The rhythm section takes control. That’s the first thing you notice upon hearing the stunning opening title track to Roxy Music’s sixth release, Manifesto. Original drummer Paul Thompson was intent on making his mark here, especially considering this would be his last album with the band. So, with the help of new bassist Gary Tibbs, Thompson creates a towering piece of music that builds and builds and holds the listener in its tight grasp. For his part, singer Bryan Ferry makes his way through a tangled labyrinth of cryptic lyrics that are among his very best.
From the Zydeco style of “Trash” to the elegant sweep of “Angel Eyes,” we are taken on an entrancing journey that explains exactly why it took Roxy Music four years to come up with a fresh sound that we hadn’t heard from them before. Featuring the largest lineup thus far – seven members, including Paul Carrack on keyboards – this record is all about setting a mood on the slow tunes and getting you up and dancing for the upbeat ones. Personally, I knew I would love this album the very first time I got a gander at the cover photo of mannequins on a dance floor. Creepy, but oh so cool.
Andy Mackay is in rare form on Manifesto too – that saxophone of his is ever-present, particularly on “Still Falls The Rain” and “Ain’t That So.” It’s nice to hear some backing vocals, too, since it helps to flesh out these tracks quite considerably. Guitarist Phil Manzanera isn’t given the spotlight as much on this release, which could disappoint fans of their earlier material. This stuff is geared more to pop audiences rather than classic rock aficionados, so don’t expect to hear any screaming guitar solos this time around.
The second half of the album is something of an anticlimax, however. After hearing the sugary and drippy “My Little Girl,” we’re left wondering whose decision it was to include this sorely out-of-place bubblegum number that only makes Roxy Music look foolish. Then there’s the sure to be divisive “Dance Away,” which was a hit here in the States, but is also the most unsubstantial song they’ve ever recorded. Ditto for “Cry, Cry, Cry,” a track that will stick in your head in the worst possible way. Oh, well, that’s a pop hook for you. Mercifully, there’s a great slow song to wrap things up called “Spin My Round” that is gorgeous, gentle, and simple. It is sure to go straight to the heart of even the most hardened of critics.
Had Roxy Music kept the darker tone going for the entire duration, Manifesto would have been a more consistently intriguing affair. By including lightweight fare as a way to attract mainstream listeners, they ended up sacrificing their trademark sound. It’s like they cut off their nose to spite their face. So, the cover image is very appropriate, their sound became as faceless and nameless as those mannequins on the cover.