Flesh + Blood is such a shockingly bad Roxy Music record that it provokes a certain fascination. The line on early Roxy (when Eno was a member) was that the band radiated high-tech decadence, and Flesh + Blood connects with this historical interpretation by confirming the decadent part: e.g., what could be more outré right now than an art-rock disco album?
These days, the group has pared itself down to a hard core: Bryan Ferry on vocals and keyboards, Phil Manzanera on guitars, Andy MacKay on saxophones. The rhythm section’s personnel varies from cut to cut, which probably accounts for the beat’s distant, rigid quality. Nowhere are the rhythms stiffer than when bassist Neil Jason teams up with drummer Allan Schwartzberg for an almost glacial cover version of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.” It’s as if everyone had decided to recapture the feeling of the good ol’ psychedelic era by dropping lots of good ol’ acid: the melody sounds like something that resembles the theme from Hawaii Five-O, while Ferry munches on the words, savoring only random, emotionally pointless lines and phrases.
Perhaps he’s just being defensive, because if the rest of Roxy Music is as bored as they seem, Bryan Ferry sounds positively bound and gagged. The best he can do is add a little tension by muttering the lyrics through clenched teeth and a constricted throat. He seems to be trying to get his messages out to us without the other musicians hearing him.
In more ways than one, Flesh + Blood is Ferry’s cry for help. Again and again, he admits to being passionately in love with a woman who can’t stand him (“My Only Love,” “Flesh and Blood”). This leads the singer into a melancholy mood in which he’s dithered and distracted by rock music on a car radio (“Oh Yeah”) or simply bitter and self-mocking (“Rain Rain Rain”).
Flesh + Blood‘s one clearheaded success, Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” is a brilliant choice for Ferry, who loves to find ready-made existentialism in such unironic styles as Sixties pop and soul. Here, he twists Pickett’s howl of discrete carnality into the moan of an aesthete’s orgasm. The jaded young fop didn’t know he had it in him. Or so he’d have us think.