Roxy Music’s Country Life was one of those albums that was purposely left lying around in dorm rooms back in its day, both for the titillation its cover provided and for its worth as a badge that its listener belonged to something sophisticated and refined, however peripherally. Whether you call it art rock or glam, Roxy Music’s early releases were enough like Bowie to attract a serious audience, and that audience found something crucial to that era in Country Life.
Oboes, Violins, and Synthesizers
If you like the old oboe joke (Q: “What are oboes good for?” A: “Kindling for a bagpipe fire.”) then you may not like Country Life very much. It’s an odd mixture of what is, really, typical 70s overproduction and synthesizers coupled with violin from Eddie Jobson (who, of course, also plays synthesizer) and Andy MacKay on oboe and sax. More conventional for this kind of sound are Manzanera’s contributions on guitar and drums—along with Paul Thompson’s drums of course—and Gustafson’s bass. Put the spectrum of strings/oboes to synthesizers together into an album cover that uses sex to sell, add Bryan Ferry's leadership, and you have one of the masterpieces of the era. And it probably would have been a masterpiece even if the cover had been plain white, though it wouldn’t have been left off the shelf so often or as perused as it has been.
That Was Then...and Now
Country Life is the height of art rock and this album is still hanging around long after art rock proper has expired. If you purchased this LP back in the 70s, whether you bought it for the cover or for the music, chances are you still give it a spin now and again—in some form. It’s amazing how much it sounds like Bowie in some ways, complete with the great guitar of “Prairie Rose” and the bass of “Out of the Blue” and the influence of the highbrow violin and oboe on “All I Want is You.” Perhaps tops for sophistication and arty depth is “The Thrill of it All,” a song that escapes the excesses of that era and works well now, proving strings of all sorts can work well together.
Some of us may have listened to those old Roxy Music standards too many times, but there’s hope for us in 2014’s Avonmore by Ferry. And if you are lucky enough not to have heard Roxy Music’s best work, check out For Your Pleasure, Stranded, Avalon, and Live, too, before giving Ferry’s new work a listen.