Considering the fact that Brian Eno was the least schooled musician in Roxy Music (thoroughly unskilled, by his own account) and that he did not sing with the band, it’s surprising to note just how much the band changed in his absence. To early fans, Eno’s inclusion seemed to be based more on his outrageous sense of fashion than his musical sensibilities, but those same fans could sense a void on “Stranded”. As the principal songwriter and vocalist, Bryan Ferry became the sole center of attention, the mood shifted discernibly toward his romantic vision, with a seriousness that downplayed some of the looser moments on the first two albums. Feather boas and songs about inflatable dolls were out. In their stead were odd religious anthems (“Psalm”) and obtuse historical yearnings so dramatic they could have made Edith Piaf blush (“A Song for Europe”). The self-serious nature of “Stranded” could have been the album’s downfall, but Ferry is such a unique and captivating character that he pulls it all off with aplomb.
This is not to say that there are no lively moments of pure joy on “Stranded”. The leadoff track and single, “Street Life,” is a perfect Roxy Music concoction of intelligent wordplay over a dense musical arrangement with whacky instrumental breaks. Both “Amazona” and “Mother of Pearl” start off with playful themes but quickly move toward something much heavier. “Mother of Pearl” in particular is something of a miracle, pairing some of the most literate rock-music lyrics ever written over a hypnotic rhythm that builds and builds until the tension winds up like a clock’s spring. As the story goes, Ferry had the band record the entire song with no knowledge of his vocal line, and they complained vociferously about the musical redundancy, claiming it was one of the most boring songs they’d ever heard, only to react in awe once he added his voice. “Just Like You” lacks the dramatic overdrive of “Mother of Pearl” but it flaunts its romanticism with another set of flawless lyrics about desire, longing, and the inevitable whimsy of time’s hand. The gorgeous melody only elevates the overall effect of Ferry’s fantasy.
Another interesting side effect of Eno’s absence is the way that the revised Roxy Music sounds like a real, thoroughly integrated unit. Before, they shot off in unpredictable directions (often to fabulous effect), but in ways that seemed unsustainable. On “Stranded”, there is a genuine band at work, with a sound so unique that America could not claim any influence. By 1974, Roxy Music was a thoroughly English band that had little or no debt to American pop culture. “Stranded” was a #1 album in England, but Americans barely acknowledged the album as it clawed its way onto our top 200. Perhaps partially driven by its controversial cover of two scantily clad models, the band’s next album “Country Life” had little trouble traversing America’s top 40 album list, with a set of songs that echoed much of the romance and self-analytical ennui of “Stranded”.
Just Like You
A Song for Europe
Mother of Pearl
November 1973 - Billboard Charted #184
Bruce Springsteen: The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle
Album #179 - September 1973
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