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July 30, 1980 - Image 10

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1980-07-30

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Page 10-Wddnesday, July 30,1980-The Michigan Daily
Ambience and ambivalence


Flesh and Blood
Roy Music
Atco SD-32-102

Plateaux ofMirror
BrianE Enomarold Budd
EG Editions AMB 002

Well, it's time to put Roxy Music out
of its misery again. Let's hope that it's
for good this time. When Bryan Ferry
revived the group last year and
released Manifesto there was some
hope that they could continue to
produce at leastacceptable albums for
awhile, even if they could never again
attain the innovative level of their
previous work. Unfortunately, Flesh
and Blood is not only an unacceptable
album, but may signal the irretrievably
final creative death of this group. I
don't care if Ferry continues to put out
solo albums as uneventful, derivative,
and forced as Flesh and Blood (Hell!
he's even made pretense into its own ob-
scure art form), but I, won't have the
good name of this once daring leader of
the pack besmirched with the kind of
drivel that this album contains.
The bottom line on this album is that
it is little more than a compendium of
effortless and thoughtless disco cliches.
Sure, it's a "nice" album, but if you
think "nice" is a compliment, then you
don't understand the importance of
early Roxy Music. Olivia Newton-John
is "nice." The Starland Vocal Band was
"nice.' Who needs "nice"? Not me,
and certainly not Roxy Music.
FERRY'S schmaltzy-crooner vocals
have always been pretentious, but that
was okay balanced against the hard
edge of Roxy's music. This time out
even the music is lifeless and unin-
teresting. And the vocals, ho boy ! If this
Roxy reincarnation doesn't work out,
Ferry can certainly turn to writing
songs for Mister Rodgers. Most of this
album sounds like material Paul Mc-
Cartney rejected as too sappy. And
Ferry sings like he's trying to become
the Robert Goulet of disco!
I say "Most of this album is this" and
"Most of this album is that" because
there are a few redeeming moments on
Flesh and Blood (though proverbially
few and far apart they may be). In fact,
you can count the good songs from this
disc on one hand . .. even if you lost a
few fingers in a bandsaw accident in
high school shop. The first worthwhile
tune is the by-now-obligatory Motown
remake, Wilson Pickett's "The Mid-
night Hour," in this case. The sad thing
about this pleasantly funky-but rather

unremarkable-version is that you
know before long someone else is going
to come along and do it much better.
The nice thing is that whoever that
might be is going to have to try harder
to beat this particular cover than
Talking Heads had to work to beat
Ferry's dry and lackluster revision of
"Take Me to the River."
"Over You," which begins the op-
posite side of the album, is another
memorable song. This powerfully up-
dated '50's tear-jerker even contains a
nice lyrical twist and some great sax-
work by Andy Mackay, two Roxy
traditions noticably absent from the
rest of Flesh and Blood. This is the only
song on the album where the players
are able to escape Ferry's binds of
pretense and deliver solos worth noting.
THE REAL surprise of the album,
though, is "Same Old Scene," a disco
tune with all the synthesized fire and
immediacy of Tangerine Dream at
their wildest. Some people unfor-
tunately will dismiss this song simply
because it is "disco." I refuse to be that
narrow-minded and will instead con-
tinue to assert that this is a powerful
and engaging tune, even if it's context
does bother me somewhat
The only part of this album that ad-
mirably carries forth the Roxy
tradition is the cover, which has to be
one of their most powerfully and
alluringly sensual covers since Stran-
ded. Other than that, you would never
know that this is a Roxy Music album.
It is almost uniformly lifeless and one
dimensional. As it is, there are only
three of the original members left
(Paul Thompson having dropped out af-
ter Manifesto) and one has to wonder
why Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay
consented to being part of this travesty.
Surely they won't make the same
mistake twice. It would be truly
sad-but not unexpected-for Bryan
Ferry to continue to exploit the good
name of this group in increasingly self-
indulgent and asphyxiatingly stylized
music. Perhaps we should just put
Bryan Ferry out of his misery and save
the rest of us all that aggravation.
It is also sad that I think we must
begin to ask the same questions we
asked about Roxy Music of their most
creative expatriate, Brian Eno. On his
first two solo albums, Eno continued to
experiment with the wildly furious and
idiosyncrataic pop that Roxy Music had
first pioneered and then forsaken.
From there Eno's work became
"nicer" and "nicer," though he cer-
tainly did it with much more thought
and integrity than Roxy could ever
muster. His first three albums
represented an almost schizophrenic
progression, an insane willingness to

