I’ve always liked the word soundscape.
I’m not even sure if it’s even really a word but it should be. Not least because I can think of no better word to describe the sonically perfect Roxy Music album “Avalon”.
Long before you could pop in to Asda and pick up the Greatest Chill-out ever or snooze off to a Cafe Del Mar compilation, there was “Avalon”.
This album shimmers. It has layer upon layer of aural texture, all beautifully produced into what feels like an entirely complete suite of music the like of which we had not really heard in 1982. There’s plenty of languid fretless bass, atmospheric keyboard builds and clever sax fills which now seem far more common. Roxy Music had always been a band that had enjoyed experimentation but, although honed over the previous two records, this more ambient sound really started with “Avalon’s” style of production.
The most familiar of the tracks is the opener “More Than This” which is probably the most typical song on the album and a deserved hit as a result, picking up on the styling that had been executed so well and so romantically on the ethereal “Dance Away” from Manifesto and “Oh Yeah” from Flesh And Blood. These two albums had already marked a departure from the early years of Roxy Music after a four year hiatus and the band came back as a slicker, smoother version of themselves and took this sound to its absolute zenith with “Avalon”.
The second track “The Space Between” really starts to hint at what we can really expect from the album – far more mood than meaning. I am sure that there are many who will happily dissect the lyrics but they are largely just the final texture of this most elegant of soundscapes – see, it is a nice word.
“While My Heart Is Still Beating” and “The Main Thing” are perfect examples of how Bryan Ferry’s voice is used as another layer within the entire body of the production. With the mighty “Avalon” and its (soon to be de rigeur for 80s acts) angelic female backing, you realise that this is an album designed to transport you to another dimension. This transportation is nowhere more evident than the light and shade of the majestic “To Turn You On”. Chilled out indeed.
There’s two instrumentals “Tara” and “India” that fans of the Balearic genre will swear are lost oddities from Paul Oakenfold’s late eighties Ibiza record box. They have a wonderful relaxed lustre that really foreshadows a whole musical trend by at least half a decade.
And really Bryan Ferry deserves an inordinate amount of credit for his vocal style which is simply other-worldly. His voice has always been unique but here it sounds so fragile and delicate that it could blow away at any minute. “Take A Chance With Me” (a song that feels like a close cousin to the previous album’s “Same Old Scene”) has an extraordinary introduction (hence always listen to the full version not the single edit) before he launches into another pleading heart tug that is again so tastefully delivered in his sensuous vibrato.
In fact, I think his voice is so perfect that I have to make an entreaty to you. Do not be persuaded to see any version of Bryan Ferry or Roxy Music live because all the magic of what you remember is inevitably lost in some over-amped boom with his voice lacking all of the subtlety and wispiness that made you fall in love with those recordings originally. Imagine a karaoke version of Bryan Ferry onstage… and not a good one.
Outrageous and controversial, I know, but sadly too true.
Instead leave yourself with the pleasure of the entire album. It is one of the lost arts of music now, I feel – creating an album in which order and continuous feel are the blueprint of its success. The singles from the album are all good but far more enjoyable when listened to within their proper order.
Maybe I shouldn’t get so worked up about it, perhaps I should just chillout. After all, I know just the record.