“Work all day. Broke bottles. Went up Nigs in evng – listened to For Your Pleasure – Brilliant!”
Broke bottles? What does that mean? Does it mean that I maybe knocked some bottles off a shelf and broke them, or did my work today involve breaking down bottles, maybe to recycle them? (Unlikely it’s the latter as the concept of recycling didn’t really exist in 1973 – which, retrospectively, is obviously a crying shame)
So, tonight I heard Roxy Music‘s “For Your Pleasure” for the first time eh?
Remember me saying how Roxy’s debut album felt like nothing I’d ever heard before? The band’s second album did just that all over again. It even felt a departure from their first album without actually losing that intrinsic (certainly in the 70’s) Roxy ‘sound’
It’s almost impossible to start discussing this album without first commenting on the album sleeve. Like the band’s debut this was a glossy gatefold affair, the front a stylish shot (by photographer Karl Stoecker) of fashion model Amanda Lear. She is dressed in a tight black leather outfit, complete with stilleto heels and a pill box hat, and appears to be (for whatever reason) taking a black leopard for a walk along a rain-drenched urban street.
Folding out the sleeve reveals the picture continues across the back cover, where we see a waiting limo (I always used to think the limo’s interior would get really ruined if that leopard was allowed in it!).
For me, the sleeve’s stylish attitude feels somewhat undermined when you look at the limo driver, stood in the car’s doorway staring at Amanda with a smirk on his face. It’s none other than Bryan Ferry himself, doubtless grinning at all his fans because – at the time – he was dating her in real life. (Since this photo was taken of course, Ferry’s love life has become the subject of many a tabloid rumour)
When you opened up the sleeve, you saw this….
Do they look like bonafide pop stars or what? Nig, Mal and I investigated every little detail of this photo… from the fact that three of the band appear to be left-handed, via Brian Eno’s ludicrous ostrich feathers and all the way to Andy MacKay’s shiny silver pumps.
If the sleeve didn’t draw you in, then the musical contents did.
Opening with a flourish, “Do the Strand” (a hit single in its own right… but not until 1978!) sets the tone of this album immediately.
“There’s a new Sensation,
A fabulous creation,
A danceable solution
To teenage revolution”
is a killer collection of lyrics IMHO. It doesn’t let up either, as Ferry tries to persuade the entire world to to give up the ‘old’ dance crazes (“Tired of the tango, fed up with fandango“) and instead opt for “Strand Power” (or if you’re Russian, “the Strandsky“). That opening piano riff is as timeless now as it was exciting and original in 1973.
Vibrato piano and Ferry’s mangled vocal style both run right through “Beauty Queen“, the lyrics of which allegedly refer to one of the singer’s ex-girlfriends, Valerie Leon, a movie & TV actress who, like Ferry, was born in Newcastle.
(That’s “Carry On” star, Bond ‘chick’ – OK, and the Hai Karate Girl – Ms. Leon over on the right in that early promotional photo…. maybe pre-empting the “For Your Pleasure” cover by a few years?)
“Strictly Confidential” finds a very mournful Ferry penning a pre-death letter to a long-lost lover. It’s almost deliberately dirge-like in its construction, Ferry’s vocals stretched, strained and pained. MacKay’s oboe punctures the gloom, as does Paul Thompson’s light staccato drumming. The only real upbeat moment of the piece comes right at the end with the lyric “There is no light here, is there no key? “, which presumably marks the passing of the song’s doom-laden protagonist.
“Editions of You” should have been a single in its own right. It’s such an infectious heavy rock’n’roll song, riddled with catchphrase lyrics and some damn fine solo work from all the members of the band. MacKay, especially, gives a virtuoso sax performance, whilst Eno suitably hams it up on his ‘electronics’.
For most people, the mind-blowing “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” – which closes Side 1 – is perhaps archetypal seventies Roxy.
