Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Vinyl Tap: Roxy Music - Siren

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #7:

The ol’ ennui never sounded so good than when coming from the dapper dandies Roxy Music, the arty-glam purveyors of languid and intense ultra-romantic despair and affairs of the heart.

I haven’t heard Siren, from 1975, in a least ten years, and the minute I spotted it I knew I had to play it right away, remembering how I almost wore out the grooves on this and the other post-Brian Eno, Brian Ferry-led Roxy albums, Stranded from 1973, and 1974’s Country Life. And I damn near committed such vinyl-cide again as I played Siren -- with all its heart-tug melodic melancholy, steadfast and fast-paced hope against hope, and emphatic lush-life lyrics -- three times in a row with more to go, reliving my mad impetuous foolhardy days of love and loss and love and loss and second verse same as the first.

Leading off with the seize-the-night hit, “Love Is The Drug” that’s “got a hook on me,“ the world-weary but ever-expectant vocals of Ferry announces: “Late that night I park my car / Stake my place in the singles bar / Face to face, toe to toe / Heart to heart as we hit the floor.” Or, as he declares later in another song, “I will dance the night away / Living only for today / Both ends burning while you're counting sheep” ("Both Ends Burning”). But by the reflectively resolute last song, “Just Another High,“ our commitment-phobic fop of a ladies man, tired of the singles scene and one-night stand-offs where “Playing at love was another high,” changes his tune as dire circumstance becomes dare-to-be realization:
Singing to you like this is
My only way to reach you
Though I'm too proud to say it
Oh how I long too see you
Shattered my dreams by your goodbye
Scattered my hopes -- they fill the sky
Desolate am I
Just another crazy guy
Playing at love was another high
Such a crazy high
Maybe I should start anew
And maybe I should find someone who
Will maybe love me like I love you
Maybe I'm too stuck on you
Maybe I got stuck on you.

What happens in the tracks between, mixing the bitter with the sweet, is Ferry trying to resist -- but not too much -- the appeal and the peril posed by the siren song of entrancing infatuation and tender traps. The mournful and wee-small-hours melodrama of “End Of The Line,” in which he’s “Reached the point of no return” and where “The more I see the more I stand alone,” seamlessly segues musically and thematically into the second thoughts and introspective struggles that infuse the sinuously plaintive and increasingly propulsive “Sentimental Fool”:
Surely you cannot be leading me on?
Well if that's so,
Oh never again will I love
How could I believe again?
How can I hold on?
Sentimental fool
Knowing fate is cruel,
You ought to forget it.
Yes, I know it's true,
I've seen what love can do
But I don't regret it.
Oh, you silly thing
Can't you see what's happening?
You're better without it.
No, that's not the case
If you were in my place,
Then you wouldn't doubt it.

The hard-driving “Whirlwind” is a telling indication that, protestations and claims of sophistication aside, Ferry yearns for a force that’ll bowl him over so that “I'll change / Let me start again.” “How far is Shangri-la from here / And is it this way?” he eagerly asks, looking for the fast-track to happiness, but knowing the bewitched and bothered bewilderment entailed, the self-assurance no longer assured -- as he admits in the jaunty “She Sells” wherein “She sells country and modern / Ancient western song / Of oriental confusion / You so right, me so wrong.” And while he’s casting off every shred of delusion, he must confess that it’s “getting rough / When my old world charm isn't quite enough (“Could It Happen To Me?”).

When the “Nightingale,” in a song alternately delicate and vigorous with determination, comes along, Ferry is no longer fooling himself as his heart-on-his-sleeve affinities take firm hold with recognition and revelation: “Shall we, nightingale / Duet all through the night / A pair of souls for sale?” The awareness hits, but he can barely believe his good fortune with the new and desired direction his life has taken:
What is this I hear?
I recognise that song
Sweet little nightingale
I knew you'd come along.
Soon when the morning comes.
We will both be gone
So sing pretty little nightingale
Lead -- I'll follow on.

And Ferry follows on, ending his quest as he finds an answer to his question, “How far is Shangri-la from here, and is it this way?”

Upcoming in Vinyl Tap: Roxy Music’s Stranded and Country Life.


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