Friday, 6 March 2009

Roxy Music, Manifesto (1979, Polydor)

Bryan Ferry's forgotten gem setting the template for the 'New Romantic' generation.

Whenever music magazines run their typical Best of British Bands or Top 100 Most Influential singles features, Roxy Music are mentioned as one of the most outstanding bands in British history. Rightly so.

However, reviewers tend to almost exclusively refer to their early 70s period, the 'glam rock' years of their debut album and follow-up For Your Pleasure. Roxy Music then split in 1975 and reformed four years later, but despite their enormous latter day-success, their comeback period is often overlooked or played down as irrelevant.

Manifesto, their 1979 album, is a case in point. Roxy Music may not have been aware, but they were defining a genre, setting the template for the so-called 'new romantic' movement and pointing the direction for many of Roxy's '80s proteges.

Featuring one of the best album covers of all time, the Bryan Ferry and Antony Price-designed club dancefloor full of mannequins looking dapper, sensual and creepily expressionless at once, Manifesto picked up the remains of early 70s glam and added new life by experimenting with soul and disco. When writing about Manifesto, reviewers tend to concentrate on Bryan Ferry's crooning and the band's sophisticated layers as opposed to the raw energy of Roxy's early years yet they don't pick up on how uniquely dark and elegantly claustrophobic Manifesto sounds.

The title itself suggests a band still eager to make a statement within a profoundly changed music scene. The arrival of punk may have run the risk of brushing Roxy aside as obsolete and out of touch. But right from the bold, spectral titletrack, with its dark crescendo drenched in backward sounds and imposing drums, it's quite obvious that Roxy Music are there to leave their mark. The intro provides Ferry with the perfect vehicle for his theatrics, almost like a crowd-teaser as he slowly walks into the limelight, waiting ages until he finally picks up the microphone and unveil his comeback "I am for a life around the corner/ That takes you by surprise".

The eccentric Trash is the closest to early-Roxy you get on Manifesto, with a swirl of odd sounds creating the background to Bryan Ferry's swipe at the latest music fads: "Teenage fever oh you've got it bad/ Caught the flavour want it all/ Only seventeen/ Bet you know the trash I mean". At the other end of the spectrum, the soulful My Little Girl and Still Falls The Rain are delicate yet intense and emotional statements, songs that just could not have been created by any artists other than Roxy Music.

Angel Eyes is Ferry & co. treading on disco territory but with the fascinating result that, no matter which style Roxy are dabbling with, their trademark steely sound still comes on top.

Manifesto climaxes with the hit single Dance Away, a sexy, heartbroken, end-of-the-party ballad where Ferry pours his heart out as he pens one of the most soulful moments in pop: "Loneliness is a crowded room, full of open hearts turned to stone...all together, all alone..." - now you know where the inspiration for the album sleeve came from.

The resigned tone of Spin Me Round is the perfect conclusion. Seductive and elegant, its haunting quality sows the seeds for Ferry's trademark balladry as it became known in the 1980s.

Someone once said that Roxy Music "practically invented the sound of the '80s a decade early": Manifesto is testament to that.

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