Glam-rock pacesetters and their angst-racked vocalist receive a thoughtful consideration.
This time out, Buckley, who has surveyed David Bowie in two books, takes on the legacy of the electrifying ’70s U.K. act Roxy Music. His focus is on front man Bryan Ferry, a working-class provincial who carried cool from Newcastle after an art school education. In 1970, he founded Roxy Music in London with Brian Eno—a nonmusician committed to flamboyant style, sonic extremism and arty theatrics—and a group of mainly unknown collaborators. With the release of its first album in 1972, the band became an instant sensation; its vital fusion of lyrical irony, campy visual style and envelope-pushing experimentalism led to a popularity rivaling that accorded Bowie and T. Rex’s Marc Bolan at the apex of rock’s glitter era. But Buckley, who considers the untutored group a harbinger of punk rock, maintains that Ferry’s early expulsion of chief provocateur Eno, along with the singer’s increasingly conservative and fussy approach in the studio, spelled the end of the group’s importance. The writer also notes that social striver Ferry’s metamorphosis into the kind of suave, moneyed toff he had initially mocked hastened a descent into virtual self-parody in a series of labored and hermetic group projects and solo albums. Ferry’s latter-day irrelevance is telegraphed by the fact that Buckley spends a mere 58 pages on the 23 years between the release of Roxy’s lustrous 1981 album Avalon and the present day. The Thrill of It All lacks much primary sourcing: the ever-wary Ferry sat for just one interview in 1999, and Buckley couldn’t corral Eno or such founding Roxy members as guitarist Phil Manzanera or saxophonist Andy McKay, who both played in the reunited 2001 touring lineup. But testimony from a chorus of sidemen and independent observers plus well-selected secondary material adds up to a compelling assessment of a prophetic and influential band.
Return with us now to rock’s thrilling days of eye shadow and ostrich feathers.