EIGHTIES CHEESE WEEK
"More Than This" / Roxy Music
To a non-fan like me, it was glaringly obvious that Roxy Music was all about the ego of Bryan Ferry. Other talents might pass in and out (Brian Eno during their glam-art-prog phase, Paul Carrack in the disco-soul reincarnation) but it was always Ferry that mattered, he of the broad shoulders, strong jaw, and winsome black forelock. Only a guy who looked like a suave 1930s film version of Heathcliff could make it look sexy to sing with such a high falsetto.
I never listened to Roxy Music before this song exploded in America in 1982-83, so I'll eternally think of Ferry in that leather jacket and bow-tie, gyrating so earnestly on the More Than This video. (Awful dancing, BTW -- even David Byrne managed to dance better than this, once he'd found he had a pelvis.) It immediately struck me as the fakiest piece of crap I'd ever heard. I hate overproduced music, and this was over-the-top lush, full of shimmering synths and splashy drums and pling-y electric guitars. Ferry sings for about the first two minutes and the rest just zones out into mesmerized instrumentals.
Ferry has said this was about a doomed love affair; the video, with its luminous cross hanging behind Ferry, implies that it's about God, or Jesus. For all I know it's about a woman who left him to enter a nunnery, which would definitely be an option for me. Those vague arty lyrics don't help, either. He offers us no particulars, just knee-jerk poetic images like dead leaves and wind and sea tide, interspersed with ruminations about knowing and learning. All very deeply felt, of course, brooding and melancholy. The chorus hints at some deeper meaning: "More than this /There is nothing / More than this / Tell me one thing / More than this / There is nothing." But more than what, Bryan? Please tell us.
Well, what it's really about is the verse's odd melodic intervals, which give Ferry opportunity to jump back and forth between that beguiling high register and his manful lower voice. Every time he switches to the falsetto, it's like he's saying "Look at me, I'm a sensitive guy!" Then he switches low again -- "But I still have testosterone, ladies!" Then he coyly ducks his head, flashes his blindingly white teeth, gives us his best profile, and shakes the raven forelock down in front of his bedroom eyes.
Years later, when I finally discovered Style Council, I realized what Roxy Music was trying to do, bringing soul into the disco era; the difference is that Paul Weller was writing the songs for Style Council, and they had backbone. For all its aural lushness, that pillow of synthesized sound, "More Than This" is just stupid. The only people I know who really liked it also happened to have the hots for Bryan Ferry (a substantial population, I must say). Until Robert Palmer came along with "Addicted to Love" and proved that a handsome guy in a suit could still sing with irony and wit....