Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Queen Bitch to Egg Head

Pre Youtube live footage of early Roxy Music was hard to come by. Early of course means the 72-73 heyday when ENO was still with Roxy. This is Roxy at their peak with a taught balance between Ferry's crooning and the bursts of free form sax by Andy Mackay, fluid guitar by Phil Manzaneara and of course electronics (VSC3) by ENO. Ferry is resplendent in white suit whilst the other members (with the exception of the drummer of course) have a range of Glam outfits. ENO's attire is by far the most outrageous and this is matched by a camp tranny demeanour, all pouting lipstick, raised eyebrows and suggestive wiggles. Within two years though ENO would have left Roxy and the feathers and make up would be gone.

ENO's visual and sartorial transition from queen bitch to egg head is one of the more interesting career changes as it was matched by a musical and aesthetic switch from the excessive to the minimal. ENO's contributions to Roxy echoed his appearance, with a barrage of electronic bleeps and filter swoops. His use of treatments to change and alter what the other band members were playing were like some gender bending surgery performed on the otherwise masculine solos. When ENO left or was forced out of the band his first LP Here Come the Warm Jets extended his Roxy repertoire but now the lyrics and vocals were by ENO rather than Ferry. Songs like Baby's on Fire, and the Paw Paw Negro BlowTorch were sung in a suitably mannered fashion and the lyrical content was full of camp observations. The Warm Jets cover shows ENO's overstuffed Victorian bedsit with the fireplace overflowing with bric a brac and general frippery.

Here Come the Warm Jets was followed by Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy which whist not quite as camp as the first LP was still a jagged unkempt beauty. In the lithographs on the sleeve ENO is shown still with eyeliner and long blond hair but with his hand placed strategically over his forehead

By the next LP - Another Green World the flowing locks and make up have gone and ENO is shown reading studiously against a neutral backdrop. The music on the LP has also changed; no longer jagged and unkempt, half the tracks are now sweet instrumentals and on the numbers on which there are vocals the voice is far less inflected

The transition started on Another Green World was to be completed on the follow up Before and After Science. Oo the cover is a cropped black and white image of ENO looking for all the world like the Russian constructivist El Lissitzky. The transition to intellectual Egg Head was complete. In place of the brash and excessive we now have the paired down and minimal, or at least pop minimal. From now on tracks would have quasi-poetic titles and gradually the vocals would all but disappear to be replaced by ambient tones.

Unlike Bowie who moved from the gay flirtations of Ziggy to a number of other guises ENO¹s transition was single and final. The shame is that in throwing out the eye liner something was musically lost as well and for all the commercial and financial successes of the production work with Bowie, Talking Heads and U2, ENO¹s most challenging and original work remains those first two LP¹s.

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