Complete catalogs trump career overviews
Reviewed by Michael Toland, Fri., Dec. 14, 2012
Roxy MusicThe Complete Studio Recordings (EMI)
Like Athena springing from Zeus' forehead, Roxy Music arrived in 1972 fully formed and sounding like no one else. Musicologists can pick out the bits of psych pop, Motown, and pre-rock standards, but the resulting structures remains unique. The 10-CD Complete Studio Recordings blends the distinctive ingredients of leader Bryan Ferry's art school pretensions and lounge lizard sense of style with guitar samurai Phil Manzanera's burning riffs and solos, woodwind wizard Andy Mackay's seductive sax and oboe, and, on the first two LPs, Brian Eno's electronic gremlins and Ferry-baiting sense of humor. The box encompasses a magnificent decade moving from eccentric glam (the self-titled debut) through a prog-tinged version of what would be called New Wave (Siren) to a slick, lush form of romantic balladry that's been Ferry's raison d'être ever since (Avalon). Roxy's stable of classic tunes – "Do the Strand," "Re-Make/Re-Model," "Avalon," "Editions of You," "The Thrill of It All," "Love Is the Drug" – influenced chart superstars including the Cars, INXS, and Duran Duran, as well as revered cult figures like Ultravox, Talk Talk, and Japan. Roxy's carefully cultivated aesthetic stood so far out from the pack that it nearly died of loneliness. Given unassailable music, it's fair to expect a presentation to match, but alas, this isn't the deep aural/visual experience a band this influential deserves. Two discs of rarities include essential non-album singles (the brash "Virginia Plain," funk-inflected "Pyjamarama," a smooth cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy"), and quirky instrumental B-sides (moody "The Pride and the Pain," jaunty "The Numberer," and bizarre "Your Application's Failed"), but also repetitive remixes and single edits of album cuts, none superior to the originals. Genuinely rare outtakes and unreleased tunes – assuming perfectionist Ferry allowed them to survive – would've been welcome. There's no essay or booklet, and while the remastered sound sparkles, it's not any brighter than the original remasters from the late Nineties. For a band known for its colorful, often risque album sleeves, the choice of a black box is puzzling, though the LP replicas are a nice touch. The lack of loving treatment begs the question of exactly for whom this box is intended. It's not immersive enough for diehards who already own the 1999 remasters, but it's clearly overwhelming for neophytes. It's hard to be mad at The Complete Studio Recordings while the CDs spin, but the sense that a great opportunity was ignored remains palpable.