron’ announces Brian Eno’s considerable 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 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.

‘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

Titbits
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

Ladytron: The classic early performance
Ladytron: Ballsy as hell; Eno synth excellent, and Phil lets ‘er rip around the 4 min mark.

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…!).

Marie-François_Firmin-Girard_-_Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_1868

Byron! Byron! Over here!

Elvis Costello, “Useless Beauty
If you reference useless beauty, you better reference Useless Beauty. Indispensable.

useless beauty

 

 


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Re-Make/Re-Model

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//Rethink/Re-entry, oil on canvas, 1962//

‘I’ve always liked what Goethe said: “The greatest thing a person can achieve is astonishment”.’
Derek Boshier

In “Re-Make/Re-Model” we are presented with the image of a Goddess sweeping by in her car, the glimpse of which stirs our Artist as Young Man to write his song instead of talk talk talking himself to death or wasting time trying to chat her up. Bryan Ferry allegedly got the inspiration for the Roxy Music opening track from the Derek Boshier’s pop art painting Re-Think/Re-Entry (1962). The painting 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 transformative 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, transformative 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.

Bryan Ferry’s education as a student of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle meant that his earliest writings and recordings with Roxy Music were a direct attempt to combine his love of music with the creative possibilities and ideas that he had learned from fine art.

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” is a hoot to listen to and moves against 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 itself 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 6th form O Level rhyming couplets (find a way/look away/know/go) set within the time-shifting verse. The maturity and playfulness of the song becomes evident when we realize that the object of desire (the sweetest queen) is missing in action. While we might reasonably expect our day-dreaming lad to describe his seen queen with shimmering bedroom eyes, Greta Garbo hair, and pouting mouth, instead he riffs and obsesses on the license plate number of the car she is 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, the song demonstrating (Ohh show methat the trigger for memory can be more important (and more useful) than the memory itself.

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As a group Roxy Music had humour in spades and its a shame that this aspect of the band’s output has been largely over-looked (Byron Ferrari only has himself to blame). “The early 70s,” John Peel complained, “were kind of boring apart from Roxy Music.” This was the era of The Band, CSNY, and George Harrison’s beard. Jesus Christ Superstar was the biggest US seller of 1971. (This state of affairs would last until around the mid-70s despite Alice Cooper’s best efforts to get the kids to fuck it all, school was out). In the UK it was no better: 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 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, 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 young band albums released in the same month, Roxy were even Bowie’s opening act on the Spiders of Mars tour. The shows were glammed up, 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 ears in 1972 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 4 of the tracks for his solo album Let’s Stick Together) but the record’s buzz, ingenuity, energy and 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 Cochrane (C’mon Everybody) and even Wagner (Ride of the Valkyries). And 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 a sign, sealed, and delivered manifesto for the group aesthetic.  From here the journey would be variants on a theme of the Roxy Machine.

Derek Boshier
Derek Boshier is also noted for his later work with David Bowie on Lodger (1979) and Let’s Dance (1982) and The Clash, among others.

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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 point out that the musical guests are Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson, John Wetton, Chris Spedding. Highly recommended.