Decadence is nothing new in rock. The original Velvet Underground flaunted it, David Bowie exploited it, the New York Dolls seem to have sunk in it. What is different about Roxy Music, pop's latest specialists in depravity, is the wit with which Bryan Ferry, Roxy's guiding light and lead vocalist, evokes not only decay but also a last fling in the face of fate. To quote the opening track on Country Life, Ferry, standing on the precipice, relishes "the thrill of it all."
or redemption, but by depicting romance corrupted. It's easy to moan about heroin, like Lou Reed, or trumpet the coming superman, like Bowie; the prescribed response is either shock or, if one is inured to such antics, a yawn. But to fashion an album filled, like Country Life
, with relatively straightforward love songs that come out sounding like the Decline of the West is no mean feat.
It is as if Ferry ran a cabaret for psychotics, featuring chanteurs in a state of shock. The words, which speak only of l'amour, tumble effortlessly, but the Novocained lips smack of dementia. Clearly, this is not everybody's cup of tea. Yet Roxy Music has been a sensation in Bowiephile Britain ever since their first album was released in 1972.
In the past two years, Ferry has refined Roxy's sound, eliminating the group's original electronic veneer, moving toward a slicker pop product. Although the group's instrumental attack remains elemental, the basic tracks are now finely honed, without frills. Meanwhile, Ferry's own voice, an instrument of no great dimensions, has come to mine a distinctively brittle quaver.
Torch songs from the crypt: Perhaps that is the disquieting aspect to Ferry's dandyism. It also explains why Roxy Music can be so hard to digest. After all, what is one to make of a grown man fluttering in a style not dissimilar to Bobby "Boris" Pickett's on "Monster Mash," cooing about loves lost and "these vintage years"? With Ferry at the helm, Roxy often sounds silly and pompous simultaneously; when he interpolates a German verse on "Bitter-Sweet" ("Das Ende der Welt"), the effect is merely gauche.
But even here, the pose may be intentional. Ferry oscillates unpredictably between camping it up and sounding dead seriousand when Roxy Music gets serious, they can be scary, even repugnant.
Ferry himself has mastered the role of the sallow blueblood, pitting l'amour against l'ennui. Yet as he depicts his modern "hero" in "Casanova," the compulsive hedonist is doomed to a life of ephemeral satisfactions. In this context, the most benignly romantic lyrics can assume a threatening significance. When Ferry warbles, "All I want is the real thing/And a night that lasts for years,"* the clattering guitars and drums help him transform a cliché into a desperate plea.
Eros here becomes an uncertain escape, rather tha