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Vinyl Tap: Roxy Music – Country Life

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #11:

    Oh here it comes again
    That old ennui
    I hope it won’t stay long
    Well it’s every-man to his own thing
    And every singer to his song…

In Country Life, lead Roxy Music man and cosmopolitan love-drugged singer Bryan Ferry, wringing every nuance of bon vivant passion and sultry melancholy he can muster out of his song — at times kitschy tongue-in-cheek melodrama without the campy artifice aftertaste — sings his song to great evocation and effect.

Despite the wide-ranging instrumental muscularity of Country — a full-bore force that sees the swirling torrential psych-out “Out Of The Blue,” the stately, harpsichord-imbued baroque of “Triptych,” and the rollicking ‘50s-style rock of “If It Takes All Night” — what mainly marks this edgy and alluring 1974 album as one of the best of the ’70s and Roxy Music’s best album of all, is the consistency of Ferry’s songwriting and his alternately commanding and tremulous vocal prowess and intimacy.

That isn’t the kind of prowess and intimacy uppermost in ladies’ man Ferry’s mind, however. Whether it’s wailing exultation in head-over-heels love or woebegone wee-small-hours bemoaning over ardor gone awry, Ferry has only one thing on his mind. In the wigged-out fevered fervor of “The Thrill Of It All,“ Ferry displays the courage of his obsessive convictions in an assurance: “I will drink my fill / Till the trill is you.”

On the other end of the passion pendulum swing and not quite so restraining order-ready is “Casanova,” in which Ferry, in sorting out some troublesome relationship issues, punctuates the lines in uncharacteristic fashion: “I know my place / Is here with you / Tonight / But not together.” After which he utters a self-questioning and amusingly expressed “huh?” as if he can’t believe he just said something so foreign and outlandish.

“Bitter-Sweet” is more the acidic former than the latter, Ferry not only brooding in world-weary slit-wrist self-pity — “Well this is such / A sad affair / I’ve opened up my heart / So many times / But now it’s closed” — but when the song lapses into German, evoking 1930s-era decadence-drenched Berlin, the quasi-cliché is complete.

As credible as Ferry makes that minor-key melodrama-rama, however, his desire to be a Texas cowboy, even a wannabe cowpoke — even in duds on a dude ranch — isn’t so convincing in “Prairie Rose.” But considering the sought-after Prairie Rose in question is his lady love at the time, Texas model Jerry Hall — before she came under the thumb as Mick Jagger’s beast of burden — we might begrudge him an honorary status, ten-gallon hat and all.

Moreover, in the emphatic every-singer-to-his song way he warbles “All I Want Is You,” perhaps we shouldn’t be so hasty in questioning his seriousness and dismiss him as a spur-spurning city feller:

    Don’t want to learn
    About etiquette
    From glossy magazines
    Why should I try
    To talk correct
    Like they do
    In another scenes
    Say no more
    About imagery
    You’re starting to confuse
    Just make an offer
    Of more romance
    Of course I can’t refuse
    All I want is you
    Oo oo I’m all cracked up on you.

He certainly sounds sincere. But uh oh — here it comes again, that old ennui…

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://www.theopinionmill.com Steven Hart

    Yep, this is the best Roxy record by far — the moment they were perfectly poised between their origin as an ambitious art-rock band and their transformation into Bryan Ferry’s backup group, which started with Siren and became certified by Manifesto. They even managed to stir some outrage with their cover, which the rack jobbers refused to display until Atlantic Records covered it with dark green plastic with an identifying sticker.

    As you say, it’s also Roxy’s best showcase as a band — the range of styles is as impressive as the way the manage to Roxyfy everything from heavy rock to country & western.

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks for the comment Steven. I remember the brouhaha about the cover–turned something that was, um, distinctive and turned it into one of the ugliest covers ever.

  • longsun

    I was a bit disappointed with this album when it was first released, it didn’t seem to be as good as their previous record, Stranded. But then I saw them live, just outside of Washington, DC at a small concert hall at the Univ. of Maryland–it was their World Domination tour of 1975–and the full frightening power and glory of Country Life was revealed. Ferry struted on the stage in his “neo-Nazi” uniform and as their ad in Rolling Stone said, it truely seemed that “Before Congress can act it will be over”.