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04/05/04
Reviewed by - Matt Rowe


Roxy Music
Avalon
Released: October 23, 2003
Origination Year: 1982
Time: 42:45
Tracks: 11
Produced by: Rhett Davies
Style: Studio
Format: SACD
Enhancement: DSD / Bonus Song
Website:
www.roxymusic.co.uk

The uniqueness of Roxy Music and their style of romantic rock endeared a large following. Roxy Music and the vocal swagger of Bryan Ferry gave the 70s and 80s a style of music that was largely inimitable because no one was like Ferry. With his suave vocal delivery and the band's perfectly smooth and complementary musicianship, Ferry and company dished out one of the most elegant styles of rock known to its brief history.

The stylish music that Roxy Music created never radically changed but it did mature making for very pleasant and increasingly desirable albums to listen to and to enjoy. At their creative peak with Avalon, Roxy Music made the final bow.

Avalon is remembered by many. It is remembered by fans who adored its depth and its beauty. It is remembered by the casual listener who only heard a song or two off the album that enjoyed fairly heavy rotation on radios. Roxy Music was further adorned by Ferry's memorable solo albums which generated hits of their own bringing new listeners to explore, however briefly, his past. And Ferry's past always seemed to be personified by Avalon.

With the band's inclination toward art-rock largely influenced by the then departed extraordinaire known as Brian Eno, the band became the complete sum of their entire career in 9 well-crafted songs that were fitting for a swansong. In this SACD reissue, the beauty of Avalon increases and we are once again captivated.

The multi-channel tracks are largely projected from the L/R main speakers and the Centre channels (used for vocals and a chosen instrument most of the time) while the L/R Surrounds largely projects an ambience that places you in the middle of the soundstage. This does not mean that certain instruments do not issue from the rear speakers.

Where the instrument is more an adornment rather than central to the tune, they often find themselves projecting from the rear speaker setups. This creates an overall interesting and immersive feeling as you drink in the lushness of Avalon. Quite frankly, for surrounds, it could be no other way. The art of Avalon allows for the ambient placement of certain sounds while otherwise echoing the mains to create a dreamy effect.

An interesting thing that occurs with surround is that the isolation of the vocal track in the centre channel quite often reveals the less than stellar vocal talent of the singer. Of course, that's not meant badly but it does serves to present the amazing blend of the band and the vocalist. In this album, Ferry's vocals are naturally exquisite thus showcasing his incredible talent. As it isolates in the centre channel, you are amazed at just how much control and lushness is at his command.

Every song on Avalon uses the ambient technique to great effect. But the shine is even brighter on the Stereo mix. Avalon was created in stereo and therefore excels in this medium. The drum tracks are crisp and singular; the bass resonate. Ferry's vocals take the fore just as they do in the multi-channel mix but also take on a more powerful projection as they take shape, blending in with the two-channel effect. In "The Space Between", it is a little disarming to hear Ferry so dominant in the recording while Manzanera's guitar craftings seem wispy. On the other hand, the romanticism of "Avalon" is quite overwhelming easing you (unknowingly) into the heart of song. It is only when it's over that you open your eyes to realize you've been slightly swaying.

The musical TV theme-like, "India" becomes another song, one that you don't remember because it takes on such a different shape. "Take a Chance With Me" is otherworldly in its delivery as the distinctive guitars swirl around the song like a cloak of diamond dust. Add in Ferry's vocals and the build of a great band such as is Roxy Music and it defines the band. No other song on this album produces the hues and colours that this band did as a unit.

Mackey's sax intro and body of "Tara" is a soulful piece that elicits emotion as it spills from the speakers. The bad thing is that the damn thing is too short. The bonus track, "Always Unknowing", which is only available on the Surround layer, is a logical addition to this album as it fits the mood quite effectively. Fonzi Thornton's background vocal is haunting and lends an eerie tinge. Given the length limitations of vinyl, one could only guess at the quality of conceptual albums like this had they then been afforded the length of CDs.

All in all, Avalon is one of the definitive albums of a changing time. The 70s had started to give way to the 80s wholesale stripping of fusion from music. Avalon was the transition; the gateway into the future while doubling as the end of a time. Unfortunately, it also served to be the last genuine work of art from a band that understood the pliability of rock.

This SACD is a demanding reason to acquire the next hardware step in music reproduction. Not surprising since Roxy Music always took us to the next level.


Track Listing:

More Than This / The Space Between / Avalon / India / While My Heart Is Still Beating / The Main Thing / Take a Chance With Me / To Turn You On / True to Life / Tara / Always Unknowing (Bonus Track - Multi-Channel Layer Only).


Roxy Music:

Bryan Ferry - Vocals / Keyboards

Phil Manzanera - Guitar

Neil Jason - Bass

Alan Spenner - Bass

Andy Newmark - Drums

Andy Mackey - Saxophone

Neil Hubbard - Guitar

Jimmy Maelen - Percussion

Fonzi Thornton - Background Vocals

Yanick Etienne - Background Vocals.


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