We begin at the end with Bryan Ferry’s transformation into remote, sphinxlike pop icon complete and work backwards through the droll lounge lizard and end with the cracked out, cynical romantic. The Best of Roxy Music admirably stitches together the two disparate phases of their career with more emphasis placed on the wilder, weirder earlier years than the more easily accessible disco-rock of the later. It’s a bit ingenious to be honest, we listen to them transition from sophisticated pop romantics into some asymmetrical art project.
It doesn’t hurt that The Best of Roxy Music is the essential one-disc collection of their career. Every album is accounted for, three of the non-album singles are here, and a smattering of smartly chosen album tracks make an appearance. More prevalent compilations make the band split their running time with Bryan Ferry’s solo career, as if to argue that Roxy Music was merely a prelude and backing band to his self-created mythology as a pop star.
While this is true up to a point, he was the front man and main songwriter after all, it downplays the unique contributions that guitarist Phil Manzanera, saxophonist Andy Mackay, drummer Paul Thompson made throughout the lifespan of the band. Not to mention Brian Eno’s predominant influence on their first two albums. Roxy Music was a group through and through, and one hell of a unique and original one at that.
They produced a series of singles and albums that transformed romantic language and imagery into a kind of aching art, and surrounded it in music that was prone to extended instrumental breakdowns and freak-outs. It’s impossible to imagine the New Wave scene without their first five albums, and their earliest glam-infused art rock clearly helped pave the way for the punk explosion. Seriously, listen to “Editions of You” from For Your Pleasure and try to tell me that something that barn burning didn’t help clear a path.
All of this is to say that like any truly great “best of” compilation, The Best of Roxy Music makes an authoritative and compelling argument for their place among the greatest bands of their generation, and maybe even of all-time. It’s hard to argue against when you get slammed in quick succession by songs as strong and dominating in their pop luster as “Avalon,” “Angel Eyes,” and “Oh Yeah.” Then we transition into the mutant-pop hooks of songs like “Love is the Drug,” a mission statement for Ferry and the group if there ever was one, and the experimental beauty of “Mother of Pearl.”
There doesn’t appear to be anything essential missing, and arguments for the presence of songs like “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” “Prairie Rose,” or “Ladytron” would push it past its main objective as a one-stop shop and primer for the band. By no means the lone Roxy Music album you should ever have in your collection, it is a veritable sonic feast none the less. The balance is just right, it makes a cogent argument, and the music is uniformly superb.
This is a great jumping off point, and from here I would suggest checking out their first five studio albums and Avalon. Only two (Manifesto, Flesh + Blood) of their eight studio albums are mediocre, everything else is a delirious combination of the avant-garde, fashion, glamour, heartbreak, romance, kitsch, and sleek pop music.
DOWNLOAD: “Virginia Plain,” “Both Ends Burning,” “Pyjamarama”