Two British bands are genuinely stretching the dimensions of pop music. One, 10 c.c., has already found a degree of popularity in the States. Roxy Music has been unable to cross the Atlantic so far, but that should change with this album. Stranded is one of the most exciting and entertaining British LPs of the Seventies.
Roxy has constructed the modern English equivalent of the wall-of-sound. One instrument, either the guitar or a keyboard, will sustain or repeat a note, and the other instruments will build on top of it. Added to the thick mix is the unique voice of Bryan Ferry, who sounds alternately tormented (“Psalm”), frantic (“Street Life”), or about to sink his teeth into your neck (“Mother Of Pearl”). He delivers his consistently clever lyrics in the most disquieting baritone in pop. Everywhere there is menace.
Andy Mackay, whose searing sax made Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way from Memphis” an American favorite, has written the tune for “A Song for Europe” — the most impressive track on the album. It’s an awesome example of self-disciplined hard rock. Instead of flailing frantically away, the musicians, including Ferry on piano, limit themselves to maintaining musical tension. Here is emotion without lack of control. Ferry’s tortured recitation is supported by an eerie, pained musical backing. Mackay’s sax is mournful, Phil Manzanera’s guitar lines are expressive, and the drumming of Paul Thompson is dramatic.
Like “Street Life,” “Psalm” fades in, with an organ swelling slightly to introduce Ferry’s half-intoned, half-sung ode to the Divine. As the group slowly joins in and increases volume, there’s a bolero effect, and toward the end of the extended piece a Welsh male choir enters. Soon, the group sounds frenzied, yet not irreligiously so. Ferry is a possessed man offering a prayer, and this exceptional “Psalm” sounds like a wily demon’s prostration before God.
“Street Life,” a highly enjoyable entry (and British hit single), opens with what sounds like a UFO coming in for a landing and ends with fading finger-snapping. Ferry spits out his literate lyrics to chaotic uptempo support. The reference to “pointless passing through Harvard or Yale” as “only window shopping … strictly no sale” may draw a few Ivy League smiles.
Only on “Amazona” does Ferry’s cleverness get the better of him — a couple of puns provoke groans. But the intriguing instrumental track, with its several shifts of mood, dynamics and tempo, helps save it.
Roxy Music can no longer be ignored by Americans. They may not achieve the commercial success they have in Britain, where Stranded reached Number One, but their artistic performance must be recognized. Stranded is an eloquent statement that there are still frontiers which American pop has not explored.