Published: Jul 21, 2015
Mortally wounded, King Arthur was brought to the enchanted island of Avalon and placed on a golden bed. Enchanted, indeed — the island was always ruled by a woman, and all her followers were women.
On the cover photo of "Avalon," the final album released by Roxy Music, we see the back of a knight’s helmet. Resting on his hand is a falcon. They look out over clouds and what seems like the rising sun to a strip of land in the distance — a goal so prized it might as well be Avalon, the paradise where the knight could find rest. And comfort. Even, perhaps, love.
The power of women to heal — it’s the link between the myth and this CD. Bryan Ferry was always a ladies man, that is, a man who lived for love. The dark suit, the white shirt, the hair cut just-so across the forehead. It’s all atmosphere, all sensuality. The rhythm that redefined “sultry.” The ethereal saxophone. The elliptical lyrics that conjured, all at once, rainy nights on Fifth Avenue, women beautiful as models, champagne served on penthouse terraces, the lucidity that strikes at 4 AM when the party’s finally over. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]
But let’s be clear — this is no virginal search for first love, there are no teenagers here. In the world that Roxy Music evokes, the narrator knows so much about love he’s jaded. Been there, done that, got the heartache to prove it. And yet he’s still a romantic.
So the first thing to say about “Avalon” is that this music is sexy sexy sexy. Indeed, if you were trying to explain sex to an alien and could only use sound, this is the CD you’d play; in essence, it is sex. Not wholehearted Barry White sex. Not popper-fueled KC and the Sunshine Band sex. But slow, dreamy sex; deep, underwater sex; dark, midnight sex. Above all, sex so powerful it passes for love, sex that might as well be love.
No wonder “Avalon” has been so popular as “first time” background music — this is music that respects, even exalts, women. (On the Amazon page for “Avalon,” a man writes that “Any, and I mean any, guy going to college during the early to mid eighties understands the importance of this record/CD in regards to taking care of business with their girlfriends.”) A few years later, working solo, Ferry would release "Boys and Girls," which someone has shrewdly described as "Avalon 2." [To read about "Boys and Girls" on Head Butler, click here.]
To the CD itself. Ten tracks (two of them instrumentals). A grand total of 35 minutes of music — and stripped-to-the-bone music at that. The sax, bass and percussion are extraordinary, but the emphasis is on the keyboards and Bryan Ferry’s world-weary (“Who cares about you/ Except me, God help me/ When things go wrong”) quest. And the lyrics — they’re all sketches, suggestions of pictures, allowing you (or even encouraging you) to fill in the blanks. As, for example, over a languid samba melody:
Now the party’s over
I’m so tired
Then I see you coming
Out of nowhere
Much communication in a motion
Without conversation or a notion
“Avalon” defies genre. In its effort to describe the ideal, it becomes the ideal —an object of beauty, a piece of art. If anything, it has improved since its 1982 release; a re-mix a few years ago makes it sound even more pristine, unadorned, exquisite in its nakedness.
Music is transportation; it takes you somewhere. “Avalon” takes you — takes me, anyway — somewhere at once long ago and right now, somewhere distant and intimate. It’s a vision of what might be and what may be. As such, it inspires us — well, me, anyway — to aim higher and feel more deeply.
If this appeals, go right on to Bryan Ferry.
Bryan Ferry, Montreux, 2004