Atco SD 36-127
Released: November 1975
Chart Peak: #50
Weeks Charted: 20
There used to be this ad (in the Fifties, I suppose) for a cigarette: YOU'RE NEVER ALONE WITH A STRAND! A guy alone in the street; belted raincoat, turned down hat brim; fog, drizzle, blurred neon lighting; three in the morning and he'd just left a party or come to the end of an affair or arrived off a train; down but cool (cigarette cool) and romantic, weary -- a private eye at the end of a case. I always thought it was Frank Sinatra.
That was one role Bryan Ferry had figured out for himself.
Something else there used to be was two artists called Gilbert and George whose work of art was themselves. They exhibited daily in a classy gallery. Elegant, suited, disdainful, they'd stand there all day while people paid to look. Later on a little song and dance act became part of the picture.
That was something else Bryan Ferry wanted to be -- a work of art.
The cover of the new Roxy Music album is credited to eight people, two more than made the music. It shows a siren on the rocks, perfectly posed down to her last blue fingernail, but the lurid lighting gives the game away -- it's another Fifties ad. "Come hither," she's saying, "and buy Johnson's gin." The song about her isn't the sea drama, "Whirlwind," but "She Sells": "Your lingerie's a gift wrap -- slip it to me."
By all my usual criteria Roxy Music is decadent. Ferry deals with images of emotions rather than with emotions themselves. Music is only a means to his end, and only one means among many (who else gives their hairdresser equal billing?). For a Pete Townshend or a Bruce Springsteen, the expression of their imagery is their imagery: for Bryan Ferry, the act of making music is as uninteresting as the act of combing his hair -- it's the product that matters. And the reduction of rock to a means of achieving quite other entertainment end is the hallmark of decadence. No doubt about it, and Roxy Music goes into the back drawer, alongside Alice Cooper and David Bowie and Bette Midler.
Two things that redeem Roxy. The first is that the image Bryan Ferry is after is a part of rock culture even if he got it from advertising posters and the movies. The romantic loner, world-weary, is one of the self-images of every rock fan -- Philip Marlowe, in the Seventies, would be playing the dial with the rest of us. And Ferry's so sincere about this disillusion. The man who walks by himself, regretting lost love. The siren keeps calling, tempting, "Try again!" and he always does and she's always faking -- the heart in the billboard is empty:
This theme runs through the album from beginning to end and it's all fake, every word. Ferry's going steady like the rest of us but, boy, don't we wish we could do it -- play the field, take a little pain, move our separate ways again.
The second thing is that Ferry's just the singer in his band and he may be using Roxy Music, but they've got their own gig going. With the single exchange of Eddie Jobson for Eno (on synthesizer, keyboards, strings) the band has been together for five albums and numerous tours, and there's a limit to how long you can be part of someone else's dream. So, while Ferry keeps the words and tuxedo, the band has written half the music and they do enjoy playing it.
The essence of Roxy's music is the tension between the band's drive (Paul Thompson must be singled out as an extra fine drummer) and Ferry's restraint. The songs are built around short, sharp, lyrical bursts; the music consists of repeated riffs rather than melodies and one of Roxy's skills is tension building, more and more insistent, while Ferry drones on about his lonely nights.
Siren is the simplest album Roxy has put down. Ferry's imagery is focused -- "Jump up, bubble up -- what's in store,/ Love is the drug and I need to score" -- and there's less synthesized clutter, fewer sound effects, more straight solo trading. It's make-your-mind-up time. In England, Roxy is a major group and people buy them or they don't -- this album's going to make no difference, just a must for all Roxy fans. With you lot in the States I dunno, but I doubt it. You've never really gone for seedily good-looking Englishmen, even with a good rhythm section, and Ferry's greatest achievement has been to frame Roxy's unique sound round just one obsession -- himself. He's made it as a work of art, he's made it as a product, but I guess he won't make it as an export statistic -- you've got enough fetishes of your own.
- Simon Frith, Rolling Stone, 1/1/76.
