Roxy Music: Avalon

MAY 1982 (30 YEARS AGO)
Roxy Music: Avalon is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 5/5 stars
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Avalon, released in May 1982, was Roxy Music’s eighth (and, to date, last) studio album. It was a huge commercial success, hitting #1 in the UK (for 3 weeks) and staying on the album charts for over a year. Although it only climbed as high as #53, Avalon is notable as the band’s only platinum record in the US. A single, “More Than This,” preceded the album and was a Top 10 hit in Britain (#6) and Australia (#6), but did not chart in the US.
Recorded in 1981-82 at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, it is generally regarded as the culmination of the smoother, more adult-oriented sound of the band’s later work.  Bryan Ferry’s girlfriend (and soon-to-be wife) Lucy Helmore appeared on the cover wearing a medieval helmet and carrying a falcon, evoking King Arthur’s last journey to the mysterious land of Avalon and continuing the tradition for Roxy Music albums to feature images of women on the cover artwork (though perhaps less apparently than previous albums). The lush arrangements and synthesizer drenched sound of Avalon later found its way onto Bryan Ferry’s solo album Boys and Girls (1985).
From 1975’s Siren through the rest of Roxy Music’s albums and his concurrent solo work, Bryan Ferry was leading up to Avalon. The last Roxy Music studio album (it was followed by numerous collections, both live and otherwise), it is the perfect culmination of Ferry’s constant striving for the ultimate sophistication. On Avalon, the styles that the band had explored in the past–funk, jazz, and rock–come together to create a texture of remarkable subtlety. The title track is Ferry’s finest moment. His suave voice turns the romance all the way up, while the band plays in a smooth, light jazz-funk groove and guitar notes shimmer like the sun on water.
“While My Heart is Still Beating” features Andy Mackay’s saxophone drifting in around Phil Manzanera’s languid guitar lines. “True to Life,” a ballad shot through with reverberation, is the kind of song aching to be played late at night with the lights off. From the almost jaw-dropping elegance of the opening track, “More Than This,” to the closing “Tara,” a sparse, evocative instrumental, Avalon is Roxy Music’s masterpiece.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Roxy Music’s Avalon takes a long time to kick in, but it finally does, and it’s a good one. Bryan Ferry stars as a remarkably expressive keyboard player and singer whose familiar mannerisms are subsumed in a rich, benevolent self-assurance. And reed man Andy Mackay shines in a series of cameos (his oboe meditation on Ferry’s “Tara” is particularly lovely). Ten years after its debut, Roxy Music has mellowed: the occasional stark piano chords in “While My Heart Is Still Beating,” for example, recall the stately mood of “A Song for Europe,” but the sound is softer, dreamier and less determinedly dramatic now. Ferry’s songwriting, however, has seldom seemed stronger. Among the possible hits: the title track, with its charming, prereggae lilt; “Take a Chance with Me,” with its extended pointillistic intro that opens into an airy, yearning romance; and “More Than This,” a memorable melody graced with one of Ferry’s most affecting vocal performances.
Guitarist Phil Manzanera is poorly utilized on Avalon–at times he sounds like he’s walking through his parts. Perhaps he saved his inspiration for his own album. Primitive Guitars bears no relation to his first solo LP, Diamond Head (one of the great British rock albums of the mid-Seventies), but it’s considerably more engaging than his last outing, K-Scope. Here, Manzanera mans all the instruments (with the exception of one semiaudible contribution by bassist John Wetton) for a journey through his musical past. Some of the nine tracks, such as “Caracas” and “Bogota,” recall his South American childhood, and dense percussion predominates; the album’s most striking aspect, however, is Manzanera’s ability to wrench weird and utterly unguitarlike sounds from his main instrument – one track, called “Impossible Guitar,” lives up to its title in every way. There’s no singing to speak of on Primitive Guitars, and those who aren’t aficionados may find the album’s cumulative effect somewhat samey. For Manzanera admirers, however, it’s a must.
~ KURT LODER (June 10, 1982)
TRACKS:
All songs written by Bryan Ferry except as noted.
“More Than This” – 4:30
“The Space Between” – 4:30
“Avalon” – 4:16
“India” – 1:44
“While My Heart Is Still Beating” (Ferry/Mackay) – 3:26
“The Main Thing” – 3:54
“Take a Chance with Me” (Ferry/Manzanera) – 4:42
“To Turn You On” – 4:16
“True to Life” – 4:25
“Tara” (Ferry/Mackay) – 1:43

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Filed under Avalon, Bryan Ferry, More Than This, Phil Manzanera, Roxy Music

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