Toning down his eccentric vocal stylings quite considerably, Bryan Ferry eases into Roxy Music’s fourth album Country Life like a warm mink coat. The punch of the music is what dominates this time around. On “The Thrill Of It All” and “All I Want Is You,” there is so much going on in the arrangements that you almost forget about Ferry’s lyrics entirely. Somehow they make it all work, each song flowing sweetly into the next. The denser material is balanced with the freer flowing stuff, allowing for a magnum opus like “Out Of The Blue” to shine brightly and take its time to unfold.
After a heady, psychedelic ride provided by the first four tracks, we are treated to “If It Takes All Night,” which is an unexpected, honky-tonk number that is something of a novelty – especially coming from Roxy Music. This track proves how comfortable the band is in its skin at this point. Clearly on top of their game and having a ball, they have never sounded better.
So does Country Life have any clunkers in the mix? The answer is yes and it’s called “Bitter Sweet,” a ponderous, heaving mass of ridiculousness. Not only does Bryan revert back to Count Chocula mode, but the demented minstrel band “oompah-oompah” thing results in one of the biggest, most tragic misfires from Roxy Music to date. If they had only stuck to the slower, gentler tempo of the verses, the song would have been just fine. This was one time where going experimental simply didn’t make any sense.
Despite the criminal disruption of that wretched belch, the proceedings get back on track nicely for the remainder of the record. My two favorite cuts on Country Life are “Triptych” and “Prairie Rose.” The former has the trademark Roxy multi-arrangement and it is a home run. Bryan Ferry’s love for his Texan girlfriend Jerry Hall (yep, Mick Jagger’s soon-to-be wife) is all over “Prairie Rose,” with Hall returning the compliment by posing on the cover for RM’s next release, Siren.
As a cohesive artistic statement (racy nude cover photo included), this disc has ample material to satisfy every corner of the critical music world. It’s got enough rough edginess (“Casanova”) and suspense (“A Really Good Time”) to keep the listener engaged and wondering what else Roxy Music can possibly pull out of their bag of tricks. Four albums in and still four more to go – this is one goup that is never short on ideas. Their willingness to take creative risks is something that always endeared themselves to their fans and critics alike. That’s just not something you see every day, especially now.
It might take some time for the songs on Country Life to take hold, but when they do, I promise that you will be positively swooning and begging to sound the Siren for more.
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