Coming off a hot previous album, this British sextet is finally beginning to hit these shores with the intensity that has propelled them into the hearts of their native country men. Perhaps the best LP by the group yet, this should be the vehicle to propel them into the mainstream. Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry should begin to happen with this record, which is more of the same rock and roll as only they are capable of playing. Expect this LP to break big in the progressive market. Best cuts: "Love Is The Drug," "End Of The Line," "Whirlwind," "She Sells."
- Billboard, 1975.
Good album -- a lot of fast ones and a great hook. Of course, Roxy Music albums always have hooks, but "Street Life" and "Virginia Plain" never told us as much about Roxy's less accessible music as "Love Is the Drug," an equation which represents not liberation from artificial stimulants but the breakdown of both sexual and emotional abandon into "just another high." Very appropriate to situate the song in a singles bar, for that '70s reality is the exemplary environment for Bryan Ferry's romantic pessimism. Much of what his music has to say about such environments is fascinating, even perversely attractive -- but ultimately a little off-putting, which I guess is the point. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Far from being an asset, the Roxy Music's professionalism was something of a drawback by the middle seventies when it seemed it was being used as a substitute for real inspiration and energy. The singles "Love Is The Drug" and "Both Ends Burning" apart there is little of compelling or lasting interest here. It is only possible to criticize the band on the grounds of cold-detachment since technically the playing is splendid.
The tracks like "Whirlwind" and "Both Ends Burning" really kick and buck from Compact Disc, the medium being capable of a harder driving sound than vinyl. Air Studios were again responsible for the close balance.
Collectors of rock trivia will wish to note Jerry Hall as the mermaid on the cover. * *
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
Siren provided Roxy Music with their first international hit, the coolly funky "Love Is the Drug" (number 30). Except for "Sentimental Fool," "Both Ends Burning," and "Whirlwind," most of this album fails to deliver the power or memorable melodies of either Country Life or Stranded. * * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Siren is the ultimate synthesis of the group's arty experimentation and adroit, wide-ranging pop instincts. Ferry cruises the land of one-night stands with equal parts fascination and revulsion, and the epiphanies are numerous: "Both Ends Burning," "Just Another High," "Love Is the Drug," "Sentimental Fool." * * * * *
- Greg Kot, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
The rock truism that style and substance are insoluble elements was disproved with Roxy Music's Siren. Bryan Ferry -- still recovering from Brian Eno splitting Roxy in 1973 -- literally got his act together, with the help of Phil Manzanera and Andrew Mackay, and crystallized his band's sound into glam-centric, pre-punk art rock. The slick nine songs of Siren turned musical notions upside down and shook all the so-called integrity out of their pockets; brainy lyrics on a concept album weren't just for Emerson, Lake and Palmer anymore.
Ferry's character, a romantic pessimist and dissolute matinee idol, was Roxy's languid focal point. Stompy and racing, Siren is a meditation on the temptations of love; it answers the feminine call with yearning, irony and skepticism. The album is a sort of delirious trek through the world's most decadent fern bar, kicking off with the group's first U.S. hit, "Love Is the Drug," a chugging, hiccup-y metaphor that grinds gossamer flights of romance into a miserable round of search, score, crash and search some more. With Ferry's mannered vocals twining archly around the lyrics, even songs like "Sentimental Fool" and "Could It Happen to Me?" take on a distanced poise that undercut the lyrics' ostensible swoon. His off-key gulps made the singer-songwriter school of rock emotionalism seem rather dated -- Roxy's idea of romance was embodied in their music's attitude, and attitude itself became musical substance.
Art rock and its gaudy cousin, glitter, were notoriously self-conscious, and therefore suspect -- rock was supposed to be all about impulse. But Roxy's treatment of music as an artificial structure made them free to rock. Sure, "End of the Line" toys with being a ravishing blue ballad, and "Whirlwind" quotes Shakespeare, but that's the point: Torch songs and great plays are as much Western avatars of romanticism as howling arena rock is. Add grim bass lines and downtown strut, and you have the crazed funk of "She Sells." Set flaming infatuation to quick-ticking drums and lonely-boy sex, and you have "Both Ends Burning." It took Roxy Music five records and the loss of one genious to sculpt an impossible paradox out of rock and its expressions: elaborately cool, genuinely heartfelt and grandly unsettling. * * * * *
- Arion Berger, Rolling Stone, 11/22/00.
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