By the early 1970s, British rock had sunk into the mellow denim heaven of Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and other middle-of-the-roadsters. The music was largely a masculine preserve, with little fun or frivolity. Roxy Music's first, eponymous album, in 1972, was a slap in the face for proto-hippie music. On the cover was a a Hollywood pin-up girl an expression of complete frivolity. Such a wry pop statement had not seen since Andy Warhol's "banana album" for the Velvet Underground.
So Roxy Music a collage of Leiber and Stoller, Krautrock and jazz was a jolt out of the blue. Brian Ferry, a self-created hybrid of The Great Gatsby and a Las Vegas lounge lizard, envisaged his band as a musical Pop-art project, which flirted with Chuck Berry riffs and highbrow electronic experimentation. The band's outrageous image stacked silver boots, rockabilly quiffs appealed to teenagers, but the sense of a razor intelligence impressed adventurous fans. Roxy's second album, For Your Pleasure, altered British pop, heralding Sparks and, two decades later, Pulp. Sadly, it also signalled the demise of the Roxy Pop-art experiment and the transformation of Ferry into "Bryan Ferrari": an establishment crooner.
Michael Bracewell, a seasoned commentator, is well placed to explore the British art, pop and fashion scenes that converged in Roxy's "amplified pop stylishness". Re-make/Re-model charts Ferry's working-class background in County Durham and his teenage interest in the visual and sexual glamour of Hollywood. At Newcastle University, where Ferry graduated in 1968 in fine art, his tutor was the Pop artist Richard Hamilton.
In 1960s Notting Hill, Ferry would meet the aspiring artists, musicians and fashion designers who formed Roxy's core. Pre-eminent was Brian Eno, son of a postman, who brought a loopy synth sound to the suavities of Ferry's songwriting. Phil Manzanera was a half-Colombian public schoolboy, whose tastes ranged from Soft Machine's jazz-rock to the whimsy of Syd Barrett. Another recruit was the saxophonist Andy Mackay, who loved Debussy and Schoenberg.
All these odd, highfalutin' influences fed into Ferry's "postmodernist" music experiment. In pages of interview mixed with commentary, Bracewell builds a fascinating portrait of the band that combined pop futurism with traditionalism. Only Ferry could have "2HB" about, not a pencil, but his idol Humphrey Bogart.
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