David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 340: Roxy Music (Avalon)

April 9, 2024

I don't know enough about the King Arthur legend to truly understand the path his life took to lead him to eventual rest at Avalon, but I am pretty sure it never started with the psychedelic dissonance of a Ladytron. And, yet, that is where Roxy Music started and ended.

I fudge a little bit in that "Ladytron" is the second song off of Roxy Music's 1972 debut album Roxy Music, but "Re-Make/Re-Model," the opening track is lesser known. I know of "Ladytron" from a fantastically weird clip from Old Grey Whistle Test, Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay and friends resplendent in their Glam Rock looks and attitudes. For most music fans, this was our first exposure to the band (and their risqué album covers would lure us back again and again). However, who could have expected them to finish with Avalon (both album and single)? It's like having King Arthur born in the pits of Isengard as an Uruk-Hai, then to only finish his life, and reside in death, in the peacefulness of Avalon/paradise.

Who knows all the factors that led to Ferry, Mackay and Manzanera to finish the Roxy Music canon with the cocktail-lounge infused beauty that is Avalon (again, both album and song)? Was it the loss of Brian Eno? Was it the loss (or addition) of drugs? (Manzanera claims that "there were a lot more drugs around as well, which was good and bad. It created a lot of paranoia and a lot of spaced-out stuff."1) "Avalon" is the beautiful result of lots of drugs? "Ladytron" is the weird result of not enough drugs? My whole world view deteriorates in front of your eyes.

"Avalon" certainly sets up the Bryan Ferry solo career, as well as The Style Council and Everything But The Girl, something someone somewhere labeled "Sophisti-pop." Yeah, whatever.  It was an appreciated style at a time when rock tended toward Survivor, Asia, and 38 Special. The smoothness of the song, as well as almost everything else on the album, makes it survive the test of time.

Part of the attraction for "Avalon" is the background vocal, the piercing "avaloooooon" as provided by the unknown Yanick Étienne, who was encouraged to freelance through the final part of the song. Her singing, according to Manzanera's account, inspired Bryan Ferry to go back and re-sing his part "properly." Let me put all this in perspective: "Ladytron," dominated by Brian Eno's synthesizer manipulations, almost certainly affecting, or maybe accentuating, since Ferry urged Eno to create some space-sounding effects, Ferry's bizarre vocal delivery, ten years later is replaced by a Haitian singer, knowing no English, basically being asked to improvise the beautiful subtext to "Avalon."

More of the great irony here is that Roxy Music took the "girl" off the cover and put her in the song. Every album cover up to Avalon featured beautiful women, often barely clad, so Avalon provided a whole different approach to the cover with the mystical image of an Avalon, man's helmet in the foreground. The end result probably meant fewer albums sold to teenage boys, but with a little more airplay for "More Than This" than previous Roxy Music songs ever received, maybe more came for the inside.

Even the "Avalon" video stands in stark contrast to that Old Grey Whistle Test clip above of "Ladytron." Find the link (it is easy enough) and compare with my "Avalon" link below. Are those even the same people? You gotta love that Mackay didn't give up his signature sideburns for "Avalon." I suppose that is no different than Sir Lancelot not being quite ready to give up on the Holy Grail in his final days.

Just how much was Ferry confessing in these lyrics? Did he really see the party over? Was the band tired? Was the background fading out of focus for Roxy Music? This sounds like a much different man than that one who sang in "Ladytron," "I'm going to be your only searching at the start of the season." I guess the picture was changing every moment.

1Chapman, Rob. "Roxy Music: They Came From Planet Bacofoil." www.robchapman.com/pages/journalism. 1995. Original Publication: Mojo December 1985. Retrieved March 22, 2024.

Roxy Music. "Avalon." Avalon. Polydor, 1982. Link here.

Day 339: Lindsey Buckingham "Wrong"

Day 341: Jimi Hendrix Experience "Little Wing"

See complete list here.