challenge and master every possible
HOWEVER, SINCE then hi# albums
have conisted almost exclusively of
slight modifications of a few limited
variables within one particular sound.
And a fascinating undertaking this has
been from the endlessly taped Philip
Glass-like Discreet Music to the
moodily random Music for Films to the
symphonic pop of Before and After
Science. Eno has always had this inex-
plicable sense for music outside of its
accepted boundaries. His work in the
hands of anyone less talented would be
meaningless self-indulgence.

However, simply because he does it
better than anyone else is no
justification for doing it over and over
again. For that matter he does just
about everything better than most of
his colleagues. Even the frighteningly
adaptable and creative David Bowie
has been absorbed into Eno's sound and
philosophy. I sincerely fear that Eno's
new Ambient series represents his
creative death in that he seems to be
experimenting with fewer and fewer
variables in a more and more limited
range. I wonder if the only difference
between Ambient #47 and Ambient
#48 is going to be one note, for which
Eno believes it is intellectually
challenging and philosophically valid to
All in all, that may not be such a valid
concern, as he seems to be very con-
scious of incorporating other artists in-
to the Ambient series in order to infuse
new ideas into the system. Perhaps that
is the source of my discontent with
Ambient #2; The Plateaux of Mirror.
Harold Budd, with whom Eno
collaborated to produce this album, is a
good composer and piano player, but
not quite up to carrying a conceptually
demanding work like an Ambient
album alone. As Eno said in the liner
notes to Ambient #1; Music for Air-
"Ambient Music must be
able to accommodate many
levels of listening attention
without enforcing one in par-
ticular; it must be as ignorable
as it is interesting."
IF WE CAN turn that last statement
around and say "Ambient Music must
be as interesting as it is ignorable" we
can derive many of the problems with
Ambient #2. Most of this album consists
of solo piano compositions treated with
a uniform echo effect. Someone has
tried to make us believe that simply
substituting an electrJc"piano for
acoustic with'the same echo effect ac-

tually constitutes enough variety to
warrant our attention, but it doesn't
quite work. The fault lies mostly in that
Budd's compositions are fairly
predictable and reminiscent of each
other. Many of his melodies come from
a relatively narrow middle-register
range of the keyboard, adding to the
impression that his themes are only
slight variations of each other.
Sometimes it sounds like half of this
album was recorded in one long ram-
bling session, which was later chopped
into "songs" in order to make us think
that someone had spent hours on each
I can't help but think that Eno could
have made this album more interesting
if he had beenmore involved. Unless
you count the constant echo effect as his
hand in this album is hardly visible. His
only obvious inputs are the over-
whelming, breathy choir of "Not Yet
Remernbered" (right off Ambient #1)
and the occasional atmospheric, syn-
thesized cricket or bird. Of course, even
these effects are stolen from previous
Mr. Budd certainly has a pleasing
ability to create dreamy melodies at
the touch of a piano key, but he lacks
the sense of tension and melody that
works so well for Eno. Witness the
strong, memorable melodies that Eno
fashioned on Ambient #1 from absurdly
disparate noise and long periods of
silence. Mr. Budd can achieve nothing
comparable with his lone piano and
echo effect.
I hate to claim that this is a vacuous
album, but it shows a disappointingly
narrow range of emotion-all the way
from pensive melancholy to disin-
terested melancholy. In short, it was
just made for one of those "interesting"
black and white films that endlessly
ponder rain dropping on a pond. Eno
simply needs more interesting
collaborators to challenge his creative
potential. It is unavoidable that his best
recent work has been inspired by his
work with other artists of comparable
talent, and although he claims to be
bored with rock and roll there are
several current groups (most
especially The Slits) ripe for his
production. Maybe his forthcoming
album with David Byrne will be an an-
swer. The small part of me that is only
now beginning to question whether or
not Eno really is God hopes that it is.
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