Thursday, October 29, 2009


"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....


wwolfe said...

The one version of this song that felt emotionally engaging to me was Bill Murray's from "Lost in Translation." And by far the best "lyric" from his version was his ad-libbed "This is hard" - a more naked, heartfelt expression of vulnerability than Ferry (or the post Natalie Merchant 10,000 Maniacs) managed. As far as Roxy Music goes, I always thought their concept - tuxedoed Casanova reveals the emptiness and longing under the shiny surface, via glam rock musical trappings - was kinda silly. Despite that, I did, and do, love "Prairie Rose," where the rhythm section rocks, and the image of foppish Bryan Ferry riding the range in the Lone Star state manages to acieve a goofy, albeit accidental, kind of charm.

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, if he'd ONLY had a sense of humor about himself. And I don't even think he was all that good-looking.

I did love that Lost In Translation scene, though, I agree. The cheesiness of the song made it even more loveable.

Anonymous said...

Your post says a lot more about you than about Bryan Ferry. To a non-fan of yours like me, your post glaringly reveals the issues you personally struggle with. Targeting his use of falsetto vs. regular voice was just ridiculous on your part; musicians do that all the time. It just shows you suffer from misandry, with resentful "testosterone" references. He's an entertainer; they all have egos, and fans WANT to see them glorify themselves to some degree on the stage. Like you - you glorify yourself with this blog of yours. You want him to please explain his lyrics, are you kidding? It's poetry, we must interpret.
Your post was a complete mess.

Holly A Hughes said...

Okey-dokey. Thanks for sharing, Anonymous.

I'm placing Ferry on a spectrum here, not writing him a hall pass. I could list many singers who never use falsettos (certainly not to the degree that Ferry does), as well as many who successfully disguise their overweening egos while on stage. Ferry has made certain artistic choices, and they have paid handsomely for him. But that doesn't mean that they work for me.

Of course I don't expect Ferry to explain his lyrics, but when I attempt to interpret them myself, and can't, I call that sloppy self-indulgent songwriting. As for misandry, that's a refreshing view, since I've also been told that I dwell too adoringly on male artists.

Don't know if you've read much of this blog -- hmm, I don't know ANYTHING about you, Anonymous -- but I rarely write negative posts like this one. Life's too short for me to write about music I hate. Nevertheless, every once in awhile I like to show that I do have the ability to spot crap, so it's amusing to be criticized for being critical.

Glorifying myself with this blog? That's a laugh. Hey, it's called having an opinion, and we're all entitled to 'em.

Fernando Martinez said...

To understand this song, one should read the 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. In essence, Spinoza, though being a religious Jew, was in effect one of the first heralds of secular (dis-)believes in modern times.
Nature is God, said Spinoza, and there is no transcendental one. More then this - there is nothing."Even the finite modes (particular thoughts and actions) are inevitably and wholly determined by the nature of god. Hence, everything in the world is as it must be; nothing could be other than it is." (I Prop. xxxiii)
Determinism governs the world and free will is an illusion. But our limited mind, of course, it "feels" like we are free, but that's just out epidemiological limit. So, how can we know where leaves falling in the night are blowing?.." there is no way of knowing." Our lives appear to us an an unfolding, open ended movie. "like a dream in the night, we can never know where we are going." Still, deep within us, we ask the question of the determinism we see around us - "why the sea on the tide has no way of turning (e.g, choose is way)." We feel we are free, but we see determinism surrounding us. We want the comfort of certainty and absolute knowledge, but also fear it since its consequence will surly mean we are no more then sophisticated automatons.
The solution for this dilemma is written in the second stanza: accept the uncertainty and re-joy in it (no care in the world). He concludes, "The greatest good of human life, then, is to understand one's place in the structure of the universe as a natural expression of the essence of God. When I understand why I do what I do, then I am truly free. Although I can neither change the way things are nor hope that I will be rewarded, I must continue to live and act with the calm confidence that I am a necessary component of an infinitely greater and more important whole. This way of life may not be easy, Spinoza declared, "But all noble things are as difficult as they are rare."
The official video of the song, appear to support this thesis. It has religious icons and setting (cross, and hell-like environment), Bryan is sitting in a cinema, watching himself play in a scene.

Holly A Hughes said...

That's certainly interesting. I'd be heartened to think that Ferry was that deep a thinker. I'm not sure that knowing this makes me enjoy the song any better, but it's good to know.