“Berfday. Got lamp, pygamas, £2 from Mormor – bought Stranded – Roxy – Smart!”
So the wild and crazy out-of-control teenager turns 16 and celebrates with … erm… some pyjamas (mis-spelled), a lamp (a lamp??) and a couple of quid from his Danish grandmother.
However, it seems like I made up for it a little later in the day, treating myself to the merest glimpse of Marilyn Cole’s nipples….erm, I mean Roxy Music’s third album, Stranded
Stranded was the group’s first album without Brian Eno, he and Bryan Ferry having fallen out over who was really ‘leading’ the band. With all due respect to Eno, I do feel as though the ‘better man won’ in that regard. Ferry is a stylish crooner in comparison to Brian’s somewhat grotesque “Addams Family” appearance and thin vocals.
(In time, Eno would turn out to be a MUCH bigger hero of mine than Ferry, but we’ll save my feelings on that until reference to him appears in my diary pages)
To enter the grooves of Stranded one must first get by the striking cover art. Another Anthony Price photo shoot, another superb piece of glamorous titillation. Despite coming from Portsmouth in England, model Marilyn Cole grew up to be a very attractive woman indeed. She was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in January 1972 (indeed, hers was the first full frontal centrespread to appear in the magazine) as well as Playmate of the Year in 1973.
Although dating Bryan Ferry at the time of the photo shoot (but not by the time of the album’s release), it is alleged she was *ahem* actively pursued by Playboy boss Hugh Hefner but ended up marrying the then head of the organisation’s London operations (and renowned playboy in his own right) Victor Lownes.
Lucky blighter that Victor!
Back to the album itself, which kicks off with “Street Life“, the only cut released as a single (reaching #9 on the UK Singles chart in November 1973). Moody atmospheric electronics start the track off, before it kicks into overdrive, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the “ghost of Eno” was still amongst the group. His place in the group had been taken by Eddie Jobson, a multi-instrumentalist previously with the band Curved Air. Whilst Jobson’s keyboard noodlings were never as innovative as Eno’s, his contribution to Roxy Music really came to the fore with his ability to play the violin, musically adding a ….erm… whole new string to Ferry’s bow.
“Street Life” is a real swaying cruncher of a song, despite only really having one chorus in the middle, and features Ferry almost growling out his thinly veiled allegorical lyrics. His attack on the media (in light of his new found fame and predilection for stunning female companionship) is palpable:
“Hey good-looking boys – gather around
The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down
All those lies can be so unkind,
They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind”
It’s a pop song which I feel has fully stood the test of time. Conversely, it’s really the only cut on Stranded which harked back to their previous two albums. I’ll admit that personally I think Roxy Music were a much more interesting act with Eno in the line up. It may be because Brian often managed to quell some of Ferry’s predeliction to overt romanticism, or at least disguise it somehow. On “Stranded” however, Ferry was holding on to the reins all by himself… and did a bloody good job!
Personally I’ve always been of the opinion that the rest of this album and the next two albums (“Country Life” & “Siren”) almost represented a kind of “Roxy Music Mk II”.
As if to prove my point – and to prove that Roxy Mk II could be every bit as good as Mk I – “Just Like You” is the next track. This song never fails to move me. It luxuriates in its own languid gorgeousness, Ferry’s crooning beyond reproach. The lyrics are a little bit “moon in june”-ish but he believes every single line and sings them with such conviction its impossible to criticise.
Just when Ferry has lulled you into a soporific state of mind, along comes the somewhat bizarre “Amazona“. It goes off on so many tangents, lilting and tilting here there and everywhere before almost settling on a driving rhythm at the 3-minute mark, then scaring you again with the world highest-pitched guitar solo from co-writer Phil Manzanera. An odd song, but a brilliant one.
“Psalm“, closing Side 1 is alleged to be the first song Ferry ever wrote for Roxy Music back in the band’s formative stage. It starts with what sounds like a church organ overlaid with Ferry’s vocals. Slowly, drums, guitar, oboe, violin and a (real? electronic?) choir all contribute to what appears to be some kind of tribute to a multitude of different religions. The song is written – and Ferry sings it – in such a manner that it sounds like a traditional composition from the 40’s or 50’s (surely his intent?), his voice now starting to more regularly display that strange vibrato he does so well.
Side 2 opener is “Serenade“, probably my least favourite cut of the eight. The rhythm feels all wrong to me – always has – and I think the guitar solo halfway through is the only thing that vaguely redeems it.
Where “Serenade” fails, the next two cuts more than make up. “A Song for Europe” is, quite simply, a majestic work of art. Ferry’s immaculate phrasing underscored perfectly by the accompanying musicianship. The simple bass riff at the 3:24 minute mark sets up Mackay’s sax which then does battle with Ferry singing in a variety of tongues – I think it’s Latin, French and Italian? Somewhat weirdly, I often find myself muttering Ferry’s (somewhat awful) pun halfway through the number, where he alludes to Venice with “and the bridge… it sighs”
If that wasn’t enough, it’s followed by “Mother of Pearl” one of my favourite ever ‘corkers’ by Roxy Music, indeed it would almost certainly be one of my ‘Desert Island Discs‘ if I were ever invited on to the programme. Ferry’s lyrics are 100% top notch from start to finish, even if I’ve never really been certain what he’s banging on about. For me it’s just one of those songs that sounds right, if that makes sense?
“Sunset” closes an almost perfect album, perfectly. It’s an ode to death, but it could just as easily be referring to the end of a lovely summer’s day. One word: GORGEOUS!
Is “Stranded” Roxy’s best album? Depends who you talk to. For me, it’s certainly the best of their output from this era, although there are cuts from both “For Your Pleasure” and “Country Life” I wish were on it too, just to selfishly make it 100% perfect.
I do think that, in 1974, I was in a weird minority of music fans. I knew lots of people at school who liked Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Roxy Music, but rarely both. It was almost as if everybody had to fit into one camp or the other. Likewise there seemed to be ‘rivalry’ between ELP and Yes fans, T.Rex & Slade fans, even Roxy Music and Bowie fans.
Me? I was just into it all.