Roxy Music: Roxy Music - Album Of The Week Club review

Roxy Music's debut album was a proclamation that rock’n’roll as we knew it was undergoing a strange and irrevocable transformation

Roxy Music album cover
(Image: © Island Records)

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Roxy Music: Roxy Music

Roxy Music album cover

(Image credit: Island Records)

If There Is Something
Virginia Plain
The Bob (Medley)
Chance Meeting
Would You Believe?
Sea Breezes
Bitters End

If its opening number, Re-Make/Re-Model, was, as Melody Maker journalist Richard Williams observed, Roxy Music’s musical manifesto, it was proclaiming that rock’n’roll as we knew it was undergoing a strange and irrevocable transformation. 

It's a song that would be a closer on any other album, but its encores, interludes and resounding close signalled that on Roxy’s groundbreaking debut it was anything goes. 

Brian Eno’s experimentalism and atmospherics perfectly suit the novel feel of the songs, and fit their often peculiar construction. Bryan Ferry’s vocals and tangential lyrics add to the ramshackle uniqueness, while snippets of quaint balladeering, old-school rock’n’roll and doo-wop also crop up when least expected.

Reaching Number 10 on its release, Roxy Music catapulted the group from being cultish outsiders and into the mainstream. Though future albums would outsell it, when it came to a forward-thinking, truly progressive fusion of diverse ideas, eclectic style and unnerving bravado, the band would rarely be as challenging or inventive.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in June 1972 

  • Eagles - Eagles
  • Obscured by Clouds - Pink Floyd
  • The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - David Bowie
  • Earthbound - King Crimson
  • Some Time in New York City - John Lennon and Yoko Ono
  • 666 - Aphrodites Child
  • Carney - Leon Russell
  • Free at Last - Free
  • If an Angel Came To See You, Would You Make Her Feel at Home? - Black Oak Arkansas
  • Number 1 Record - Big Star
  • School's Out - Alice Cooper
  • Together - Golden Earring


What they said...

"Roxy Music - with its daring merger of different sounds and styles - is an anomaly in the group’s consistently rich body of work. Forty-five years later, it still offers something to discover with each listen and pleasantly challenges, like those early Velvet Underground records. Even the late Simon Puxley posed this question in his cut-and-paste-styled liner notes from the original album: “Is this a recording session or a cocktail party?” (The Quietus)

"Emerging out of the milieu of a cocktail party, the rocking rumble of Re-Make/Re-Model, a love song likening a car ('CPL 593H') to a woman, smashes in. All the band work through their party pieces, there’s drum solos and everything, it references rock and roll, but it still sounds like the future." (BBC)

"What makes Roxy Music such a confident, astonishing debut is how these primitive avant-garde tendencies are married to full-fledged songs, whether it's the free-form, structure-bending Re-Make/Re-Model or the sleek glam of Virginia Plain, the debut single added to later editions of the album. That was the trick that elevated Roxy Music from an art school project to the most adventurous rock band of the early 70s." (AllMusic)


What you said...

Alex Hayes: Well, Classic Rock, you've got me this week. I've listened to Roxy Music's debut album several times now, and, honestly, I still don't know what to make of it.

It's certainly an interesting album. Across its ten tracks, the listener is subjected to a seemingly endless concoction of different sounds, moods and textures. In 1972, this album must have sounded like it had been beamed down from another planet. Unoriginal is not an applicable adjective for the music on offer here.

Do I actually like it though? Not in places, especially during its more disjointed and cacophonous sections. That meant that the album didn't get off to the best of starts with me. Some of the instrumentation on the opening track, Re-Make/Re-Model, is just bloody awful. In contrast though, I found the likes of Ladytron and Virginia Plain (the latter being the only track that I was previously familiar with) to be quite compelling.

The penultimate track, Sea Breezes, is almost like the album itself in microcosm for me. The first half is perhaps the highlight of the entire record, only for the song to then veer off in a direction that I find myself somewhat reluctant to follow. I can't shake off a general feeling that this album is trying too hard to be arch and haughtily intelligent with me.

For balance, I also decided to check out Roxy Music's 'commercial' era by availing myself of the slick and very 80s Avalon. Same outcome really. Even though Avalon was plainly created with a different objective in mind, I still couldn't make up my mind about it. Again, it's an interesting listen, if nothing else.

