Roxy Music: “Out of the Blue”
Many may think of Bryan Ferry as merely the slick, sharply dressed singer of such ’80s New Wave ballads as “Slave to Love,” but to have any true appreciation of his impact on popular music, you have to go back to his days with Roxy Music, his groundbreaking band, in the early 1970s. Along with David Bowie and Kraftwerk, Roxy Music were the primary stage-setters for the New Wave explosion of the ’80s — both musically and stylistically. Roxy Music, behind Ferry’s songwriting and the experimental musicianship of Brian Eno, used electronic synthesizers in a way and to an extent that simply didn’t exist in popular music of the day. Certainly others had dabbled in it — think Pete Townshend with the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” — but Roxy Music used synths as primary instruments in traditional song structures without making them sound like something else. Kraftwerk were also pioneers of the synthesizer, but they used it in a much more avant garde manner. And stylistically, Roxy Music helped to usher in the androgynous and somewhat ironically well-dressed look that became associated with many of the punk and New Wave artists of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
But there was much more to Roxy Music than surface affectations — Ferry was an excellent songwriter, and they took songs down unexpected avenues, venturing successfully into areas of experimentalism that few other bands had previously pulled together into any sort of cohesive whole. Bowie was quite a fan of Ferry and Roxy Music — they had a notable influence on Bowie’s “Thin White Duke” stage, and in fact Eno was Bowie’s collaborator on what became known as his “Berlin” era — the albums Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger. By this time, however, Eno was long gone from Roxy Music, having left after their second album, 1973’s For Your Pleasure, and Roxy Music had forged on successfully without him.
In 1974, Roxy Music released their fourth album, Country Life, that of the very risque cover artwork (so much so, in fact, that many record stores refused to carry it, and a “censored” version, a photo of just the shrubbery behind the scantily clad models, was issued to replace it). Musically, Country Life is one of the definitive Roxy Music albums, one of their most cohesive statements. And it contains what I consider their masterpiece: “Out of the Blue.” It’s a sweeping, epic song full of unusual sounds and meshed elements brought together into a whirlwind of energy. Ferry’s singing doesn’t get much better than this, in my mind; the song’s urgency bringing something out of him that the slower numbers don’t quite get at. And never has a song put the whoosh of the flange effect to better use — it seems a necessary part of the song, almost an instrument unto itself, rushing the melody along from one section to the next. Not to mention rushing it from one decade to the next: it still sounds fresh today, 37 years after its release.