Roxy Music was the last thing I was listening to before it all ended. I was on the first leg of my flight from Sydney to Croatia, two Valium in hand and excitedly running through an iPod full of new old music that I’d prepared especially for the occasion. Longhaul travel is always when I get my best listening done, and because there aren’t the usual distractions, like, you know, the Internet, you can be assured that you’ll give your full attention to the music. I also happened to be sitting next to this lovely British girl called Jenny, who had played bass in a band whose name I can’t remember, toured the world and then ended up in Australia as a nurse. We immediately got to talking about music (indeed, the only distraction on a plane aside from listening to music is finding someone you can talk to about it) and it turns out that she had played at festivals in every country I was destined to go to, including Glastonbury and EXIT Festival. Seeeing that she knew what she was talking about, I told her I was going to have a listen to some of the classics I’d put on the iPod and asked her to reccommend something. Her eyes lit up as she reached Country Life. ‘You haven’t heard this? Oh, it’s just brilliant, I think I’ve played it a thousand times!’ she said excitedly. She put the headphones over my ears as ‘The Thrill Of It All’ started blaring and I settled back into my seat. An hour later, my music player would be nicked by local cabin crew in Bangkok and I’d never find it again. I was going to be hearing Roxy Music in my head on repeat for the next two months.
Authoratative figures in my life like Chris and Ray had already let me know that listening to Brian Ferry and (formerly) Brian Eno’s ’70s glam-rockers was absolutley an essential part of my musical education. And what I heard in the brief sojourn before I had my valuable collection of possibly appropriated digital goods thieved from right under my nose was something very special. Primarily because Brian Ferry is the kind of guy who can get semi-naked women and their pubic regions on record sleeves way before the age of stock photography and the effect that has on his vocal delivery, but also musically, Roxy Music threw in all the sound they could at the height of the age of experimentation. In 1974, when this album, of which this is the opening number, was delivered into the world, there was a whole lot of prog, glam and other intricate and mostly unlistenable shit going on. Brian Eno, he of the shiny dome, the Coldplay and U2 productions and Windows 95 sounds, had already left to start down his own path of bizarre that would continue to this very day. Meanwhile, Roxy Music were chugging along with these limber bass lines and far too much saxaphone and all these mental violin lines like KISS were never going to become a thing. It’s gloriously over the top, both in instrumentation, length and execution, but it’s also so much fun that I almost didn’t mind that I had it following me through Eastern Europe.
The real magic of ‘the Thrill Of It All’ is the shifting dynamic between the first three-quarters of the riff, which take the regular idea of a chord progression and stretch it out to the end of the Earth. Every chord is played for four bars (usually the legnth of an entire turnaround) before moving on to the next, which makes the whole verse-chorus thing seems like an epic gladiatorial battle. Always one for a challenge, Ferry takes his time to dive and swoop at his will. The whole song could be built around the idea, what with the violent violin entries and excess volume, but then you have that cool, very Roxy B section with all the falsetto backing vocals and slinking bass that changes the mood instantly but also makes you feel a bit out of whack. That’s pretty much how I sum up my experience of this band, a new wave group who managed to always make me feel a bit uneasy, which is certainly a listening experience that you have to have now and then and it doesn’t happen that often anymore. Seriously, my grandparents ate lunch with me while Skrillex was blaring through a cafe soundsystem today and they didn’t even bat an eyelid. So was the thrill of it all in discovering Roxy Music on my own terms or losing them all over again? I’ll never know, but I’ll always have Jennifer to thanks for not choosing that Yoko Ono album for me to listen to first instead.
Roxy Music – ‘The Thrill Of It All’