REDUX: Bryan Ferry/John Foxx – Late Bloomers Born Today

blast-from-the-past-header

September 26, 2012

Bryan Ferry [b. 9-26-45], John Foxx [b. 9-26-48]

Today marks two significant birthdays for The Monk. Born three years apart in Post-War England were two of my most significant recording artists. Whole crucial chunks of the contents of my Record Cell Core Collection were recorded or influenced by Ferry or Foxx, and let’s not beat around the bush; Ferry was a significant influence on Foxx as well! Ferry, it may be argued, is a grey whale of artistic influencewhose every move has been followed closely by the schools of veritable pilot fish in his wake.

Ferry had charted an academic course during his young adult years; working as an art teacher while music was an outlet that manifested itself in his early R+B band The Gas Board. He had plenty of time to think long and hard before he made his next move. And what a move it was. He took the latest critical, theoretical components of contemporary 20th century art and interpolated these schools of thought as rock music. Ferry managed to inject music with post-graduate thesis-level work as he introduced Post-Modernist thought into the aging rock corpus. The oxymoron of heartfelt irony was now free to inform the work of those who followed following his groundbreaking work.

John Foxx was somewhat more conventional in his origins. He was also a product of art school, but as a young man, he was influenced by Pink Floyd and The Beatles. As he became older, the likes of Roxy Music and Kraftwerk were additional beacons to him. His first three albums with Ultravox are the sound of a man rifling through his art supplies in an urgent search for style. By album three he had hit upon his basic sound [electro-psychedelia meets krautrock] as well as his life’s work thematic focus, which manifested itself in his journal/novel “The Quiet Man.” It was an examination of the relationship between a being [man], a city [society/environment], and the mutability of identity between the two forces. The rest of his music, by and large, would examine these themes while the music surrounding these concerns would change and mutate. Sometimes wildly.

Both artists recorded their debut singles when they were the advanced [for rock] age of 27. What this has meant for their body of work is that it is not adolescent at all, which is generally, a hallmark of rock and roll music. Both artists have a Romantic aspect to their work, but it is filtered through a somewhat dispassionate Apollonian point of view. Romance as an ideal informs their respective struggles. Neither artist has a Dionysian bent whatsoever! It is inconceivable that either would ever write about “getting high” with their “sweet mama.” That’s not how they roll.

Both artists triangulated apart from the most significant Post-Punk meta-influence [apart from each other] in the person of David Bowie. Bowie was involved with conventional rock bands [who have left traces to follow] from the age of 16 and he [unlike Ferry and Foxx] grew up in public through a prolonged adolescence as he tried things that did or didn’t work in the process of creating his artistic persona. When Bowie became a superstar in 1972, it was after a decade of hard work trying! How he must have been sideswiped by the emergence of Ferry with all of his ducks in a row, as if issued from the Head of Zeus. Bowie has long admired Ferry’s achievements and it was not for nothing that he gave the band choice placement as an opening act on his Ziggy shows. Within a year, Ferry was considered one of Bowie’s few peers. Five years later and Bowie was ensconced with Eno in Hansa studios in Berlin. And we all benefitted. Similarly, Bowie picked Foxx as one of the next generation that bore his influence who might go on to significantly offer something on his own even as he spent considerable effort sniping Foxx wanna-be Gary Numan in the press of 1979. But Foxx’s debut album [“Ultravox!”] had been produced by Eno as early as 1976. In fact, Foxx remembered Bowie’s call coming through and the word getting to Brian Eno on his next assignment. Destination: Berlin!

Furthermore, Ferry and Foxx’s careers have been inverse mirrors of each other as Ferry began in academia as an art teacher before conquering the charts to become a star. He’s stayed in the firmament of Rock ever since. Unlike Foxx, who had less financial success and never crossed over to the pop charts. Foxx ultimately took a 12 year “sabbatical” from rock music beginning in the mid-80s, a darned good time for him to have had the foresight to know when to get out; unlike scads of my other favorite artists who unwisely soldiered onward. He reverted to his graphic design degree as a practitioner as well as instructor during that period. As late as 2007, he was still attached to the London College of Music and Media at the University of West London as a senior lecturer.

