Written for the 2006 book 100 Albums That Changed Music, edited by Sean Egan.
FOR YOUR PLEASURE
Released US June 1973 UK March 1973
TRACKLISTING: Do The Strand, Beauty Queen, Strictly Confidential, Editions Of You, In Every Dream Home A Heartache, Bogus Man, Grey Lagoons, For Your Pleasure
PRODUCED BY: Chris Thomas, John Anthony and Roxy Music
ROXY MUSIC were one of the few bands to ever successfully solve the dilemma that had plagued rock since the late 60s; how do you make music that is genuinely progressive while still making music that is popular? For all that bands like King Crimson were blazing new trails through uncharted musical territory, their audience was confined to a static though devoted handful of aficionados. At the same time, pop music after a rush in the 60s, was becoming repetitive and backward looking.
Formed in 1971 by art school graduate Bryan Ferry and bass player Graham Simpson, Roxy Music soon recruited saxophone player Andy McKay, who also owned a VCS3 synthesizer. The VCS3 was notoriously difficult to play: it resembled a telephone exchange and required somebody with technical knowledge to make it work. McKay’s friend Brian Eno could operate it and also owned a Revox reel to reel tape recorder. He was drafted in as a technical adviser and then started to appear onstage with the band. Within a year Roxy Music had been greeted by some fairly hyperbolic press in the UK; they had a hit single with Virginia Plain and their first self titled album became the must-have album that year. Perhaps because of the hit single, but also because of the simultaneous success of T-Rex and David Bowie, who were lumped alongside them under the catch-all banner glam rock, Roxy Music found that they were attracting a much younger audience than they had initially imagined.
When they went in to Air Studios in London, there were many in the press and the music industry who were looking forward to seeing them fall flat on their faces. They disliked the fact that they had seemingly appeared from nowhere without “paying their dues”. They also disliked the glam aspects of the band. The release in 1973 of For Your Pleasure proved that they were certainly not a flash in the pan. While the first side of the first album is arguably superior in terms of the actual songs, For Your Pleasure is a more consistent album. Its also a much darker album.
The sleeve hints at this: a glamorous blonde woman – Amanda Lear, also the inspiration for Kraftwerk’s The Model – in fetishistic evening dress stands at a strange unnatural angle with a panther on a leash while the liveried driver of her Lincoln Continental, Ferry, looks on. It evokes the glitz of 40s Hollywood but also hints at something darker and more disturbing. This was underscored by persistent rumours – subsequently proven untrue – that Lear had been born a man.
Opening with the witty ‘dance craze’ update Do The Strand the album alternates between upbeat pop and heavy strange and disturbing songs, the centrepiece of the album being the terrifying In Every Dream Home A Heartache. In Every Dream Home A Heartache is a love song to an inflatable sex doll, intoned by Ferry in a chanting monotone, the voice of a man who has done everything twice and been bored the first time, over a trance inducing minimal keyboard riff. It ends with an explosion of heavy rock guitars. It is a song about having sex with an inanimate object and at the end, of course, he comes. In The Bogus Man they recreate the minimalist drive that krautrock bands like Can and early Kraftwerk were also experimenting with at the time. The closing title track sounds cold and brutally modern, almost as if you can tell it was recorded under harsh neon lights.
It has been said that For Your Pleasure was the sound of Ferry and Eno struggling for control of the band. Yet it sounds less of a struggle than a compromise between the faintly nostalgic and the boldly futuristic. Grey Lagoons is a perfect example of this: like Danny and the Juniors by way of Karlheinz Stockhausen. With Ferry’s reputation as a dictator, it’s hard to imagine that this was not exactly the album that he intended to make.
Eno, a self confessed non-musician, brought an element of destructiveness and chaos to Roxy Music. Other bands were fairly conservative in their use of the synthesizer, using it either to imitate other instruments or using the same unadventurous presets. Eno generated noise, treated other instruments such as Phil Manzanera’s guitar and McKay’s sax, and allowed an element of randomness to enter into the band’s performances.
The images of the band on the inside sleeve was, for teenagers growing up in the 70s, as shocking and as exhilarating as the music. Proper musicians had long straggly hair and beards and wore faded denim shirts. Roxy Music looked like hey had stepped out of a gay bar in a 40s Buck Rogers strip. Eno particularly generated a lot of homophobic abuse from fans of ‘proper’ music. Roxy Music even credited their hairdresser, Keith at Smile, which was possibly a statement as revolutionary for those times as any they made in their music.
It was the end of that particular line-up of Roxy Music. Eno left the band shortly after and subsequent albums Country Life and Siren were massively successful, though never quite as adventurous as For Your Pleasure.
Nor were any of the Roxy-derived bands that followed ever really as groundbreaking in their time as Roxy Music were in theirs. Ultravox, Japan, Simple Minds and even U2 all drew some inspiration from this period of Roxy Music, even if in some cases it was only to copy Brian Eno’s eyeshadow techniques. Today bands Franz Ferdinand carry the torch for Roxy Music’s particular brand of British art school eccentricity.
After 35 years it still sounds like a futuristic album, the sound of 20 years hence. And whose to say it still won’t be?