Avalon, released in 1982, is Roxy Music’s eighth (and, to date, last) studio album. Recorded in 1981–82 at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, it is generally regarded as the culmination of the smoother, more adult-oriented sound of the band’s later work. It was a huge commercial success, hitting No. 1 in the UK (for 3 weeks) and staying on the album charts for over a year. Although it only climbed as high as No. 53, Avalon is notable as the band’s only platinum record in the US. Bryan Ferry’s girlfriend (and soon-to-be wife) Lucy Helmore appeared on the cover (designed by Peter Saville) wearing a medieval helmet and carrying a falcon, evoking King Arthur’s last journey to the mysterious land of Avalon and continuing the tradition for Roxy Music albums to feature images of women on the cover artwork (though perhaps less apparently than previous albums). The lush arrangements and synthesizer drenched sound of Avalon later found its way onto Bryan Ferry’s solo album Boys and Girls (1985).
A single, “More Than This,” preceded the album and was a hit in Britain (#6), Australia (#6) and most European countries (#2 in Norway, No. 6 in Switzerland, No. 8 in France, No. 17 in Sweden, No. 24 in Germany & The Netherlands, No. 32 in Italy). Although a chart failure in the US, the song was popular on the college radio circuit. It is unusual for a pop song in that Ferry’s vocal ends at 2.45 minutes, leaving the last 1.45 minutes as a synth-driven instrumental. It has since become regarded as a classic Roxy Music song. In 1997, a cover of “More Than This” performed by 10,000 Maniacs with the lead singer Mary Ramsey became a US hit when it reached 25 on US Hot 100.
The title track was released as the album’s second single and also became a UK Top 20 hit. A third extract, “Take a Chance With Me,” with a remixed version of album track “The Main Thing” on the b-side, reached UK No. 26 and was Roxy Music’s last UK hit single. The extended remix of “The Main Thing” is only available on the 1995 box set, The Thrill of It All. New York DJ duo Rub N Tug released an official dance remix in early 2007.
The music video for the single “Avalon” was directed by Howard Guard in Mentmore Towers country house.
“The Main Thing” was also used in a 2006 television advertisement for the Vauxhall Vectra, which was based around football and featured Pierluigi Collina. Pianos were added to the track in the advertisement versionIn 1989, the album was ranked No. 31 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “The 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s”. In 1993, Entertainment Weekly included the CD as No. 25 in their 100 Greatest CDs A Love-It-Or-Loathe-It Guide to the Essential Disc Library. In 2003, the album was ranked number 307 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Avalon is the highest entry of four Roxy Music albums that made the list (Siren, For Your Pleasure and Country Life being the others). In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 45 on its list of “Best Albums of the 1980s”. In the 1982 Jop Critics Poll done by the Village Voice, Avalon was voted the 11th best album of 1982.
The album has consistently been praised by rock critics. Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone Magazine’s review of the album wrote “Roxy Music’s Avalon takes a long time to kick in, but it finally does, and it’s a good one. Bryan Ferry stars as a remarkably expressive keyboard player and singer whose familiar mannerisms are subsumed in a rich, benevolent self-assurance. And reed man Andy Mackay shines in a series of cameos (his oboe meditation on Ferry’s “Tara” is particularly lovely). Ten years after its debut, Roxy Music has mellowed: the occasional stark piano chords in “While My Heart Is Still Beating,” for example, recall the stately mood of “A Song for Europe,” but the sound is softer, dreamier and less determinedly dramatic now. Ferry’s songwriting, however, has seldom seemed stronger.” Mark Coleman in the Rolling Stone Album Guide gave the record 4 and half stars out of 5 and wrote; “this austere, beautiful set of songs represents a mature peak. The controlled chaotic edge of the early albums is completely gone, and cofounders Manzanera and Mackay provide only skeletal guitar and sax lines. Ferry fills in the details, creating layered synth landscapes around his tragic scenarios and melodic ruminations. Avalon’s pervasive influence on the British pop scene of the ’80s can’t be overstated. Roxy Music’s stature is even further enhanced by the absence of a latter-day comeback album. So far, anyway.”The Spin Alternative Record Guide rated Avalon nine out of ten: “1982’s Avalon remains one of the all-time great makeout infernos, a synthesized version of Al Green’s Call Me, Van Morrison’s Moondance, and João Gilberto’s Amoroso.”
In 2003, Virgin reissued Avalon on Hybrid Super Audio CD with a new 5.1-channel surround sound remix by the original production team of Rhett Davies (the producer) and Bob Clearmountain (the mixing engineer). The original 1982 stereo mix is left intact and is the same for the CD layer and for the HD layer, allegedly being transferred from analogue master tapes to DSD and processed in DSD throughout the process. The surround part of the HD layer includes the full album in the original running order plus the bonus track “Always Unknowing”, whose original stereo mix is only available on CD on the 4-CD boxed set “The Thrill of It All” and in the 2012 complete recordings box set.
Except for “India,” the short instrumental piece whose original multi-track tape had been lost, all tracks in the surround mix were remixed from multi-track sources, as opposed to two-channel stereo mixes being ‘upmixed’ to 5.1 as in some DVD-Video releases. For “India,” the stereo mix is panned clockwise a few times as the piece is being played, which ends in the rear right channel, from which the saxophone begins the next piece, “While My Heart Is Still Beating,” making up for “India” not being a fully-fledged surround recording. The surround mix has roughly the same running times as the ten tracks present in the stereo mix. The main difference is in the stereo image being 360-degrees wide, as opposed to a front image plus rear ambiance, and the levels at which various tracks from the multi-track are mixed into the multi-channel mix. For instance, the guitar parts in “The Main Thing” and “Take a Chance With Me” are noticeably more prominent in the multi-channel mix than in the stereo mix. Guitar, saxophone, synthesizer, and percussion parts are often placed in the rear part of the sound field, while lead vocals tend to stick to the front centre, as opposed to being mixed in dual-mono in front left and right like in the somewhat traditional 2.0 stereo mixing.
In an interview with Sound on Sound regarding the surround-sound remix of Avalon, Bob Clearmountain stated “This record probably means more to me than anything I’ve ever done. I’ve had more comments and compliments on this album by far than anything else I’ve ever done.”
All songs written by Bryan Ferry except as noted.
|1.||“More Than This”||4:30|
|2.||“The Space Between”||4:30|
|5.||“While My Heart Is Still Beating” (Ferry, Andy Mackay)||3:26|
|1.||“The Main Thing”||3:54|
|2.||“Take a Chance with Me” (Ferry, Phil Manzanera)||4:42|
|3.||“To Turn You On”||4:16|
|4.||“True to Life”||4:25|
|5.||“Tara” (Ferry, Mackay)||1:43|