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Tastemakers and tarts

Risqué cover art never damaged Roxy Music's musical ability

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Earlier this year, when reporters asked Brian Eno about his former Roxy Music bandmates' plans for a summer tour, all he could muster was a disdainful "I'm not interested anymore." The balding producer/musician/artist, who made the comment at the opening of his digital art exhibition, 101010, at a San Francisco gallery in February, added that the idea of a reunion in 2001 simply "leaves a bad taste."

A clashing of tastes caused Eno's exit from the English art-rock band in 1973 and left singer/songwriter Bryan Ferry in charge of Roxy Music's aesthetic course. Arguing with the far-better-looking Ferry over musical, artistic and fashion concepts grew tiring for keyboardist Eno, who came to prefer ambient sound mosaics (later explored in solo material such as Here Come the Warm Jets and Music for Airports and his work with U2) and the confines of the recording studio to swaggering glam-rock and costumed world tours.

Eno's brief tenure and participation on the first two albums helped position Roxy Music as leaders of the early-'70s rock avant-garde. But it was Ferry's vision -- ladykiller rock with a heart of gold lamé -- that led the band (including fellow original members Andy Mackay on saxophone and Phil Manzanera on guitar) to its greatest commercial success with Avalon in 1982, and has generated enough interest to populate a $68-a-ticket full-scale reunion tour this summer.

Much of Ferry's Roxy Music vision came to life in the risqué, tongue-in-cheek album art he conceived for the band over the years. Beginning with 1972's self-titled debut, Roxy Music record sleeves became notorious for featuring nearly naked models, often posed in precarious getups in front of exotic backdrops. The lace underwear-clad girls photographed for 1974's Country Life prompted a ban stateside, but eventually generated enough curiosity to land Roxy Music on the U.S. album charts for the first time.

Likewise, 1975's Siren (containing the pivotal "Love is the Drug") helped launch the career of fledgling model and former Ferry girlfriend Jerry Hall (who left the frontman for Mick Jagger). Supermodel Renee Simonsen hooked up with future beau John Taylor of Duran Duran after he fell in love with her picture on the cover of an early-'80s Roxy Music reissue.

Part Vogue magazine spread, part soft-porn centerfold, Roxy Music's album covers garnered Ferry and company a chauvinistic reputation, but never damaged their ability to define the image of fashionable, jet set rock stars. Roxy Music's musical credibility never suffered too much, either; the blatantly sexist artwork only further enhanced the appeal of Ferry's lovelorn lyrics and increasingly sophisticated arrangements.

Although the band eventually strayed from its glam-rock foundations, glamour was always at the essence of Roxy Music, both visually and musically. The disco-inspired romps of 1979's Manifesto ("Angel Eyes," "Dance Away") may have been flimsier than past singles, but the album's cover -- jammed with mannequins in silk dresses and a whirlwind of confetti -- cele-brated the era's vibrancy while acknowledging the loneliness of the cocaine-and-cowlneck crowd.

Ferry's real life may not have been as fantastical as his band's album art, but it was -- and remains -- no less glamorous. Perennial purveyor of atmospheric synth-pop (his solo career took off after 1985's Boys and Girls) and crooner of romantic standards (1999's As Time Goes By was sublime), Ferry is the godfather of the floppy cuff. Rarely has the now-56-year-old been captured in a photograph without his rumpled Antony Price-elegance.

Just last year, when a British Airways jet bound for Nairobi, Kenya, nearly crashed at the hands of a madman, an Associated Press photo of a safari-bound Ferry relaxing in the first-class cabin was the first to reach the wire. And in 1998, Tatler magazine named Ferry and his wife Lucy (whose familiar face is forever immortalized in a 1986 portrait by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe) two of Britain's "most-sought-after party guests."

Being well-coiffed may not be as important to Roxy Music on their current reunion tour as being musically well-prepared, but it certainly can't hurt. An outdoor stage replete with a natural sunset is a fitting setting for the band's cocktail-party sound, and one in-person glimpse of Ferry alone is nearly worth the ticket price. Perhaps that's what irks his disgruntled former bandmate Brian Eno most of all.

Roxy Music, including original members Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay, performs at Chastain Park Amphitheatre Thurs., July 26. Show time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $33.50-$68.50. Call 404-233-2227 for information.

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