Flesh & Blood

Roxy Music

Atco Records, 1980

REVIEW BY: Candy North

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/09/1998

I've never been a big fan of crooners. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick…zzzzzzzzzzzz. But I've been converted since I first heard Roxy Music back in college when my then beau said, "This is one sexy man." Who am I to argue when your own boyfriend recognizes a rock legend of sexuality and a smoky baritone barely contained within the body of Bryan Ferry?

I'd read the gossip columns about Jerry Hall dumping the poor bastard for Mick Jagger around the time that Some Girls came out, but being a youngster at the time, I barely knew who this English band was, much less this tortured romanticist named Bryan Ferry. Let's put it this way: was she high??? You gave up this guy for Mick? I love the Stones, but geez, Bryan is so….well, to put it childishly, dreamy.

Flesh And Blood opens with the cover "In The Midnight Hour". Ferry's voice is his musical instrument which at once whispers and seduces and by turns pleads and cajoles. His infamous vocal vibrato tones are in high form on this tune along with some fairly interesting keyboard work. This combination paired with Phil Manzaniera on guitar and Andy Mackay on sax gives Roxy their unique sound. Not really a rock band per se, yet not wimpy enough to earn the label they bore for years of an "art" band, they are without equal. Plenty of people have tried to imitate or emulate their sound, but it's virtually impossible.

Ferry's voice is an emotional roller coaster through the entire album from the lost love of "Oh Yeah" and the bone-rattling longing of "Over You" to the absolute depraved sneer of "Flesh And Blood", which happens to be my favorite tune on the album. While Ferry can be the grand Casanova of singers, wooing his lovers and being ever the perfect English gentleman, he still expresses naiveté and disbelief he's been dumped. I find his strength, both as a singer and a songwriter, more in songs like "Flesh And Blood". In this more world weary mindset, Ferry knows that the underbelly of the heart and soul are much more interesting than singing the blues about his broken heart. The edge to this song and "No Strange Delight" have more depth and interest to me as a listener, whereas Ferry sings in the latter

"so where's your soul?/In the field where every story ends

and then how plain your obsession/your strange delightmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

so this is hell/not so hard to tell"

How's that for a little light thought processing for the day? Ferry's notorious drinking and drug problems at the time might have colored the mood of many of this disc's songs. Or, perhaps the remnants of his well-publicized obsession and bitterness with Hall long after their breakup added to the dark atmosphere throughout Flesh And Blood. Hey, it's defintely not as pissed off as The Bride Stripped Bare which came out right after they broke up and prompted many to wonder if Ferry would ever get over her.

Don't get me wrong. I love Ferry's love songs as well. How can any woman say she wouldn't want to hear a man singing something as tragic and heartfelt as "My Only Love"? I'm a sucker for a man who'd admit that he cries and pines for me as he laments "does it seem so funny for a fool to cry? Do you know the meaning of goodbye?" He continues to tell his ex-lover that words are all he has, his voice and backing strings emphasizing his loneliness and permanent alienation from her. It's interesting that the use of strings on this cut only add a sense of extreme sadness, their resonance a chilling backdrop to our hero's predicament.

And it is the strength of his words that is the most powerful instrument in Roxy coupled with Ferry's own persona of the debonair man about town which is created through his voice. It's funny that a contemporary American rock singer has not been able to pull off this type of sweeping romantic male figure. Sinatra did it; I'm not really convinced that Harry Connick, Jr. does it-he's a poor man's version of Sinatra in a lot of ways. But it's the British Ferry whose timeless themes of love lost, tragedy and the world gone awry that seem to cut across cultural and class boundaries. I take issue with those critics who have always called Roxy elitist in their musical stance and approach. That's like saying being in love and then having your heart broken is class selective. Sure.

I was never fortunate enough to see Roxy Music live, but I did see Ferry on his solo Bete Noire tour back in the late eighties at Chicago's Arie Crown Theater. It's a religious experience, I'll tell you. He fairly glided out on stage, decked out in a tuxedo lined in red satin (an American guy would probably be called a fag, but not Ferry) and just started belting out the tunes, like all good crooners do. The sophistication of Ferry's singing, songwriting and stage persona, something so lacking in most of today's bands, came through to me like a thunderbolt. However, on this disc it's fairly more discreet and slightly less jaded but nonethless just as powerful.

I don't mean to underrate Manzaniera or Mackey's abilities-they are classic studio musicians who are extremely polished and accomplished in their own right. Without their musical contributions and support, Roxy wouldn't have that sound that is so difficult to categorize. It is just that Ferry is the overwhelming presence which defines Roxy and its direction. His persona is so intertwined with the music that the band becomes almost invisible, though definitely not disposable, in his shadow. The one drawback of Ferry's strong position within the band, and working as its main creative force, is that there is a certain repetitive sound to his songs and vocals after listening to more than one Roxy album. This is even more evident within his solo work which I really like, but it does tend to have a sameness in feel and tempo after awhile.

That's no reason not to like Roxy or enjoy this album. Even a bad Roxy song is better than none. So if you're in a funk and need a sympathetic observer, tune into this old classic from 1980 called Flesh And Blood. Just make sure you're pissed at your lover, have a good vintage of wine close at hand and plenty of Kleenex. Like they say, misery does love its company, but what beautiful company it is.

Rating: A-

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© 1998 Candy North and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atco Records, and is used for informational purposes only.