When Foxx re-entered the sphere of music in 1997, it was with the renewed vigor of youth as he proceeded to release approximately thirty albums both solo and in collaboration with others, such as Steve Jansen [Japan], Harold Budd, and Robin Guthrie [Cocteau Twins]. His work of the last three years with The Maths stands as his acme as in Ben “Benge” Edwards, he’s found an artistic foil who is clearly his best ever. Foxx calls him his own “Conny Plank” and as someone who had his breakthrough album produced by Plank in 1978, he knows whereof he speaks.

Meanwhile, Ferry; having burst onto the scene like an artistic supernova, had adopted a glacial pace of artistic development by the early 1980s that saw him making painstaking albums that took years and years of production typified by much rethinking and re-working.  While his later albums offer subtle pleasures of refinement, his salad days are clearly behind him. I’d go as far as saying that they were over by 1974, actually. But in that brief period, he defined whole new realms of art rock from point zero. This is hardly anything to wail and gnash over. He’s become an elder statesman of art rock even as Foxx is finally getting his due as an innovator and meta-influence on his own. But Foxx has the eye of the tiger and he’s not resting on his laurels. His new album with The Maths, “Evidence,” is released this month, and I await its arrival on my racks with anticipation!

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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5 Responses to REDUX: Bryan Ferry/John Foxx – Late Bloomers Born Today

  1. One could argue that Roxy Music hit it’s zenith with 1982’s oft praised “Avalon” album- probably the most debonair Rock release of all time. And that the solo album Ferry has been trying to make ever since, he finally got right with 2014’s “Avonmore”. Ferry has never sounded more self assured and the guitar work on this record is stellar. Not that he’ll stop trying…

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Orange County DJ – Funny you should mention “Avonmore” since I don’t have that one yet. Actually, I’m lapsed on Ferry for “Dylanesque” and the “Gatsby” OST as well! The last one I bought was the immersion edition of “Olympia.” Not bad… Killer version of “Song To The Siren.” I also have the four hour version of “Olympia Remixes.” Amazing, for what it is.

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  2. Echorich says:

    Great interview over at The Quietus with Johnn Foxx and Iain Sinclair on Overgrown/Overground London.
    OC DJ’s comments above are quite interesting. I can say I have had a similar view of the Ferry solo career since the early 80s, but it’s a line of thought that surely would cause some controversy. I have felt much of his output post Bette Noire could easily be subtitled “(Bette Noir Pt…). This is not to say I haven’t enjoyed that output – I enjoy quite a lot of it, but it must be maddening when your muse won’t sits still.

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  3. SimonH says:

    Was at a gig in London, 2004/5 ish, and was talking with a friend about John Foxx when an audience member (probably late teens) nearby turned round and said, ‘John Foxx is my lecturer…’
    Couldn’t resist asking what he was like and the response in summary was, ‘great’.
    It says a lot about someone that they can put a relatively high profile (after all he did grace Top of the Pops) music career behind them and move on in that way. I suspect many artists would struggle to leave their egos at the door. All the more reason to like him!

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  4. Andy R says:

    Your comment about the Apollonian tendencies of both artists is very interesting. Foxx in particular doesn’t sound so convincing when attempting a Dionysian rock out, as per some tracks in the early days of Ultravox. He even sounds a little unconvincing when attempting the romantic, swooning stylings of his mid-80’s period. He doesn’t ever sound like the type to jump into a sensate whirl of colours and feelings, and there is a mechanical quality to it. For example, throughout The Garden and The Golden Section he delivers long lists of colourful visions without any clear self-involvement, and the overall effect is somewhat empty or deflated. He is most disturbingly convincing as an outsider, traversing an urban landscape, as you say. For me, too, (and I agree with Orange County DJ) the early 80’s Roxy still works because it remains maginificently detached. It is a credible depiction of Apollonian lassitude.

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