I was recently reading a magazine article about Roxy Music, where they were listing some of their best albums. Having read the article, I realized that one of my favorite albums Flesh and Blood, wasn’t on the article. The albums on the list were a strange mixture, even including a greatest hits album, and some of the bands solo albums. Strangely, it omitted one of Roxy Music’s most successful later albums Flesh and Blood. In this article, I’m going to redress the balance, and tell you about this album, and just what made it such a good album.

Flesh and Blood was Roxy Music’s seventh studio album, released in June 1980. By now, Roxy Music were just a three piece band, consisting of Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy McKay. Phil Thompson had by now, left the band, and original members Brian Eno and Graham Simpson had long left the band. Over the years, many members had joined, and left the band. To make Flesh and Blood, a number of session musicians were enlisted to help record it. This would include Paul Carrack, who played piano and organ.

On the album’s release, it reached number one in the UK album charts, spending a week there in June 1980, and other three weeks in August. So successful was Flesh and Blood, that it was certified platinum in October 1980. In the US, the album reached number thirty-five in the US Billboard 200. Four singles were released from the album. The first was Over You in May 1980, which reached number five in the UK singles charts. Three further singles followed, Oh Yeah, Same Old Scene and a cover version of Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour. That wasn’t the only cover version on the album. Eight Miles High, a cover version of The Byrds’ track was also included on the album. Sadly, after this album, Roxy Music would only release one further album, Avalon in May 1982. However, like Avalon, Flesh and Blood was a really good album, and I’ll now tell you just what made it such a good album.

The first track on Flesh and Blood is the cover of Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour. Previously, Brian Ferry had spoken of his love of soul music, and here he pays homage to one of soul music’s great singers. Straight away, there’s a difference between the original and Roxy Music’s version. As the track slowly begins, instruments reverberate and the song’s counted in. After that things totally change, drums, bass and guitars combine, and Bryan Ferry sings. His voice is perfect for the songs, strong and clear, his phrasing careful, as the song moves quickly along. Behind him, the arrangement is slower than the original, and quite “busy.” Partly this is caused by the “wall of sound” that accompanies the band. It slightly distracts you from the band. It has been present throughout the track, accompanying the main part of the arrangement. Regardless of this, it’s a good cover version, complete with saxophones, synths and a really prominent bass line. However, the best thing about the track is Bryan’s soulful vocal.

One of my favorite songs from the album was Oh Yeah, the first single taken from Flesh and Blood. It’s a song recalling memories of a summer in love, and drenched in sadness when remembering a relationship that has since ended. A piano opens the track, and plays a big part throughout the track. The tempo is slow, drums and guitars join in. Percussion plays, then Bryan Ferry sings. A sadness is apparent in his voice. Around him, a slow, full and sometimes, dramatic arrangement emerges. His voice soars, strongly, as the arrangement grows, combination of bass, drums, guitars and strings surround him. To me, both the arrangement, and the vocal are the reason for the success of the track. It’s a combination of an emotional vocal and dramatic and sympathetic arrangement. 

Same Old Scene is very different from the previous track. It has a quicker tempo, and brighter sound. Percussion and drums combine with guitars as the song bursts into life, the arrangement quickly filling out. From there on it’s a full and powerful arrangement the rhythm section, guitar, keyboards and saxophone accompanying Bryan Ferry’s pessimistic vocal. During the song he sings about an old relationship that haunts him. This makes him to realize that nothing lasts forever and that he should to return to dating, what he calls the “same old scene.” Alan Spenner’s bass playing during the track is brilliant, fast, tinged in funk, as it helps drives the song along. Likewise, Andy MacKay’s saxophone drenches both Bryan’s vocal and the arrangement in a beautiful, lush, dramatic sound. Overall, what makes this track is a combination of the vocal, arrangement and lyrics. Here, the lyrics have a pathos, in them and a strong narrative, painting a picture for the listener. Thirty-one years later, Same Old Scene sounds just as good as it did in 1980.

The title track, Flesh and Blood, sounds totally different to any of the preceding tracks. It has more in common with some of Roxy Music’s earlier music. A bass plays in the distance, gradually getting louder. It throbs slowly. Quickly, drums, guitar and synths join in. However, it’s the bass that’s most prominent, played really well. By now the arrangement is full, synths sweeping as Bryan sings above the band. His voice is stronger and louder, as if he’s trying to make himself heard over the fuller arrangement. It’s an unusual track, gone are smoother arrangements of Oh Yeah and Same Old Scene, in is a rockier sound, with just a little funk courtesy of the bass. By the end of the track, it has grown on me, and I’ve become accustomed to the different sound. Although I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated this track, I prefer the smoother sounding tracks that preceded it.

