1979: After a four-year break between studio albums, Roxy Music regrouped and recorded their sixth LP Manifesto. The question was not whether it would be any good, but whether Roxy Music was still relevant in a post-punk world? A week may be a long time in politics, but four years is one helluva career in pop.
Not that Roxy’s key members Bryan Ferry, Andy MacKay, Phil Manzanera, and drummer “the great” Paul Thompson were slouches during the band’s downtime. Ferry had established himself as a highly successful solo artist. MacKay had worked on two seasons of the ground-breaking TV series Rock Follies for which he had co-written 49 songs. Manzanera had recorded and released two solo albums Diamond Head (1975) and K-Scope (1978), the first being correctly described by Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone as “one of the great British rock albums of the mid-Seventies.” Thompson gave his talents to his bandmates’ solo projects and played with other bands.
That’s the backstory to 1979.
As a band, Roxy Music was the sound of the future filtered through the past. Just their name alone suggested a 1930s dance band with some Brylcreemed lead singer crooning love songs into a silver microphone. The music, starting with the debut single “Virginia Plain” in 1972, was unique, utterly original, and influenced a host of bands from the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees (who apparently met at a Roxy concert) to Madness and Duran Duran. During their first decade, Roxy Music produced a body of work—eight classic studio albums—which sounds as new today as when they were first released.
Which brings us to Manifesto. Though the album was eagerly anticipated there were questions as to what exactly a group of thirtysomethings could offer the music world after the seismic shift caused by punk, new wave, disco, synth, and the early hints of New Romantics. Though the album could be described as a mix, it was still an exceptional A-.
In some respects, it was a kind of work-in-progress that tapped into the early, “futuristic sound” of Roxy and the new, mature, soulful, sophisticated rock that would reach its zenith with Roxy’s eighth studio album Avalon. Ferry was always a crooner. Listen to him on the second-half of “Mother of Pearl” or the beautiful and haunting “Chance Meeting.” He was once (aptly) described by writer Michael Bracewell as “Jay Gatsby meets Marcello Mastroianni.” He had always been a crooner, a soulful singer, who gave his very own distinctive vocal-sound to Roxy’s artpop. Now he was creating a new sophisticated sound which was best indicated by his song “Dance Away” and those co-written with MacKay (“Angel Eyes”) and Manzanera (“Trash,” “Still Falls the Rain,” and “Manifesto”). The opening lyrics to “Trash” (“Are you customized or ready-made?”) suggest Ferry’s own ambiguous role of being both an artpop-provocateur and a traditional singer. He was moving away from the youthful “rock” to more plaintive ballads. This switch can be heard in the startling difference between the album version of “Angel Eyes,” which was more rock ‘n’ roll than the lush and superior sounding single version. Roxy Music was now on the verge of their greatest success, as Manifesto saw the band score big in the US market and become a staple of FM radio.
In 1979, to coincide with the release of Manifesto and the start of the band’s European tour, Roxy Music was filmed in concert at the Apollo, Manchester, for Granada television—best known as the producers of the world’s longest soap opera Coronation Street. In an hour-long set, Roxy (joined by ex-Vibrators/future Ant Gary Tibbs on bass, and David Skinner on keys) rip through “Manifesto,” “Song For Europe,” “Still Falls The Rain,” “Mother Of Pearl,” “In Every Dream Home A Heartache,” “Ain’t That So,” “Love Is The Drug,” “Editions Of You,” “Re-Make/Re-Model,” and “Virginia Plain.” Essential viewing.