Queen and Country

The sun used to never set on the British empire, as they used to say. It’s something the Brits were very proud of, and some of them still perversely are. Of course, the glory of the British empire, like all empires, came at the very violent expense of everybody else in the world who wasn’t British or at least continental Europeans, and the expense of the enlisted men who were sent out to do Queen and Country’s dirty work. This reality is now a bit of a national embarrassment, as more and more former colonies politely request if they could maybe have their pillaged art treasures and cultural legacy back, and oh maybe an apology and some restitution for all the killing, rape and enslavement. There may be a few proud Englishmen left who insist that it was all totally worth it, but their numbers are getting fewer, and if you haven’t guessed Ian Anderson is not one of them. It was inevitable that Jethro Tull would at some point take that shot, though this is a pretty mild indictment by Anderson’s standards. He just points out that it kind of sucks to have to be the person sailing around the world fighting and stealing for the enrichment of the Country and its upper classes with not much thanks or benefit to yourself.

Put a Straw Under Baby

This is my kind of lullaby. It’s a little creepy and a little soothing. Brian Eno does as Brian Eno does. Eno likes to venture into the surreal, as he does on this record quite a lot. Eno’s talent for atmosphere eventually became his guiding principle, but remember that at this point he was still teasing out his aesthetic. Call it the sound of a young genius throwing everything at the wall. I would say that anything Eno throws sticks, but also everything Eno throws is not for everybody.

Prairie Rose

An ode to Texas, from one of the least Texan people who’ve ever lived. Bryan Ferry, a former working class stiff who’s made refinement a cornerstone of his image, would hardly set foot in a prairie or consider writing a song about one, were he not in a relationship with a Texan. This is, of course, a tribute to Jerry Hall, one of the most glamorous human beings to have ever come out of the great Lone Star State, and an inspiration for a great many great songs in her time. Bryan Ferry’s concept of country living may have leaned towards well-pruned gardens rather than cowboys and rattlesnakes, but he couldn’t resist the poetic appeal of the lonely desert moon. Never mind that, according to Hall, he was befuddled and embarrassed by her colorful use of southern slang and boisterous country-gal ways, and decidedly not into leg wrasslin’. Unsurprisingly, poetry aside, Ferry didn’t actually want to hang out on a Texas horse ranch, and Hall eventually left him for somebody a little bit less self-consciously urbane. But the poet got some of his best songs and the model some of her most iconic images, and that makes the failed relationship an artistic triumph.

Painless Persuasion Vs. the Meathawk Immaculate

You can tell by the title that this is a T. Rex song. You may also guess that the seriousness of the song is inverse to the lengthiness of the title. And, if you’ve spent time listening to the Zinc Alloy album, you can hear Marc Bolan’s hubris. Bolan was, musically, trying out bold new directions, incorporating elements R&B into his usual electric boogie, making ‘blue eyed soul’ into a thing. But lyrically and conceptually he was just throwing random things off the top of his head. It’s like he thought he could continue to produce gibberish and still remain a glittery teen idol. But you can’t sustain a high roll like that very easily. It’s frustrating to think the roll T. Rex could have ridden if Bolan had just had a little more discipline, put more thought into his ideas, had some cohesion to his image. Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow  – A Creamed Cage In August; it was groundbreaking music, but the entire album looked, to the browsing record buyer, like a lazy toss-off, another bloated ego project with the band’s name once again changed, the title a crib from Ziggy, and the songs obvious nonsense. Bolan shot himself in the foot when he could’ve been ahead of the curve, thus alienating his fans and allowing David Bowie to once again zoom in and steal his thunder.

Out of the Blue

If I were you I would stay for a little while / If you were me, would  you walk out in style?

The 70’s really were weird. In what other era would the artistic insanity of Roxy Music be able to flower? They remain unquantifiable in style, only nominally under the umbrella of glam rock, as much for their posturing experimentation as their shiny epaulets. There has, since then, developed the Bryan Ferry style, which has hard boundaries and is, sartorially at least, easy enough to emulate. Nobody emulates Roxy Music, because there is no formula for Roxy Music, no constraints, no boundaries, nothing to point to except boundless idiosyncrasy. All you can do is watch and say “wow, that happened.”

Only Solitaire

Maybe you’ve figured out that I’ll post just about anything by me favorite bands, even if it’s less than two minutes long. (Also even if it’s substandard, but that doesn’t apply here.) I’ve read that this particular wisp of angst was written by Ian Anderson in mockery of the futile and essentially pretentious practice of criticism. Jethro Tull had not been getting very glowing reviews, apparently, and Anderson was irked. Or, supposedly was. I’ve also read that this song is nothing more than a rejected Thick as a Brick fragment. Either way, it’s a toss-off joke on a guy whose feelings of importance far outweigh his place in the world. It’s got a lot more wordplay in those few lines than most people manage in years, and it far outweighs the importance of whatever poor reviews the album may have got.

Old Dirt Road

Keep on keepin’ on, John…

I would call this song autumnal in spirit. It’s got an emotional palette of resigned wistfulness that, and a lovely melody. The lyrics make no sense because they were co-written relay style with Harry Nilsson. Harry also provides backing vocals. Also Nicky Hopkins and Jesse Ed Davis really shine here. John Lennon’s legacy is such that low-key songs like this one get overshadowed by more dramatic material, but this is a reminder that among everything else, he was really great at contemplative low-key ballads. Without a political message, an intense emotion or an experimental new direction. Just a really nice song with a pretty piano bit.