Released in 1974, ‘Country Life’ defined Roxy Music as an imperial force within both mainstream pop culture and the then heavy rock dominated album charts. From the mannered urgency of its opening piano chords, giving way to a three way crescendo of Manzanera’s screaming guitar, Thomson’s avalanche-like drumming, and the method actor crie de coeur of Ferry’s impassioned vocal, this was a relentlessly fast paced record in which high drama seemed to alternate with the strained nervous energy of Weimar cabaret.
The artwork for ‘Country Life’ – the title being in one sense a pun on that of the long-standing magazine of the same name, much read by the landed gentry – caused significant controversy and earned itself an outright ban in more conservative America. Conceived and art directed by Bryan Ferry, with the assistance of photographer Eric Boman and fashion designer and long-term Roxy collaborator Antony Price, the sleeve featured a revealing ‘paparazzi’ style photograph of two girls, both wearing sheer underwear, and attempting to cover themselves in a manner which made they appear even more daring. Witty and stylish, it was an image that perfectly captured the musical energy, eroticism and theatrical swagger of the album. At the same time, the confrontational sexuality of the sleeve became the most effective advertisement for the record, becoming an instant talking point and ‘must have’ artefact.
All of this corresponded to Ferry’s founding vision of Roxy Music as a total pop and rock package, in which music, lyrics, image and performance were drawn together into a single hi-energy spectacle. ‘Country Life’ had a distinctly cabaret feel, as the spiralling rush of ‘The Thrill of It All’ was followed by the romantically nostalgic ‘Three and Nine’ – a paean to the penumbral pleasures of first dates in old-fashioned cinemas. Hot on the heels of this sly elegy came the instant hit ‘All I Want Is You’ – which joined with ‘The Thrill of It All’ and ‘Out of The Blue’ to reveal the seemingly effortless manner in which Roxy Music could create their own unique and towering wall of sound. Triumphal, echoing, looped through with dazzling passages of near feedback, yet grounded to a beat that was as weighted as any heavy metal, these were songs that spliced the heartbreak and sugar rush of pure pop with soaring rock extravaganza. As documented on ‘VIVA! The Live Roxy Music Album’, these were also recordings that thrived in live performance, becoming gloriously theatrical and anthem-like.
In its original vinyl format, ‘Side Two’ of ‘Country Life’ introduced a darker mood that brilliantly nuanced the overall temper of the record. ‘Bitter Sweet’ and ‘Casanova’ were both showcases for Ferry’s appreciation of European café-cabaret – a musical and artistic genre in which he excelled as a singer and lyricist, wringing from the words the anguish of world-weariness and self-destructive romanticism – stranded between love and art. It was a masterful pose, in perfect pitch with the icy alienation summoned up on ‘For Your Pleasure’, the Scott Fitzgerald like glamour of Ferry’s second solo album, ‘Another Time, Another Place’, as well as the preening, retro-sci-fi vaudevillian on ‘Roxy Music’.
Punctuating the Weimar like atmospheres of ‘Bitter Sweet’ and ‘Casanova’ was the equally dark ‘Triptych’ – haunting and sombre, and joining with ‘Psalm’ on ‘Stranded’, to reveal Ferry’s inclination as a lyricist toward the Bible-
black of mysticism and a certain religious melancholy. It was a track that added a shadow to the greater painting of ‘Country Life’, bringing out the vivid, somewhat American colour of ‘Really Good Time’ and ‘Prairie Rose’ – the latter magnificently concluding the relentless performance that comprised ‘Country Life’.
In retrospect, ‘Country Life’ can be heard as a pivotal record for Roxy Music. It is perhaps the group’s most musically aggressive release, and certainly one of their most exuberant. It catches a party in full swing, and tracks the action through to a moment of collapse – a hedonistic vortex, marking the rites of passage of an era.
Michael Bracewell, 2010