Four years and four albums into their career, Roxy Music were still developing at an astonishing rate. Country Life’s swagger and adventurous spirit are all the more remarkable given the growing pressures on the band. The departure of founding keyboardist and randomizing element Brian Eno raised concerns the British art-rockers would adopt a conservative route more akin to Bryan Ferry’s guise as a glam-era Sinatra on his solo albums. Roxy Music’s inability to crack the U.S. with 1973’s Stranded despite continued stardom at home also raised the stakes when they began Country Life in the summer of 1974.
But from the combined surge of orchestral swells and Phil Manzanera’s guitar heroics on “The Thrill of It All” through to the funky, horn-driven closer, “Prairie Rose,” Country Life brims with confidence. The cocksure likes of “All I Want Is You” and “Casanova” bolstered the band’s commercial appeal, helping this to become their first Top 40 album in America even though it initially came packaged to obscure its racy cover image.
Opening with swirls of synthesizer and saxophone before taking off at a gallop, “Out of the Blue” is one of many songs that takes an unpredictable trajectory. And while Ferry may have played the lounge lizard in his solo career, here he attacks even ballads like “A Really Good Time” or the pretty “Triptych” with the same vigor heard in Manzanera’s pyrotechnical guitar displays. The finesse that Eddie Jobson adds via his synthesizer parts and string arrangements proves how little trouble he had sliding into Eno’s role as the one who helped cohere Roxy Music’s many ideas and elements.