Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Vinyl Tap: Roxy Music - Stranded

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #9:

Regrets? He’s had a few…

After having reviewed Siren last week, I find myself still in a mood for Roxy Music -- the Bryan Ferry edition -- especially for the essential mid-‘70s albums. So indulge me, please, as I delve into the delights of Stranded from 1973 -- as I will beg your indulgence next week with 1974's Country Life.

The ambitious, at times overreaching, Stranded is the most stylistically varied and inconsistently executed of the three, with sultry melodramatic moodiness cheek and jowl with frenetic and frantic Roxy-style rave-ups, but it also contains the best songs of the LP lot. It’s as if Ferry, unleashed from -- for good or bad -- the tension that marked the first two albums under the shared tutelage of Ferry and the by now-departed Brian Eno, was out to prove a musical mettle of great breadth and depth. Indeed, lead singer Ferry, more so than on Siren or Country Life, pours every ounce of apt expressiveness and inflection into every song, along with a dose of sly humor.

It’s a wide-spread thematic scale too, as he ranges from, at one extreme, the ruminative “end of another affair / An open engagement with gloom” introspectively and despondently probed in the mid-tempo “Serenade.” And in the mournful “Song of Europe,” an even more world-weary Ferry bemoans “Though the world is my oyster / It’s only a shell full of memories” before lapsing into a barely-restrained meltdown amidst bewailing saxophones and lamentations in French that manages to fall just short of kitsch and cliché. It’s a wonderful tightrope act.

On the other hand, Stranded sees a celebratory seizing of the day in the rousing “Street Life,” wherein the social swirl cynicism not only takes precedence, but is drolly reiterated as the expressed city scene excitement is set against the affected and jaded been-there-done-that eye-rolling insouciance of background vocalists flatly deadpanning “Street life, street life, what a life...” as if they couldn’t be trifled by such bothers; you can almost hear them filing their nails, or sense them doing a crossword puzzle in between stealing looks at the clock and droning on the downbeat. Life of the party Ferry, however, can’t be swayed by such pooper pretenses:

    Education is an important key - yes
    But the good life’s never won by degrees - no
    Pointless passing through Harvard or Yale
    Only window shopping - it’s strictly no sale.
    Weekend starts Friday soon after eight
    Your jet black magic helps you celebrate
    You may be stranded if you stick around
    And that’s really something...

Such a dichotomous mood swing between sorrow and stimulation finds perfect expression in one song, the disjointed and schizophrenic “Mother of Pearl,” which starts off in a chaotic fever-pitch frenzy marked by clashing two-part disharmony and increasing disorientation and confusion:

    Turn the lights down
    Way down low
    Turn up the music
    Hi as Fi can go
    All the gang’s here
    Everyone you know
    It’s a crazy scene...

And it continues to be a crazy scene instrumentally as well as vocally until a culmination is reached and breached and our disheartened Don Juan is, literally as well as metaphorically and emotionally, singing a new tune in a different tone:

    Well I've been up all night again
    Party-time wasting is too much fun
    Then I step back thinking
    Of life’s inner meaning
    And my latest fling
    It’s the same old story
    All love and glory
    It’s a pantomime
    If you’re looking for love
    In a looking glass world
    It’s pretty hard to find.
    Oh mother of pearl
    I wouldn’t trade you
    For another girl.
    Divine intervention
    Always my intention
    So I take my time
    I’ve been looking for something
    I’ve always wanted
    But was never mine
    But now I’ve seen that something
    Just out of reach, glowing...

Did Ferry find that "something [he's] always wanted"? If so, perhaps he's stranded no more. And that’s “really something.”


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