Roxy Music’s Self-titled Re-make/re-model of Rock Convention Gets a Rich 5.1 Upgrade
No one had ever seen or heard anything like it before. When Roxy Music released their self-titled debut in June 1972—ironically enough, on the exact same day their spiritual brother-in-creative-arms David Bowie released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars— the artschool-tempered British sextet instantly ushered in an immediate sea change for both the style and sonic character of an already sagging rock scene.
Roxy shook up the form’s visual sensibilities with a highly stylized, playfully suggestive front cover featuring internationally renowned fashion model Kari-ann Muller, clad in a pinkand-white satin swimsuit and sprawled out with a shiny gold record placed just out of the reach of her outstretched right hand on the back cover. Not only that, but the music found within such provocative packaging undisputedly forged new ground—most especially the way the always forward-thinking master synth/tape operator Brian Eno manipulated the otherworldly sounds he was able to coax out of an EMS VCS3 portable synthesizer.
“It’s easy to forget very few bands even had a VCS3 synthesizer in those days,” points out Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera (at left in the photo above). “Pink Floyd had one and we had one, but I can’t think of anyone else who was using one at the time. There may have been a Moog out there, but not in the way we and [Floyd keyboardist] Rick Wright were using the
VCS3. It was more of an electronic soundscape idea, with the difference being it’s coming from within the context of a pop band.”
And now, the Roxy Music party is being properly feted with a 45th anniversary special edition 3 CD/1 DVD set that includes demos, outtakes, BBC Sessions, and surround sound guru Steven Wilson’s wholly immersive 96-khz/24-bit DTSHD Master Audio 5.1 mix. I got on the line with Manzanera, 67, to discuss the band’s intuitive sense of interplay and why the album’s intent comes across even better in surround. Next time is the best time, we all know….
MM: The individual relationships between the players is one of the things that makes Roxy Music such a special album, in my opinion. You and [vocalist]
Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, and [saxophonist/oboist] Andy Mackay all have what I call an interplay shorthand. Did you feel you were working more directly with one person in certain sections of each song, or was it more of a group feel overall?
PM: Definitely in the instrumental bits, we were having conversations, really. That is very much the right way of thinking about it—the idea of having musical conversations. I might play this [verbally mimes a riff], and Andy would play that [mimes another riff], and then Brian would play something else. Then you agree on something, bounce it off each other, and go somewhere else.
And when Bryan is singing, you’re there to support the vocal and the lyric, to try and create a musical context for him. That’s what all of us were really doing on that first album. We were trying to create an interesting musical backdrop and context for this singer with a strange voice—and good looks! (chuckles)
MM: Steven Wilson’s surround mix puts us in a space that reinforces how every song on this album really has its own individual character.
PM: It’s very difficult to categorize the styles of the different songs, because they chop and change around. They are a bit like collages—and Bryan, of course, had been taught how to do painting collages by Richard Hamilton when he studied at [Newcastle] University. But I think by a complete sort of luck, he ended up with a bunch of musicians who had this natural thing of being happy with having this blend of stuff. It didn’t have to be a funk or a blues or jazz, or something weird or psychedelic. We were all happy to have this combination of things built around very simple chords.
MM: Does the surround version of the album give you something you always wanted to hear, or something you didn’t expect? What does it mean to you?
PM: To me, the 5.1 is the star of the show. Because if you’re a Roxy fan and you’ve heard these tracks for years, you now hear them in a different way. There’s so much to gain, so it’s worth it just for that.
MM: Is there one particular song in the Roxy canon you would like Steven to mix in 5.1?
PM: (slight pause) Ooh. Actually, I’d say “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” [from 1973’s For Your Pleasure]. I think that would be amazing to hear in surround.
An extended version of the MettlerManzanera Q&A, including a discussion of the iconic solotradeoff section during “Re-make/ Re-model,” appears in the S&V Interview blog on soundandvision.com.