Roxy Music – the eponymous debut from Roxy Music turns 50 years old this year, and the occasion is being most correctly honoured with an unexpected reunion tour – see you in the cheap seats at the opening show in September – but today I’m more interested in talking about their last album, Avalon, which also celebrates a round number anniversary this year, its fortieth. Which means that the band made all that unbelievable music – eight albums worth – in a single ten-year span. Which is insane. But also not the point, here.
As audacious and interesting their earlier work is, I freely admit that I pull Avalon off my record shelf far more often than any others just because it’s so smooth and beautiful a listen. Maybe I prefer to luxuriate in Roxy Music rather than be challenged? Or maybe I’m just obsessed with Phil Manzanera’s perfectly compressed and overdriven guitar tone on the record, heard to perfect effect on “More Than This” (interesting it was almost exactly a year ago I did a deep dive on that song – pure coincidence).
Instead, this post was precipitated by Classic Pop doing a “making of” retrospective article last week, which cribs a lot of the other pieces linked below. So if you’re only inclined to read one thing, it’s as good as any:
Or maybe this piece at Happy from last year, which strikes a good balance between the nuts and bolts of recording and the musical wonder of the finished product:
And because things come in threes, a similar piece at PopMatters in 2017:
But for a deeper dive, here’s some of the source pieces all of the above draw on. This 1982 interview with Bryan Ferry in NME is the source of the most-repeated quotes about the record and inspiration for it’s themes and title:
What does Avalon mean?
Avalon is part of the King Arthur legend and is a very romantic thing. When King Arthur dies the Queens ferry him off to Avalon which is sort of an enhanced island. It’s the ultimate romantic fantasy place.
You’ve said that this isn’t a concept album yet the title implies that it is.Bryan Ferry
Yes it does, but there you are. I’ve often thought I should do an album where the songs are all bound together in the style of the West Side Story but it’s always seemed like too much bother to work that way. So instead I have these ten poems or short stories that could, with a bit more work, be fashioned into a novel.
Ferry’s Got Style To Burn @ NME via Viva Roxy Music
In 2003, Sound On Sound talked to Avalon producer and mixer Rhett Davis and Andy Clearmountain about the process of originally recording the record in 1981, and then remixing it in surround sound 21 years later. There’s a lot of focus on the recording of the drums, both live and electronic, which is interesting because it’s not the facet of the record I pick out as most fascinating, but maybe I should be paying more attention. I would also like to hear that surround mix someday, but have neither the recording nor the means to listen to it so I guess it’ll just stay a “it’d be nice” kind of thing:
Mix magazine also took a look back at the making of the record in 2004, talking to Davies about the more overall vibe of its recording in the Bahamas in 1981. Particular focus is put on the genesis of the title track, which seemed to have a long and meandering path to becoming the glistening gem it ultimately was:
It was really fast, twice the tempo, even though it was the same chord sequence, but it never really developed into anything… Bryan would lay down four or five scat vocals. We would spend quite a lot of time doing that… I think it gave Bryan a clue to the actual shape of the sound of the lyrics, be it an ‘e’ or an ‘o’ sound or whatever, so that they sounded right with the mood of the music.Rhett Davies
Roxy Music’s “Avalon” @ Mix
PopMatters also just posted a love letter to the record, declaring it to be the template for the ’80s not just for Ferry, but popular music as a whole. A little much, maybe, but I’ll allow it.
And because you can never have too much ’80s Bryan Ferry for your eyeballs, the three official videos from Avalon: