Roxy Music (1972)
It occurred to me that I have quite a few innovators competing for the title “Inventors of glam rock”. The truth is, however, that there are a few contenders who did it simultaneously. The reason I’m acknowledging so many is that glam rock was a seminal event in rock music and spawned a bunch of different things to come. Case in point: No one predicted 80s pop, in all its glory and awfulness, better than Roxy Music. They also presented a nascent version of dance music.
This British group were definitely Bowie protogès, but they also were very close U.K. contemporaries to Sparks in aesthetic terms. Where Alice Cooper made traditional rock theatrics knowingly goofy and grimy, Bowie turned them into a sensual, pseudo-religious ritual. Roxy Music, led by extravagant showman Bryan Ferry, certainly chose the latter route. They took this shiny, superficial method and turned it inside out. They approached glam tropes skeptically and clinically, hitting all the normal beats in a stiff, determinedly odd way. This was due in part to their obtuse instrumentation – the band boasted the incomparable Brian Eno in its early years, before he went solo and quietly changed the world. There was also a lead saxophone player; suffice it to say, this was a weird group. The resulting fussy, tech-happy soul music predicted disco just as much as the aforementioned genres.
Roxy’s instrumentalists are talented, but never have the opportunity to sink into a truly great song, in my opinion. Their messy, jumbled, sorta ugly tracks are a lot like 80s music that way too. (Another band would innovate its trademark technophilic, fabricated softness later, and the picture would be complete.)
Despite my heralding of obscure bands like 10cc and Sparks, Roxy Music fostered a very niche attitude and audience that would follow through to many underground pop bands in the 80s and beyond. Their skewed sound ensured that they would never have mainstream acceptance, but they were talented enough to make it big with a cult audience who shared their quirks and were willing to overlook their flaws.
But I digress. There are only a few melodic missteps here, and even the most unpleasant of these songs is still at least quite interesting. Plus, the record is extremely diverse. In fact, its schizophrenic, meandering structure and sound are part of the reason it’s so hard to pin down and simply enjoy on a visceral level. That, and Bryan Ferry’s part-histrionic, part-tweaked-out crooning vocals. At any rate, the band continued on, even without Eno, to deliver essentially more of the same.
Key track: “Re-Make/Re-Model”
See also: For Your Pleasure – Roxy Music (1973), Country Life – Roxy Music (1974)