Saturday, March 22, 2014

LP of the Week - "Country Life," Roxy Music

And so begins another series, this time focusing on an album that I own only on vinyl, in the long-playing 33 RPM format.

We start with "Country Life," helpfully billed on the lyric sheet as "the fourth Roxy Music album."  It was recorded during the summer of 1974, released later that year, and I bought it in early 1977, my junior year of high school.  It placed seventh in the 1975 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, ahead of Roxy's next album, "Siren," which placed 13th (the winner that year was "The Basement Tapes," followed by "Horses" and "Born to Run").

The first thing you'll notice (assuming you're familiar with seventies Roxy, which is probably not an assumption I should make) is that the version I own has the censored cover, without the hot female models, one of whom was topless (but covering her breasts).  Just Google "Country Life cover" if you want to see the original European version.

This was the second Roxy album I bought, after "Siren," and at the time I thought it was a steep drop in quality.  It still surprises me that it finished ahead of that album in Pazz & Jop, but listening to it again after all these years, they're a lot closer than my 17-year old head could get its ears around.  What wasn't clear at the time but seems pretty obvious today was the sense of humor with which Bryan Ferry approached the album.  Who else would have the nerve to begin an album side with a song that includes lyrics that are translated into German, and then close it out with a song called "Prairie Rose" that begins with the lines:

Texas, That's where I 
It seems to me

Texas, Lonesome Star
Shine on
The big country

Texas, With open skies
And you
For company

Texas, Oh prairie rose
How happy
I should be

Let's just say that I'm having a little trouble buying Bryan Ferry as a Texan. 

It's also a nervous album - Ferry won't let the listener get comfortable; the pace and rhythm of the songs jump all over the place.  The album begins with its longest song ("The Thrill of It All"), which anyone else would probably have saved for the end.  But it's on "Country Life" that the band really meshed into what I would call its classic sound - Brian Eno was now long gone, and the core of Ferry as auteur and on vocals, Phil Manzanera on guitar, Andy Mackay on saxophone, and Paul Thompson on drums demonstrate that they are a great band, and not just Ferry's sidemen (that era would come later).

For some reason, this album freaked me out a bit when I was 17.  Now, it just sounds like Roxy Music demonstrating some of the things that they did best, while in their prime.

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