The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV executives and do a spin-off, if you will. In this series we’ll once more examine previously-released records BUT the albums we will review in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This time we look at Roxy Music’s Siren.
For those readers who might not know or remember, Roxy Music is an art rock band from the UK founded by singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry and bassist Graham Simpson in 1971. The fluctuating band included: Phil Manzanera (guitar), Andy Mackay (saxophone and oboe), Paul Thompson (drums and percussion), Brian Eno (synthesizer and “treatments”) and Eddie Jobson (synthesizer and violin). Their material was arguably oft’times influenced by other Brit bands such as The Beatles, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Traffic, The Who, Pink Floyd and Elton John although, again, this worked in the band’s favor.
At the time the band stepped into the studio to record what would be their fifth album, Siren, the roster included Ferry (vocals and keyboards), Mackay, Thompson, Manzanera, Jobson and then current bassist John Gustafson. The result of their four month foray would be a nine track album with a running time of almost 43 minutes.
The opening track is one of the few songs not entirely written by Ferry. The title is “Love Is the Drug”. It is a strong album opener and was co-written with MacKay.
The second selection is “End of the Line”. This would seem to be misplaced but has somehow has worked where it is for years so who knows? It is followed by two more co-composed cuts.
The first is “Sentimental Fool” which was another song written with Mackay and “Whirlwind” which was done with Manzanera. “Whirlwind” winds up the first side quite effectively albeit all too soon. The flip side opens on yet another co-composition.
The second side starts off with Ferry and Jobson’s popular “She Sells”. “She Sells”, much like “Sentimental Fool”, pictured participants in the charade of love in an artificial setting as both pathetic and heroic. This one is often somehow both overlooked and yet still a fan favorite to date.
It is followed by “Could It Happen to Me?” which is the shortest track on the entire album. “Both Ends Burning” is the next number. It is unique enough that it stands on its own as well as makes a complimentary part of the entire disc.
It is perhaps almost all too quickly followed by “Nightingale”. “Nightingale” is the final co-composition on the album. Ferry wrote it with Manzanera.
The closing cut is also the lengthiest track. Titled “Just Another High”, the music and the message don’t wear thin despite the fact that it runs for close to seven minutes. The material here is further proof that Roxy Music was one of the most musically compelling, influential and intelligent rock bands to come out of the UK in the 1970s.
Ferry’s mannered vocals and self-aware ennui-drenched lyrics made this and other albums primarily his vehicle that worked well for the band overall. His solo songs made him what some critics called the “Chairman of the Board”. Released on the Island/Atco label in October of 1975, Siren was a critical success.
The title itself was even appropriate as the platter seemed to have that effect on the listener. It was quickly deemed the group’s “masterpiece”. The work calls listeners back by virtue of its lyrical attitude and its compelling, finely honed instrumental attack.
The LP gave birth to two singles. “Love Is the Drug”, which hit number 2 in the UK that same year and made it to number 30 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart here in the US the following year (1976) was their nearest approximation to a hit single and set the scene of transitory love in a rather plastic world. The single version has and edited intro and ending and is backed with a live version of “For Your Pleasure” from 1975 and has yet to be included on any CD.
The second single off the recording was “Both Ends Burning”. This tuned topped out at number 25 in the UK and did not perform as well in the US. This would not stop the five-star rated record from being remembered long into the future.
In fact, Allmusic would also go on to rate it five stars and in 2003 the disc was slotted in at number 371 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Quite simply, it is the music on Roxy Music’s Siren/Atco 36-127—sleek as steel and fiery to the core—that makes the album a true touchstone album of 1970s art rock.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.