A score out of 10? Jesus Christ, I haven't got a clue yet. That will have to be a 'spur of the moment' decision this week.

Shane Reho: While I wasn't alive at the time, I imagine it had to be nice to be a record buyer in the UK on June 16th 1972, when both David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and this album came out. If it wasn't for The Doors, I'd most likely call this the best debut in rock history. 

From the first minute of Re-Make/Re-Model, you know you're in for a ride unlike any other. Add the drama of If There Is Something (the live version on Viva! is better, but what's here is still one of their best tracks), the fun of songs like Virginia Plain and Would You Believe, the almost dream-like Sea Breezes, and whatever the hell Ladytron (any guitar nut has to love Manzanera's work at the end of that one) and The Bob are, musically, they truly arrived fully formed. 

The only flaw is the production, I'm not sure if the reissues have corrected this, but the sound on the original is pretty bad. No matter, the music more than makes up for it, and for better or for worse, Roxy never made another album quite like this (I'd personally rank Stranded as their best, followed by For Your Pleasure and Siren, then this one). It's about time Roxy got the spotlight here.

Bill Griffin: I could never shake the feeling that Roxy Music was a novelty act, even when I liked the song (Love Is The Drug). This album reinforces that feeling. It's not offensive, just not my cup of tea at all.

Mark Herrington: When Roxy Music got all the elements right they were one of the best Art Rock exponents around. Their driving, energetic tracks never failed to fill the dance floors , such as Virginia Plain on this album and Street Life and Love Is The Drug elsewhere.

The first half of their debut carries such coherent tunes here, but it falls away and interest wanes in the second half.

I prefer their aforementioned ‘energy tracks’ to the later ‘laid back’ era of Avalon etc. Always, a band I reach for their Greatest Hits CD first, when in the mood.

Greg Schwepe: Roxy Music was a favourite at the little 10-watt college radio station where I was a DJ for four years. Seems like everyone would play a bit of Roxy on their show. And then Avalon was released around 1982 and that one got played a lot. I fell in love with it. Of course, at the time no one knew this would be their last album. I could put that album on “repeat” on every musical device I own and play it 24 hours a day. To me, that album was Roxy Music and could be one of my Desert Island Discs. I later went backward and bought, taped, or later downloaded more of their catalogue.

When I finally got to their debut Roxy Music I immediately thought “Wow, that’s no Avalon”, fully realising that a band may not have who they want to be sussed out at the time of their debut. And while I love much of their catalogue, this one is not normally one of my “go-to” Roxy albums. Due to the avant-garde, art school, experimental vibe of the album, there are three words that come to me when listening to about a third of the album: screechy, squawky, and dissonant. But that’s not a bad thing, just depends on what song it is. Sometimes “dissonant” can be a cool thing!

In reviewing this I pretended that I was listening to the group for the very first time and I had to totally forget Avalon ever existed. I think of the songs on the album in two groups.

Group #1 is what I call “classic Roxy style” and are the ones that you see the most on compilations and on live albums. Basically Re-Make/Re-Model, Ladytron, If There Is Something, and Virginia Plain. A whole album full of songs of that caliber gets you a decent rating!

Group #2 is the stuff that makes you go “C’mon, a little more melody, a little less experimenting here!” This is basically the last six tracks on the album. Not unlistenable, but these do not have the impact for me that the first section of the album did.

Of course, you have a very talented group of musicians on board here with a lot of creativity. The crooning vocal style of Bryan Ferry that I like appears on about half the tracks, but in other places sounds like he’s still trying to find his style.

Overall, I really like about a quarter of the album, with the remainder of the tracks I could take or leave really. Even though I love the band and how they progressed, I can honestly say had I heard this when it first came out, it probably wouldn’t have knocked me out. I may not have been busting down the door of my local record store the day their follow up album was released. But had I bought their follow up, I’d find that all of For Your Pleasure has the same feel as all the tracks I really like on Roxy Music. 7 out of 10.

Steve Claggett: This was brilliant for a debut album, they were creating new sounds for the time.

Allan Innes: The best debut ever?

Mike Ollier: Stonewall classic and still sounds weird 50 years later.

