Manifesto Album Review (Melody Maker - Sat 3rd Mar
Manifesto Album Review (Melody Maker
03 March 1979
Manifesto Album Review
written by Richard Williams for Melody Maker
An inauspicious time for the old heavyweight to take the gloves off the shelf and clamber back into the ring?
I had thought so.
What good reason could there possibly be for ending the period of suspended animation begun in 1975? In other words, if "In Your Mind" and "The Bride Stripped Bare" and "Listen Now!" and "K-Scope" and "Resolving Contradictions" had been cast in all-American platinum these past three years, who'd have chosen ealy 1979 as the natural time for a reunion?
Ideally, might they not have waited until the middle of the Eighties, when Brian Eno would surely be ready to rejoin what for him remains the most promising creative context (as it still is for Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay)?
In other words, again: who really needs the follow-up to "Siren"?
But enough of questions. Let's have some answers, which only the plastic can provide.
The first is provided by this record's moment of truth, which is Bryan Ferry's entrance on track one, side one (title: "Manifesto").
Paul Thompson's characteristic impassive four-on-the-floor supports a patchwork of appropriately tentative noises: Manzanera's guitar running backwards a la "Tomorrow Never Knows," various keyboard interruptions, Mackay's saxophones overdubbed into nightmarish foghorn blares, and, weaving through them all into the foreground, an improvising bass-guitar.
Suddenly, Thompson shifts up to an urgent 8/8, and Manzanera answers with a simple, indelible sequence, power-chorded to the frontier of distortion. The sequence repeats, and repeats, and then, just when you're not looking…
"I'm for a life around the corner/that takes you by surprise…"
It's a moment of pure theatre, custom-built for the arena and the spotlight. As Ferry's opening shot in what must be, for him, an album of tremendous significance, it becomes a triumph of the imagination, a pleasing touch of arrogance.
After such concentrated audacity, it's hard to escape the conviction that "Manifesto" is the best thing on "Manifesto" - but then, if "In Every Dreamhome A Heartache" had opened "For Your Pleasure", would the latter have been any less a classic album?
The track progresses along the rails of Manzanera's chord cycle, Ferry's words saying nothing but suggesting everything ("I'm for the revolution's coming/I don't know where she's been"), a curious combination of the mordant and the optimistic, until the grandstand ending, which freese the bass-guitar once more, this time against a synthetic sci-fi choir.
"Manifesto", the track, is a Roxy Music classic, and who'd have bet on that?
But "Manifesto", the album, is constructed in two halves: "East Side" (to which "Manifesto", the track, is the introduction), and "West Side".
"East", as we quickly learn, represents Europe: the Old World, the old Roxy Music, the old impulse towards subversion and change.
"West" stands for America, and Roxy Music's still-unrealised dream of New World conquest.
It's an open invitation to interpret the album in terms of the two sides of Bryan Ferry: firstly the hero of British rock in the early Seventies, the man who conspired with Brian Eno to undermine the certainties of a drab era; and secondly the gossip-column "personality" who holes up in Beverly Hills for six months trying to figure out how to tailor his heart-on-the-sleeve ballads for the American market.
This division of the album is at once a dangerous and a brave tactic: it has the virtue of honesty but, in aiming to please audiences both existing and potential, it's easy to miss both.
"East Side" continues through the snappy "Trash", whose use of noise elements harks back to the earliest days (and which twangs the odd heartstring with "Teenage fever, oh you've got it bad/Caught the flavor, want it all"), taking a break on the rather vapid "Angel Eyes" before embarking on another pair of songs which, like "Manifesto", subtly incorporate elements of disco and new wave into the band's personal wall of sound.
"Still Falls the Rain" has a lyric which counterpoints its divided musical structure. Ferry uses the Jekyll and Hyde myth to discuss his own scizophrenia: Dr Jekyll is an anxious ballad, while Mr Hyde is a Faustian invitation to the dance, accompanied by a clever quote from the backing vocals of "Sympathy for the Devil."
"West Side" is something else altogether. At first it sounds like instant fodder for the Ritz/New Style set, a mere background to the party-time-wasting on which "Bitters End" once commented.
Yet the overall success of the side is that, with one notable exception, it rises above its self-ascribed limitations to deliver music of enormous charm and accomplishment. Even though the character of the band is blurred on these AOR-readymades, one thing is proved: when Roxy Music don't have much to say, they're professional enough to find a diverting way of saying nothing much.
"Ain't That So" is a euphoric uptown shuffle, fueled on Thompson's cool displaced accents and an alto saxophone which sounds more like David Sanborn than Andrew Mackay. "My Little Girl" matches its mood, a bittersweet romp through a soured affair with surprising windswept harmonies which remind the listener that, through most of the album, Ferry himself sings with a much lighter and less mannered delivery than usual.
"Dance Away" is the album's last complete success, a kind of mutant reggae-disco piece approaching the headiness of the Miracles old "I Gotta Dance (To Keep From Cryin')". It even makes use of a similar dub style section to create a climate of disorientation, and is finally notable for Manzanera's thoughtfully terse single-string rhythmatics.
The obvious failure is "Cry Cry Cry", a tiresome Stax pastiche recalling the populist histrionics of "Let's Stick Together" and including a jarringly blatant reference to the Ferry/Jerry Hall/Mick Jagger triangle: "Are you ready for…hot stuff?"
Unable to contain his self-indulgence, Ferry winds up the album with "Spin Me Round," a claustrophobic party's-over lament which might have suited the wretched introspection of "The Bride Stripped Bare" but which ill befits the finer, more expansive moments of "Manifesto".
"Manifesto" is a worthwhile attempt to make both form and content match its own internal preoccupations. It speaks of Ferry's continuing personal dilemma (which, put coarsely, boils down to the eternal choice between leather or tweed, between women who dare and women who care), and it wishes to satisfy those who bought "Virginia Plain" while making genuflections to present-day American radio culture.
Is it compromised by its emphasis on this double-schizophrenia? Certainly it pulls some punches. But, reservations aside, this may be the first such return bout ever attempted with any degree of genuine success: a technical knockout against the odds.