Roxy Music's Avalon takes a long time to kick in, but it finally does, and it's a good one. Bryan Ferry stars as a remarkably expressive keyboard player and singer whose familiar mannerisms are subsumed in a rich, benevolent self-assurance. And reed man Andy Mackay shines in a series of cameos (his oboe meditation on Ferry's "Tara" is particularly lovely). Ten years after its debut, Roxy Music has mellowed: the occasional stark piano chords in "While My Heart Is Still Beating," for example, recall the stately mood of "A Song for Europe," but the sound is softer, dreamier and less determinedly dramatic now. Ferry's songwriting, however, has seldom seemed stronger. Among the possible hits: the title track, with its charming, prereggae lilt; "Take a Chance with Me," with its extended pointillistic intro that opens into an airy, yearning romance; and "More Than This," a memorable melody graced with one of Ferry's most affecting vocal performances.
Guitarist Phil Manzanera is poorly utilized on Avalon–at times he sounds like he's walking through his parts. Perhaps he saved his inspiration for his own album. Primitive Guitars bears no relation to his first solo LP, Diamond Head (one of the great British rock albums of the mid-Seventies), but it's considerably more engaging than his last outing, K-Scope. Here, Manzanera mans all the instruments (with the exception of one semiaudible contribution by bassist John Wetton) for a journey through his musical past. Some of the nine tracks, such as "Caracas" and "Bogota," recall his South American childhood, and dense percussion predominates; the album's most striking aspect, however, is Manzanera's ability to wrench weird and utterly unguitarlike sounds from his main instrument — one track, called "Impossible Guitar," lives up to its title in every way. There's no singing to speak of on Primitive Guitars, and those who aren't aficionados may find the album's cumulative effect somewhat samey. For Manzanera admirers, however, it's a must.