Roxy Music

Valentine

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Before they became a vehicle for Bryan Ferry's Casanova act, Roxy Music held sway as one of the edgiest bands on Mother Earth. Driven by Brian Eno's radical keyboard experiments, early Roxy's space-age mix of electronic beer-hall kitsch and Sinatra-in-furs cool helped jolt a music scene in dire need of a little CPR. Though the band's live chops are well-represented in their catalog by such albums as Viva!, Heart Still Beating, and Concerto, no official live release has ever attempted to document the brief but massively influential Eno era of Roxy Music. That's the raison d'ĂȘtre of the U.K. import Valentine. A 27-minute audio/video CD, Valentine captures Roxy's most innovative and best-known lineup -- Ferry, Eno, Andy MacKay, Phil Manzanera, John Porter, and Paul Thompson -- performing six songs on the '70s German TV show MusikLaden. Though one must watch the accompanying video footage to really understand how mind-bendingly unique this incarnation of the band was, the songs themselves -- "Do the Strand," "Street Life," "In Every Dream Home a Heartache," "Remake-Remodel," "All I Want Is You," and "Virginia Plain" -- make a pretty strong statement. Possessing a careening electronic edge that gradually disappeared from Roxy's music after Eno's departure in 1973, the songs teeter uncomfortably between Eno's Teutonic keyboard noodling and Ferry's lounge-lizard croon. But whenever the musical tension between keyboardist and frontman seems too much to bear, their bandmates come to the rescue. Manzanera's guitar tirade on "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" is almost worth the price of admission alone, and helps break up an eerie stalemate between Eno and Ferry, while MacKay's honking sax propels "Remake-Remodel" and the quintessential Euro-cool of "Virginia Plain." But it's Thompson's steady thunderclap drumming, always on-spot for an appropriate fill here or solo there, that's most responsible for keeping things from spinning apart. There are nits to pick, though. At a scant 27 minutes, Valentine doesn't exactly offer much bang for the buck. Yes, the performances are excellent and the sound quality is very good; yes, the video footage is a nice extra; and, yes, the liner notes and deluxe slipcase are stylish. But for a retail price approaching 25 dollars, it should offer a lot more. In fact, if the label, NMC, had the consumer fully in mind, they would've combined these performances with those on Valentine's companion piece, Vintage; then the price would've been a little easier to swallow. But, alas, for those wanting to see and hear a crucial moment in not only the evolution of Roxy Music, but the evolution of rock & roll, the price might be worth it.

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