- Vancouver, British Columbia - To give this album an objective review is sadly impossible for me. This album has such deep significance in my life, so dissecting it clinically would not only be monumentally frustrating but very saddening. My mother used to listen to the vinyl release of this album while pregnant with me, and then while breast-feeding me. And I was then continually exposed to it all while growing up. There were a few years where I hadn’t heard it at all, during that great shift away from vinyl and tape deck to CDs, but when my dad got the CD and plugged it in, I was swept away instantly in raw emotion and nostalgia. Every note, every sung lyric, every transition is imprinted in my mind.
When I was young, there were many feelings I would get when listening to the album. The first few soaring notes would announce the LP’s presence, and I would be locked in. Tracks like “India” and “Take A Chance With Me” would transport me to dark foreign lands far away, with images of knights on horseback, or maybe men in flowing robes exploring a jungle. Songs like “The Main Thing” and “The Space Between” always struck me as instrumentals, because Ferry’s voice was just another instrument. Sometimes I’d hear him but I wouldn’t hear words; just music from his voice. Then songs like “While My Heart Is Still Beating” and “To Turn You On” filled me with sadness, but a good kind of sadness. A healthy longing, like Roxy Music was reaching through the stereo to connect with me, and I was unable to grasp the emotions they were trying to convey. But I appreciated the gesture.
As an adult, listening to Roxy Music’s other albums has been a mixed bag for me. They’ve delved deeply into progressive and experimental rock, but also spiced it up with disco and dance. Their immediately preceding album, Flesh + Blood, was pretty good but a little unfocused. It seems on many levels that Roxy Music’s discography ended with Flesh + Blood, and Avalon is a standalone album by a refined band. The tone is amazingly consistent on the album: dark, brooding, melancholy, romantic. Every song on the album encompasses those feelings. Another give away is that every Roxy Music album has women on the cover in a sexualized fashion, except Avalon. Now, the person in the armor is a woman, but since no one can tell, I get the feeling they were doing that out of tradition. But the band chose wisely to have dark and introspective cover art instead of their usual fare.
I still get chills looking at this art, I’m not going to lie. The falconer in the armor and the falcon gazing out over the foggy loch in the glow of the evening brings to mind a peaceful time when one is alone but not afraid, and finds tranquility of spirit. The connection to the Arthurian legend is evident – Arthur was brought to Avalon to recover from his wounds sustained during the Battle of Camlann; to be rejuvenated in the land where his sword Excalibur was forged. Ferry’s message may then be that the love he shares with his lady friend is like coming to Avalon.
This is one of the albums that I really feel I can only listen to start to finish, and I would recommend that for anyone. Taken individually, the songs might be a little underwhelming. But that’s because they flow together, each cumulatively contributing to the mood and the sound. That’s not to say the individual songs are weak, because they aren’t. If one comes up on shuffle, I won’t skip it. But this was an album finely crafted for listening as a whole.
I remember thumbing through my dad’s vinyl collection as a child, picking out select ones to look at. I’d gaze over the cover art, at the colors and the designs, and think about how they reflected the music within. I’d developed a disdain for dull, almost egocentric, covers with just the band or perhaps the singer in front, but was enraptured with designs like Jean Michel Jarre’s albums. And I would note albums by bands like Petra seemed to jump out at me and be more interesting than the music. But I’d always feel the same way whenever I came across Avalon. I’ve tried to think of the words to describe the feelings, but ultimately I can’t. The best way I can impart them, even partially, is through one of the songs. A short instrumental, and the closing track, summing up the album and all the emotions that have built up.
This is “Tara.”