|Tom Hull's Old Rock Critic Writings|
Roxy Live: No News Is Still O.K.
So, Editor Christgau calls this once and future Critic up one day, asks if he'd be interested in writing a few words on the Roxy Music live album. Don't know, reacts the critic, but soon that changes to Might as Well, even Why Not. After all, he'd begged to review their Siren album last year, thinking he might have some constructive ideas to offer. Besides, though he hadn't been able to conjure up much of anything worthwhile in the last six months or so, Roxy Music, always an easy mark for sharp critics, might be just the laxative to unplug his writing block.
But things are hardly so simple: there are subjective complications. As an ambitious, upwardly-mobile, eastwardly-bound intellectual, it was simply a matter of good sense to key off Roxy Music. After all, one shouldn't take too much for granted, and the likelihood of getting creamed just makes life a bit spicier. But that life had assumed radically different directions: I mean, why should he care to hear that "Both ends burning/ Will lead you to an early grave"? He's been there already.
A few spins of Viva! Roxy Music suffice to settle that problem, though. While Roxy had occasionally proferred lyrics that smacked of insight at least, maybe even prescience, their main talent had always been to wed leader Bryan Ferry's sly, romantic pessimism to a complex, multifaceted sound capable of safeguarding all intentions in critical irony. Those lyrics might little more have mattered, but irony is still a decent weapon against a stacked world. And even to this Cowtown factory-hand, that matters.
So the sometime Critic gets comfortable with the album, notes that the sound quality is excellent, the musicianship adequate to the task, the packaging characteristically tasteful, the material well chosen and intelligently ordered. But as a good critic, he is still obliged to pose the criticly questions, like where the hell, individually and collectively, is this impressive aggregate headed. To which, there is no telling, for we also feature objective complications. Viva! is dubbed "The Live Roxy Music Album," not "The Sixth Roxy Music Album." Which, inasmuch as the five subnumbered albums form a cogent series, each elucidating the other, usually inversely, is tantamount to admitting Viva! is extraneous to the series, an album with no news. One that undermines critical expectations; the studiously labored "Bogus Man" becomes jocose, Roxy laughing at themselves.
But, then, where irony is at home with itself, it can be quite amusing. Roxy Music live has the power to ingratiate themselves with their audience; Viva! cautiously documents that chemistry. And it may well be the easiest Roxy Music album to live with, something this Critic certainly would not wish to disparage. In fact, he's rather pleased with the whole thing, a nifty album and a swift kick at the Writer's Block. Just what the doctor ordered. But still he thinks how ironical for Roxy Music to release an unreviewable album. What kind of behavior is that for a "critics' group"?
I have no recollection of this piece, but so far I've found three manuscripts: one heavily edited, the other two clean but reflecting the edits. Since it usually takes prodding to get me to edit something this much, presumably this at least went through an editing pass with Robert Christgau. I can't say whether it was actually published. But presumably it was written in late 1976 or early 1977, shortly after the record came out.