Roxy Music: Flesh + Blood 40 Years On

Couldn’t let 2020 squeak by without celebrating 40 years of Flesh + Blood. As a young whippersnapper, along with Sgt. Pepper’s, it was probably the first LP I enjoyed all the way through.

But these days it’s often mentioned as an afterthought to Avalon and the early albums (maybe Peter Saville’s cover rankles?).

It featured not one but three classic singles (‘Oh Yeah’, ‘Same Old Scene’, ‘Over You’), two distinctive cover versions, and was arguably one of the most influential collections of the 1980s.

It also perfectly compliments such contemporary new-wave/disco work from Blondie, Duran Duran and Japan (also sharing with those acts a reliance on the Roland CR-78 rhythm box, heard prominently in the intro of the below).

Flesh + Blood is the last Roxy studio album where Andy Mackay (sax) and Phil Manzanera (guitar) were major players if not songwriters (all tracks were written by Ferry apart from the covers, though Manzanera had a hand in ‘Over You’, ‘No Strange Delight’ and ‘Running Wild’). Both add memorable solos and nice ensemble work throughout.

It’s also a classic early-’80s bass album: reliably excellent Alan Spenner and Neil Jason joined new boy Gary Tibbs, fresh from his acting role in Hazel O’Connor’s ‘Breaking Glass’ movie and about to become one of Adam’s Ants.

The great Andy Newmark piled in on drums, having just completed work on Lennon/Ono’s Double Fantasy, alongside fellow NYC sessionman Allan Schwartzberg (who plays a blinder on ‘Same Old Scene’).

Londoner Rhett Davies was on board as co-producer, fresh from groundbreaking work with Brian Eno (both are apparent influences on the psychedelic/ambient outros to ‘My Only Love’ and ‘Eight Miles High’, and atmospheric overdubbing throughout), working with the band at his favourite Basing Street Studios (later Sarm) in London’s Notting Hill. There were also occasional sessions at Manzanera’s Gallery Studios in Chertsey, Surrey.

Burgeoning star NYC mixing engineer Bob Clearmountain took time off his work with Chic to add some hefty bottom-end and fat drums at the fabled Power Station studios. Bob Ludwig’s ‘definitive’ 1999 CD remaster is one of the loudest, bassiest re-releases of the last few decades (but not a patch on the original cassette!).

But basically Flesh + Blood is very much Ferry’s show, layering Yamaha CP-80 piano (in his trademark ‘no thirds’ style) and synths to great effect, and even adding some amusingly sleazy guitar on the title track. He also sings superbly, delivering a particularly impassioned performance on ‘Running Wild’.

Even when he veers slightly out of tune, as on ‘Rain Rain Rain’, it’s an artful, conscious move (unlike these days!), a la Dylan or Bowie. His lyrics are generally fascinating – dreamlike, elliptical, odes to unrequited love and possibly one or two illicit substances.

Flesh + Blood was a big hit in the UK, reaching #1 on two separate occasions between May and September 1980. But surprisingly it didn’t quite work in the States, just scraping into the top 40, possibly not helped by a stinking review in Rolling Stone (‘…such a shockingly bad Roxy record that it provokes a certain fascination…’!).

But Ferry could see a path ahead, and would repeat the winning formula (drum machine + painstaking overdubs + much-pondered-over lyrics/melody lines) for the rest of the decade. Rhett Davies had his work cut out – he moved on to work with Robert Fripp on the classic King Crimson reunion album Discipline.

 

7 thoughts on “Roxy Music: Flesh + Blood 40 Years On

  1. Great album ! I saw Bryan Ferry here in Washington DC a few years back, and when he began the intro to “Oh Yeah”, the crowd positively swooned ! Fonzi Thornton was still singing back up ,and still sounded great.So many amazing songs.
    I was also fortunate enough to see Roxy Music here about 20 years ago, with Chris Spedding in the band.Really good.Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting, I never play this one. My memory of it was of loving the singles, especially ‘Over You’ (and its slight Cars-y vibe) but the rest not being up to snuff.

    You’ve persuaded me to dig it out again Matt.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Always likes this album. A couple of years ago we were in the French House in Soho and we realised the chap chatting away next to us was Andy Mackay; he was planning some concerts and the poster was on the wall. Started chatting to the guy serving behind the bar who had a fabulous ‘Black Sabbath – Master of Reality’ top on and then he left with Andy Mackay. Cue looking at photos when AM was younger and realising it was his son – the spitting image at the same age.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 3 Psalms (2018) was the thing and I believe he played in various venues, like churches. It was odd to see this friendly, well-dressed – and should say portly – chap a million miles from his green satin suit-wearing period the early 70s!

    Like

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