Uli Hassinger: Yeah that's really weird shit and obviously not made for everyone's ears. I can very well imagine how it must have been when this album showed up in 72. That was really something new, a stew of glam rock, jazz, beat music and more blended together to a sometimes chaotic and subversive new kind of music, along with Brian Eno as one of the main founders of electronic music. The sounds he was creating are still impressing and were probably breathtaking back then.

I'm a fan of the whole album. Best songs are Ladytron, Virginia Plain, The Bob and Sea Breezes. 8/10.

John Davidson: I like some of Roxy Music but this album is largely tuneless noise and Bryan Ferry's oh-so arch vocals just add to the many issues I have with this album.

Avante-pop not classic rock. Virginia plain has been earwormed over the years but that raises this from a 1 to a 2 or 3 for me

Philip Qvist: I think you can split Roxy Music's discography into 2 distinct phases;

1. Their first phase - starting with this, their 1972 debut, and ending with 1975's Siren.

2. Their smoother second phase, starting with 1979's Manifesto through to 1982's Avalon.

I grew up listening to their second phase, but I have also explored their earlier output - and, unlike many if social media is to be believed, I like large parts of both phases.

So onto their self-titled debut and its iconic cover - and it was time for me to finally listen to this album from start to finish. Re-make/Re-model certainly blows the cobwebs away and that is followed by Ladytron, If There Is Something and the familiar Virginia Plain and I'm going "Wow", but then along comes 2HB and it all falls apart.

From then onwards the album becomes an incoherent symphony of noises, before it tries to pick itself up again with the final two tracks, Sea Breezes and Bitters End.

A rather incoherent and unbalanced record - where it works it works well, but where it doesn't it becomes a mess.

For Your Pleasure and Siren are definitely more coherent albums in my opinion; but hey, judging by the comments here and on various critics pages, many people like this album. 6/10 for me.

Richard Keeling: On October 31, 1972, I saw the band that made this album – minus Graham Simpson and with Rik Kenton, I think – in Reading. It remains a personal favourite, and is well worth finding the expanded edition box set as well. Sounded like nothing else at the time and still comes across that way today, a truly unique recording.

Gary Claydon: I've always been somewhat fascinated by Roxy Music, particularly in their early, avant-garde period. Even when they became dance-pop flag bearers I had to admit that, even if it wasn't always to my personal taste, what they did, they did very well.

Roxy Music were the serious end of the glam spectrum. Their image and their sound projected an amalgamation of faded glamour - in the Hollywood sense - and sci-fi. On stage they looked like a bunch of extras from sci-fi B-movies fronted by a 50s matinée idol.

Their eponymous debut was startlingly original for its time. It brought the sounds and styles of the past and the more experimental studio techniques and instruments of the day crashing together, like a musical Hadron collider, the resulting particles giving a tantalising glimpse of a futuristic soundscape. Postmodernism before postmodernism was a thing. Progressive in the true sense of the word. 

The album opening pastiche Re-Make/Re-Model is the best illustration, particularly the mid-song breakdown where each instrument gets a short solo using snippets of music from yesteryear - Day Tripper, Peter Gunn, Ride of the Valkyries to name three. For Ladytron (itself a title straight out of sci-fi) Ferry famously asked Eno for a sound "like a lunar landscape". I've always thought that Ferry's vocals on Roxy Music added a further otherworldly quality. His exaggerated vibrato and the way he emphasises words in unexpected places coming on like an android lounge-lizard.

There is so much happening on this album. Andy McKay's processed sax playing a Casablanca melody on 2HB, If There Is Something' which invites you to the hoedown before veering off into schizoid eccentricity. Then there's Virginia Plain, as brilliant a slice of glam-rock as you'll find anywhere (although not originally included on the album's first pressings). Not everything works. The Bob gets a bit messy and, while the rest of side two has it charms, it doesn't threaten to scale the heights of side one. Special mention here to Paul Thompson, whose hard rock drumming style underpins it all, keeps it grounded, prevents it from drifting off into sheer avant-garde wankery.

Roxy Music is usually overshadowed by the group's sophomore effort and understandably so. For Your Pleasure is a truly great album, but that doesn't diminish the debut. It still sounds pretty fresh even almost half a century on. At the time it was an extraordinary way for Roxy Music to introduce themselves.


Final Score: 7.07 (85 votes cast, with a total score of 601)

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