The first time I heard this song – even before I realised what it was about – I was in awe of the way it just sounded. Then when you get into the lyrical content – a blow-up sex doll – it takes on a whole new meaning. The song’s real panache is the break at around the three-minute mark. It stops being what is essentially a spoken word piece and – with Ferry’s eerie “but you blew my mind” lyric – descends into pure theatrical rock & roll with all the band’s instruments vying for attention. If anything, this cut was a pre-cursor to the material Brian Eno gave the world when he went solo. Structured, but strangely unstructured all at the same time. Yes, that may not make sense to anyone but me!
(Please be warned that later/live versions of “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” very much pale into insignificance compared to the album original)
Side 2 of “For Your Pleasure” features just three cuts.
The opener is a 9+ minute sheer magnificence of a song.
“The Bogus Man” stutters and shudders its way through a child’s scary nightmare. Its repetitive structure with the thrown-in clicks and noises now feels similar – to me – to material found much later on David Bowie’s “Low“… an album produced by Brian Eno.
Indeed, when “For Your Pleasure” was released Eno stated that he thought “The Bogus Man” reminded him of music by famed electronic krautrock pioneers Can. At the time I would not have known what the hell he was talking about. It would be a few years yet before I could personally appreciate the electronic noodlings of bands such as Can, Neu!, Faust and Kraftwerk.
The Bogus Man ends with Ferry giving a great big sigh before he goes straight into “Grey Lagoons” which initially presents itself as an atypical good-time rock ballad, complete with vintage-sounding sax work, guitar riffing and some oh-so-tight drumming. Then – like other songs on the album – it seems to kick it up a notch and becomes a different kind of beast, drenched in electronically-generated sounds before resorting, once again, to a feeling of “normality”
The album’s title track closes proceedings. “For Your Pleasure“, despite being written by Bryan Ferry, feels very much like an Eno track from start to finish.
The electronic interludes, the drifting drum sounds, the multi-tracked background (“ta-ra”) vocals and the enhanced piano are all elements Eno would keep coming back to in his later solo work.
I’ll always remember that the distorted end of the cut played havoc with bass speakers everywhere – their inability to deal with the sonics only adding to the distortion.
Trivia buffs may like to know that the female voice muttering “don’t ask why” just before the fade out is none other than Dame Judi Dench!
As regular readers will respect, there are few things I truly, truly remember from these early 70’s. Listening to “For Your Pleasure” for the first time however IS something I can recall.
Maybe it’s because I felt more connected to the band having seen them just a few nights earlier, but I’d rather believe it’s because the album impressed me so immediately and so positively. I remember Nig, Mal & me listening to it over and over – and over – again. I remember loving “Do the Strand” with its clever lyrics, I remember hearing that break in “In Every Home…” for the first time just as much as the human sigh at the finish of “The Bogus Man”.
I remember us looking diligently at the sleeve wondering if the band looked cool or not, eventually deciding “yes, cool”. I remember wanting fancy gold boots like Ferry’s and a white jumpsuit like Mackay’s. Most of all I remember wanting to own the album myself. How long would it take me?!
The thing is – this was just the first of two Roxy Music albums released in 1973.
Although “For Your Pleasure” was the final album to feature the considerable talents of Brian Eno, it would be the third album – Stranded – that would always prove to be my absolute Roxy favourite… but more about that when it comes out eh?!
I’ll say the same as I said about the debut album; that Roxy Music seemed just so very different to us at the time. So unique. Sure they wore their pop sensibilities on their collective sleeves, but they seemed to wear them almost as an excuse for something that was much more interesting and important. Especially – but not limited to – when Eno was with the band.
In retrospect I always feel it a bit of shame that they got pigeonholed along with the multitude of “glam rock” acts that were emerging around this time. OK, so the clothes the band wore didn’t help matters in that regard, but I always felt they were several miles above the rest (Bowie excluded) in terms of talent and originality.
To paraphrase a remark from a book I am currently reading (about Captain Beefheart) ‘they’ say that whilst most of the time you find the music you want, every so often the music you want finds you. In 1973, I truly believe that Roxy Music found me.