The soft, dreamlike scope of Roxy Music's 1982 release Avalon was a far cry from the stark abrasiveness of the band's Seventies albums. But with its haunting melodies and hypnotic rhythms, Avalon was the logical extension of a style that Roxy Music had begun dabbling in on Flesh and Blood, released in 1980.
"If you want to come up with something new, you have to change your methods of working," says former Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera. "Avalon was the culmination of a method that was started halfway through Flesh and Blood." The band holed up in Manzanera's newly built Gallery Studio, in Surrey, southwest of London, and began to experiment.
"We constructed a lot of tracks out of improvisations," he says. "In the studio, you can head off into very strange territories by artificial means. By accident, you can plug something into the wrong place on the desk and something amazing happens that you could never have dreamed of. The combination of writing in the studio while using the studio as an instrument had evolved halfway through Flesh and Blood and on into Avalon. It was this soundscape to which Bryan would then write his sort of dreamy lyrics."
The album contained some of vocalist Bryan Ferry's strongest songwriting to date. "I think Bryan decided he wanted a more adult type of lyric," says Manzanera. "We were making music that was a bit rockier, but then we decided — in light of the way Bryan was thinking lyrically — that we should tone it down, so it ended up having a more constant sort of mood. And although that mood wasn't very up and rocky, it was positive."
Ferry's lyrics expressed a marked openness and vulnerability. "It was just before he got married," says Manzanera. "It was a period when he was searching."
The title track commences with a subtle reggae lilt. "When we were recording the third or fourth album in London," says Manzanera, "we'd often be working in the same studio as Bob Marley, who'd be downstairs doing all of those famous albums. It just had to rub off somewhere." Singer Yanick Etienne, recruited while the band was overdubbing in New York, added soaring vocals to "Avalon."
"More Than This," the opening song, was initially poppier, according to Manzanera. "Halfway through, Bryan rebelled, and it was all scrapped and simplified incredibly," he says. "I must say, I was concerned that we weren't going to have a hit single from that album. And obviously, wanting to make it in America, we needed to have a single to break us. But in the context of the whole album, Bryan obviously had a broader view in the back of his mind. By the time it was done, it fit in much better with everything."
The atmosphere in the studio was charged, as was usually the case at Roxy's sessions. "Roxy Music was a series of complex personalities, and inevitably there would be ups and downs," says Manzanera. "Any sort of creative force that's worth its while has to exist in a sort of state of conflict. So it's absolutely amazing that we managed to do seven or eight albums."
His fondest memory of recording Avalon? "The day it was finished."