I’ve never seen Bright Lights, Big City. I’ve only heard the soundtrack. When it came out, my best friend and I were obsessed with it. I think he was the one who discovered it, which means he’s the one who introduced us to Depeche Mode, New Order, one of my favorite Prince songs, and Bryan Ferry.
So for a long time, all I really knew of Roxy Music was one Bryan Ferry solo album, Bete Noire, which I still like quite a lot and which contains a version of the Smiths’ instrumental “Money Changes Everything” fleshed out as a full song with lyrics called “The Right Stuff.” Bete Noire is good, probably because in addition to Johnny Marr, Ferry was working with Patrick Leonard, the songwriter responsible for most of Madonna’s best material. But it’s so sleepy in spots it sounds like it’s moving in slow motion (I think at least 80% of Ferry’s music is arranged to be playing while you’re getting it on), so it didn’t really prepare me for what I’d find when I started investigating his original band.
That first Roxy Music album is the best. I don’t think they’ve ever topped it. “Re-Make/Re-Model,” “Ladytron,” their masterpiece “If There Is Something,” and “2 H.B.” comprise one of my favorite side ones in all of pop music. Side two never really dips below good, and “Would You Believe” and “Sea Breezes” are both incredible. Avalon is really the only other classic in the run, and by that point they’d completely changed their sound, to the point where it might as well have been a Bryan Ferry album. For Your Pleasure has its moments, particularly “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” but I just can’t stand “The Bogus Man,” and even now I can’t remember what most of the other songs even sound like. Stranded and Country Life are okay, but without Brian Eno on board, at least half of all that weirdness fell away and it all started to feel a little too ordinary by comparison. Siren isn’t my favorite Roxy Music album, but it’s the one where Bryan Ferry started to figure out what he wanted to do.
“Both Ends Burning” is the highlight for me, but there are plenty of other great pop moments — “She Sells” and “Nightingale,” of course, but also the moodiness of “Could It Happen To Me?” and the wobbly gorgeousness of “End of the Line” and “Just Another High.” And then there’s “Love Is the Drug” — straightforward, authoritative, almost a mission statement for better or for worse. It’s also the song where if you listen very closely, you’ll hear Duran Duran being born.
So many of the bands I loved most from the 80s were taking their cues from Roxy Music as well as Bowie — the classicism and romantic yearnings of Bryan Ferry crossed with the icy cool and fever heat weirdness of Brian Eno. Many of them even worked with Eno directly at some point and it resulted in some of the best music of their careers. So it’s fitting that Roxy be represented here, early on. I saw Bryan Ferry live earlier this year; the dude is pushing 70 and both he and the songs still sound fantastic. Maybe age really is just a number, even if the number is 40.