The album art of Roxy Music spoke volumes about the band. Each of their first five records a campy cheesecake scene depicting a model posing on the cover, each reflective of the indulgent, luxurious and often outright strange glam-rock sound they had cultivated over a half-decade. Their self-titled debut album featured a grimacing girl in pink lingerie; For Your Pleasure was adorned with a leather-clad socialite guiding her panther on a leash; Stranded‘s cover showed us a soaking wet girl washed ashore; and the unforgettable Country Life was the closest their records came to softcore, its two models in sheer lingerie, one of them topless. To finish their pin-up cover canon, Roxy Music enlisted then-unknown Texan model Jerry Hall to pose as the 1975’s titular Siren, with seaweed-like hair. This was to be last of this sequence of albums, marking not only a change in art direction but in changing trends, as between solo and side projects, the band ultimately ended up moving into markedly different directions as the decade went on, from art disco to eventually the sophisti-pop sheen of 1982’s Avalon.
Siren, however, retained every bit of the stylish sophistication and hard-charging glam rock as Roxy Music’s previous efforts. Here, however, vocalist Bryan Ferry more explicitly adopted the persona of a suave crooner, his smooth pipes driving the image of a carefree casanova. Though he arguably was playing a character, it mirrored a shift in his solo career, as he was taking on more mainstream disco-pop love songs. Despite the kitschy, romantic vibe he was giving off, however, the band still managed to crank out some kick ass tunes, some of the strongest of the band’s career.
Lead single “Love is the Drug” provided some of the deepest funk the band had ever attempted, laying down a danceable and solid backing to Ferry’s tales of picking up women. Sample lyric: “I say go/she say yes/ dim the lights/you can guess the rest.” A little silly, but it still grooves hard, and remains one of the band’s most iconic singles, one with a video performance featuring Ferry in an eyepatch, for some reason.
There are more treasures to be found deeper into the album. The darkly atmospheric “Sentimental Fool” feels like a fittingly eerie successor to For Your Pleasure‘s creepy “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” A winding bassline and moaning synthesizers make up the long intro, broken after a couple minutes by Ferry’s croon. Without a typical verse-chorus-verse structure, the song goes in movements, rather than easily identifiable parts. After the intro, verse and rather lengthy chorus, the song climaxes with a swirling, dizzying coda that makes for one of the group’s most surreal and cool moments.
“Whirlwind,” meanwhile is a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll song, the kind that just rips right through you like its namesake. Something like this album’s version of “Editions of You,” it’s a short and straightforward standout, often the exception rather than the rule on a Roxy Music album. “She Sells” is a sophisticated disco-pop song that most closely approximates an Elton John/Chic collaboration. And “Both Ends Burning,” the second single, grooves hard on a funky bassline and squealing saxophone leads.
Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera and Thompson would all go on to work on their own separate projects for the years following Siren‘s ensuing tour. When they regrouped on 1979’s Manifesto, however, the results were decidedly different. They didn’t rock as hard, a disco sheen had been draped over their sound, and most notably the mass of people partying on the cover seemed to indicate, visually, that things had changed. The golden age of Roxy Music had arguably ended, but Siren marks the last of a spectacular run of albums by one of the UK’s most respected and legendary art rock bands.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.