Make no mistake - Roxy Musicís contribution to the recording industry has been a healthy one. Formed in 1971, the five former art students rode high on the crest of each wave the seventies had to offer and managed to provide a credible alternative to the stadium rock of the era. The band became a cult sensation in their home country of England and, to a larger extent, across the channel in mainland Europe. Still, that was then and this is, well... 1983. The High Road finds Roxy Music in Frejus, France and trying to make the transition from seventies mainstay to eighties supergroup.
With the exception of Brian Eno, who left waaaay back in 1973 claiming he was being stifled by the band (history would prove him right), the original line up is expanded here and touring in support of their hit Avalon album. With ten years of experience playing together, the band is, without question, a skilled unit and what they may lack in charisma (believe me, they strayed a long, long way from their glam roots) they more than make up for with musicianship. The backing vocalists, Michelle Cobbs, Tawatha Agee and Fonzi (Hey!) Thornton, are wonderful and add soul to an excellent song list selected from their nine studio albums. So if the band is tight, the songs are good and the history is proven, what the hell went wrong?
The problems with this concert rest squarely on the shoulders of the formerly-suave front man, Bryan Ferry. The concert opens with The Main Thing and bears the promise of a slick performance. When Ferry first lurches into view, it appears as though he may be feeling the effects of having hit the rider a little early in the band room Ė then we realise he is just trying to dance. It may seem a little pedantic to pick on the uncoordinated gyrations of the lead singer, but letís face it, he is the face of Roxy Music and his pained, dramatic delivery and his awkward movements make viewing a chore.
To be fair, the silken and distinctive voice that accounted for much of Roxy Musicís early success is still mercifully intact and songs like Love Is The Drug and Do The Strand still manage to pack a reasonable punch. Later hits like Avalon and Jealous Guy (rightfully reclaimed these days by Lennon), however, are performed with the smugness of a performer who knows that a stadium full of punters have already parted with their hard-earned francs and will therefore enjoy them regardless. Overall, he comes across as a little sleazy (and not in an interesting way like Iggy Pop or Lux Interior, but more like a Federal MP or Wayne Carey).
Roxy Music were a great band and, in this outing (which was to be their last tour), they still display the necessary performance acumen. Unfortunately, with Ferry mugging the stage like a boorish ham, the band is ultimately let down in its final hour and is reduced to little more than well-produced cabaret.
Please donít get me wrong, Bryan Ferry is not a bad man, he just turned out to be a bit of a dork, that's all.
1. The Main Thing
2. Out Of The Blue
3. Both Ends Burning
4. A Song For Europe
5. Can't Let Go
6. While My Heart Is Still Beating
8. My Only Love
9. Dance Away
10. Love Is The Drug
11. Like A Hurricane
12. Editions Of You
13. Do The Strand
14. Jealous Guy
The picture quality on this release is shoddy beyond its years and one of the contributing factors is the concert lighting itself. The rig resembles something you might rent from Crazy Mikeís Party Hire and monotonously washes the stage in a small, stark variety of offensive colours with nary a filter or an effect in evidence. This results in a great deal of bleeding and distortion and detracts a great deal from the filmís clarity.
When fully lit, the performers appear washed out but it is when the stage is in darkness that the picture appears least defined.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely that there would exist any better available footage of the band and it is pretty much on a par with most footage recorded at the time. In all fairness, though the picture quality is found lacking in many respects and the problems are most likely inherent in the source material rather than in the presentation of the disc.
The High Road is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.
The High Road fares a little better on the sound front, but not to any great extent. It comes with two options: A PCM 2.0 track and a Dolby Digital stereo 2.0 track. The PCM is probably the more preferable as it seems to handle the volume a little better than its little Dolby buddy. Under the circumstances, the PCM option is a welcome addition and should probably become a little more widely used in releases of this nature.
The lead vocals are certainly clear enough and, for the most part, instrumentation is quite crisp. It is only during the quieter moments that any background noise or hiss is audible and though it is certainly to be expected, I canít help but think that some effort could have been made during disc production to remove it.
All in all, the sound quality is more than adequate given its origin.
If you are a fan of Roxy Music and regret the fact that you never had the opportunity to see them perform in concert, there is little to be found in The High Road to justify those regrets.
Here's a better idea: Get yourself comfy on the couch with a glass of wine, and put Siren onto the stereo. Now close your eyes and imagine that it's the mid seventies and you've just found a viable alternative to stadium rock and the ten-minute guitar solo. Itís 1975 and Roxy Music are breaking new ground while Bryan Ferry is the epitome of suave cool.
OK? Now, dream on.