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Manzanera recalls listening recently for the first time in ages to The Bob Medleythe six-part song-suite on 's Roxy Musica sort of "mini-movie" concept piece about the second world war. It's pure prog. The whole of that first album sounds so weird.
It's The Bob - Roxy Music - Re-Bubbles (CD) a mish-mash of stuff. Roxy just wouldn't get signed today. Those who view Roxy as pioneers of surface-deep postmodern pop regard the band as radically opposed to the earthy earnestness of what was then known as the underground: long-haired, beardy bands like Soft Machine and Family who played the college gig circuit, recorded sessions for John Peel, appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test and got written up in Melody Maker.
But Roxy's earliest champions were, in fact, John Peel, who invited them to record a session for his show, Melody Maker 's Richard Williams, who got the hype ball rolling, and management company EG, whose other clients included King Crimson and The Bob - Roxy Music - Re-Bubbles (CD), and who hitched Roxy up with Island Records, the leading progressive label of the era.
At one point Ferry actually auditioned to be King Crimson's singer. And before Manzanera got the gig, the group's guitarist was David O'List, formerly of the Nice, the original prog band.
Early on, Ferry went along with the progressive scene's disdain for chart pop, declaring: "We're not a singles band, really. I was astounded when we had a hit record. More than half the band — Manzanera, Eno, Andy Mackay, Paul Thompson — came from experimental music, trippy-proggy or heavy rock backgrounds. A fan of minimalist composers like Steve Reich, Eno was a non-musician who supplied Roxy with irruptions of abstract synth and tape effects: things that were "part of experimental electronic music", The Bob - Roxy Music - Re-Bubbles (CD) Manzanera, "but we used them in the context of songs".
The songs themselves weren't exactly conventional either. Others, like the first two singles, Virginia Plain and Pyjamarama, would be judged unfinished by the standards of hit factories like the Brill building or Motown. Neither has a chorus, just a single verse melody repeated. This minimalist aspect to Roxy Music came from one of the motley crew's few shared passions: the Velvet Underground. But there were also upsurges of maximalism, acid rock flashbacks like the second half of In Every Dream Home a Heartachewith its phased drumming and gaseously billowing guitar.
The product of the strong bond Manzanera formed with Eno, For Your Pleasure is comparable with Hendrix circa Electric Ladyland or Tim Buckley's Starsailor in its use of the studio and recording tape as a canvas for sound painting. In latelooking The Bob - Roxy Music - Re-Bubbles (CD) at the first two Roxy albums not long after he was pushed out of the band, Eno enthused about the music's "insanity… the element of clumsiness and grotesqueness", the "terrific tension", caused by the group "juxtaposing things that didn't naturally sit together".
Even after Eno's departure, Manzanera continued to pursue the absurdism and studio-boffin experimentation on the third album, Stranded.
Amazonafor instance, is split apart by an indescribably strange guitar solo midway between a fire storm and a gigantic bubble machine. It sounds like the work of several guitarists but it's just Manzanera playing through a complex relay of distortion, repeat echoes and vari-pitch, using a specially built contraption that worked The Bob - Roxy Music - Re-Bubbles (CD) once. That first and only take is what you hear on the album.
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