Listen to this track by new romantic trailblazers and former first-tier glam-rockers Roxy Music. It’s “Avalon”, the title track from their final (to date) album from 1982, Avalon. The record was something of a breakthrough record Stateside after the seven albums that had made their name in Britain. Having said that, their North American breakthrough would take a while saleswise, even after the band were no longer recording under the Roxy name.
The singles from this album were released just when the era of US college radio was building up a head of steam, and where the songs gained their initial exposure. Success in the U.S mainstream would arrive eventually , finally receiving Rolling Stone’s blessing as #31 on their 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s list.
But despite the potential for even greater successes, this would be their final (recorded) curtain under the Roxy Music name, with a shift in style that moved them into more refined sonic territory carried forward by lead singer and head writer Bryan Ferry.
Things were definitely changing for Roxy Music. But, it wasn’t just because this would be their last album as a band.
The band had once been a ’70s British glam-rock outfit out of various London art schools, transitioning to a smooth, dreamy ’80s concern with the North American pop charts firmly in mind by 1980-82. Also, only three original members of the band appeared on this album; singer Bryan Ferry, guitarist Phil Manzanera, and saxophonist Andy Mackay. The rest of this new lushly arranged, ethereally textured material was supported otherwise by session players.
Personnel changes probably had some bearing on the direction of the band. But, much of this change in approach happened in the studio as they were working on the material, thinking of success in America, yet also following an impulse to slow things down and take their time with the songs as they emerged, rather than simply attaching them to a an established rock-oriented template.This certainly can be heard in the title track, with a gentleness and lushness that focuses on texture and a subtle, reggae-influenced pulse rather than the angular art rock of the past.
It’s hard to say why a band who hit their stride like this decided not to continue working together in a way that was so artistically fertile. Being able to transition from one set of styles to another as the decade shifted from the ’70s to the ’80s was a goal that not many bands out of the same era were able to pull off nearly as well . Maybe it was that the sound, working dynamics, and personnel of the band had changed so much that the idea of the band itself faded out too.
In any case, the sound they’d create here would be transferred into Bryan Ferry’s solo career, starting with 1985’s Boys and Girls. The three original Roxy Music members who appeared on Avalon would continue to work together over the years and by the 21st century, along with original Roxy drummer Paul Thompson, they’d reunite for live shows as Roxy Music. Even former keyboardist and sonic colourist Brian Eno would appear on Ferry’s solo albums Mamouna and Olympia.
The band would almost make a new Roxy Music album in Olympia, which even features the typical Roxy-style model on the cover). But, at the last minute, it was decided that the record would be a Bryan Ferry solo album, albeit featuring Roxy members.
Even if Ferry is doubtful that a new Roxy album will emerge, one never knows.