[Sprawl of Sound] More Than Bliss: Heru John Basil, Roxy Music
Heru John Basil's sleazy-listening project, Roxy Music's glam grandiosity
When we last featured Heru John Basil in this spot ("Anti-Occult Hero," Aug. 16, 2007), he was taking a sabbatical from music-making, as he was disillusioned with the industry. But Basil's hunger to get back in the studio has returned, and I was privileged to visit the man's central Orange County home and hear what's next on his sonic agenda.
Turns out that he and Body Rodgers (RTX guitarist Brian McKinley) are excavating and revamping some recordings from five years ago. They derive from the sessions that produced the outstanding Paris to Berlin album (under the name Non-Stop): pulsing, surging, streamlined instrumentals in which guitars, electronics and drum machines coalesce into bullet-train rides to Valhalla.
This new-old material—which Basil describes as "goofy and sleazy, but interesting"—is more radio-friendly than Paris to Berlin, with some featuring Basil's sneering vocals. (He was going for James Brown, but the vocals came out more like Tom Petty or Iggy Pop, he quips.)
The goal with this new endeavor is to generate functional tracks the duo can license to television, movies or commercials-and also to rock the hell out in a way that's both familiar and weird. Basil warns that this ain't "indie rock." The first track Basil plays for me sounds like Cluster, circa 1973; it's a mellow, mellifluous chug that suggests smooth cruising over the autobahn on a spring day. You will hate for it to end.
"It sounds like hanging out with Bowie and Eno in Berlin," Basil observes. "It's late '70s German stadium rock." It could also work as a score for a TV sports show.
Basil and McKinley have a 7-inch single slated for release by Clayton Webster, who co-founded the Cerre line of leather handbags. The A-side's a pyschedelic boogie, simple and attractively swirling and dense. You can envision dry ice slowly enveloping the band as they strut and pose onstage. "We want it to be Euro-sleaze rock," Basil says. "It's catchy. It's our version of pop music."
Another cut sounds like Neu! covering the Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion," with the guitar evoking Michael Rother's in "Hallogallo."
"Some of these tracks, as instrumentals, we might work into library music," Basil notes. "I really need to make some money, and it's not gonna happen with weird fusion records. Library music, getting your music licensed, is a crap shoot. But so is pop music, for that matter," he concludes with a laugh.
Another thing from the pair's past that they want to resurrect is Hussy, a female-fronted band that Basil categorizes as "cosmic blues crossed with psychedelic Euro glitter rock. We're trying to merge unlikely styles."
Basil muses that they may work out a live show, too. "I'm not really a vocalist. This is going to be more like a comedy show. If we get a live show together, it's probably going to be outrageous, funny and bizarre. It's more like a performance-art thing."
DIM THE LIGHTS, YOU CAN GUESS THE REST
If ever a rock band deserved the lavish DVD treatment, it's Roxy Music. And the just-issued The Thrill of It All: A Visual History (1972-1982) (Virgin) is so worth the wait.
The culmination of British art-school élan and glam-rock decadence, Roxy Music were the perfect merger of sartorial flamboyance and musical suavity—but with a surprisingly savage and cunning experimental edge. This held true especially with the first two albums they cut with Brian Eno on synths and electronics. (Oddly, as the most egg-headed dude in Roxy, Eno wore the most extravagant outfits.)
On "Re-make/Re-model" from a 1972 gig at London's Royal College of Art, Eno plays a VCS3 synth while wearing a leopard-print shirt and silver trousers, while singer/keyboardist Bryan Ferry is resplendent in a shiny, tiger-striped jacket and periwinkle eye shadow. The song—which led off Roxy's first album and instigates this 36-track, two-disc set of concert, TV and promo-video footage—is both an exhilarating rock anthem and a thesis statement for the group's scheme to slyly mold the genre to their own sophisticatedly subversive specs. It's meta-rock in perfect equilibrium, winking absurdity rendered with absolute poise.
Roxy's performance of "Ladytron" on BBC TV's The Old Grey Whistle Testexemplifies their m.o.: dressing in outlandish attire and creating a new strain of rock that contains electronic experimentation and unpredictable prog-rock dynamics while retaining the kernel of a gorgeous melody amid the sonic chaos.
Roxy are the only band that could craft a perverse, poker-faced paean to a blow-up doll ("In Every Dream Home a Heartache") and render it poignant rather than farcical—even while performing it on Britain's national television station and looking like androgynous aliens. It was if Roxy's members were donning bizarre gear in order to challenge themselves to create songs that could rivet as much as their threads, which they achieved with flying, gaudy colors.
Disc 1 covers Roxy's awe-inspiring run of five albums from 1972 to 1976, while Disc 2 captures highlights from the MOR-ish, suit-jacketed era of 1979 to 1982, including the video for "More Than This," their best-known tune behind "Love Is the Drug," which is on Disc 1 in live form.
The Thrill of It All documents a group that embodied the best of glam rock's populist tropes as well as prog rock's elevated impulses: avant-garde sonic exploration with chart-dwelling pop, and ambitious literary lyrics with (usually) standard male/female romance scenarios. So, Roxy Music: straight blokes looking like the cast of La Cage aux Folles taken seriously by the art-rock elitists and loved by Midwestern secretaries? We shan't see their like again.
Heru John Basil deejays with the Tyde and the Bolero at the Prospector, 2400 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 438-3839. Sat., March 15. Call for time and cover. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/heruavenger.
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