After the change in sound on Flesh and Blood, the style changes again with My Only Love. It has more in common with Oh Yeah and Same Old Scene, and begins with keyboards playing slowly, providing an almost moody, thoughtful, even dramatic sound. Then, the bass and percussion play before Bryan sings, they too, seem to be building up a moody and dramatic sound. When he does sing, his vocal is has a thoughtful, pensive sound as he sings about being in love and the one he loves. Behind him, a piano and the rhythm section play a large part in the arrangement, the bass especially. Like on other tracks, strings and saxophone are used to good effect. Later in the track, Bryan’s vocal quickens, it soars high and he prolongs some of the notes. After that, a guitar solo plays and by now, a great arrangement is unfolding. It continues throughout the remainder of the track. The fact that this is a really slow arrangement adds to the effectiveness of the track. That, and the combination of a really tight band, augmented by some crack session musicians, contribute towards a fantastic, dramatic track.

Although it has a much quicker tempo than the previous track, Over You has much in common with it. It has a smoother style, than either Midnight Hour and Flesh and Blood. The rhythm section and keyboards open the track, punctuated by handclaps. Bryan’s vocal is quicker, higher, slight strained, but still just as good. Here the arrangement has a similar sound to many tracks released at this time, it’s the drum, bass and keyboard sound that does it. There’s an electronic sound and feel present. This doesn’t mean the track sounds dated. Quite the opposite, it’s far better than many from this time. Later in the track, the arrangement really grows, and towards the end, lovely piano and saxophone solos play, adding the finishing touches to an already great sounding track.

The second cover version on the album is Eight Miles High, a cover of a song originally made famous by The Byrds psychedelic rock classic. Back in 1966, the song was banned from the radio because it was allegedly about drug taking. Here, Roxy Music give the track a makeover, adding a new twist to an old song. It works well, with Bryan’s vocal perfectly suited to the track. Likewise a funky bass sound is a good addition, as are the drums, which have an electronic sound. During the song a guitar reverberates, and Bryan’s voice soars and quivers, full of character. What I especially like about the song is Brian Ferry’s delivery of the lyrics.  He brings the song to life. Also, the addition of the pulsating, funky bass is a masterstroke. 

A dark broody electronic sound greets the listener as Rain, Rain, Rain begins. Drums then pound, keyboards play and Bryan gives a slow, pensive sounding vocal. Around him, the arrangement grows. Keyboards, guitars and rhythm section combine. Strange, atmospheric sounds enter the mix, as Bryan sings. Still, his vocal sounds thoughtful. Again, there’s an electronic sound on this track, again courtesy of drums and keyboards. In some ways, there’s almost a reggae sound in the rhythm emerging. Like other tracks, the bass playing helps drive the track along, and is one of the track’s highlights. However, the success of the track is down to more than one person, everyone contributes to what is a slow and atmospheric song, sung brilliantly by Bryan Ferry.

After a hesitant, almost false start, No Strange Delight begins with pounding repetitive drums, joined by that funky sounding bass. As Bryan sings, keyboards play. His voice isn’t as high but has a richness, he leaves space in the vocal. Behind him the rhythm section drive the song along. They’re a constant, joined by guitar, keyboards and an oboe. This isn’t the usual type of instrument you’d expect on a rock album, but this is Roxy Music, expect the unexpected. As the song progresses, the arrangement builds and builds. Near the end, the sound reaches an almost chaotic climax, but thankfully, the band rescue the track just in time. I enjoyed the song until the last the last minute, where the sound became too full, and neared chaos. That slightly spoiled the song for me. Until then, it was a good track, but after that, it was never quite as good.

Flesh and Blood closes with Running Wild a much slower song, that begins with a piano playing and Bryan singing. Straight away, it’s obvious that this is a song perfectly suited to his voice. His vocal is slow and thoughtful, the arrangement much more subtle than on other tracks. Running Wild a just meanders along beautifully. Drums set the tempo, and everyone follows their lead. What really makes the track is the addition of piano, Andy MacKay’s saxophone playing and Paul Carrack’s organ playing. They all play their part in creating a lovely, lush arrangement, over which Bryan sings. Then, when the guitar solos at the end the track, this is the perfect way to close both the track and the album. It seems Roxy Music kept one of the best songs until the end of the album.

I grew up listening to Roxy Music and have always been a huge fan of their music. From their early days, right up to their final album Avalon, I’ve loved their music. Flesh and Blood, and indeed, Avalon are two of their more accessible albums, and perfect for someone wanting an introduction to their albums. Many of the songs are familiar, because four singles were released from the albums. Most of the songs on the album were written by either Bryan Ferry, or Bryan Ferry and Phil Manzanera, except the two cover versions. Nearly ever song on the album is of the highest standard, my only gripe being the end of the penultimate track No Strange Delight. Apart from that, this album features some great music, played by a really tight band, augmented by some hugely talented session musicians. Bryan Ferry’s vocals on the album are outstanding, and he delivers each song brilliantly. Likewise, the lyrics are literate and intelligent, many painting a picture, telling a story and benefiting from a strong narrative. If you’ve never heard this album, it’s well worth buying, as you’ll hear some great music from Roxy Music. Standout Tracks: Oh Yeah, Same Old Scene, My Only Love and Over You.



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