Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Review of Bry Ferry's Olympia

Bryan Ferry lives the dream. For a certain kind pretentious (but not too pretentious) Europhile he has been the poster boy for glamorous disaffection for four decades; a Geordie Alain Delon, forever leaving the casino chipless and with an heiress on his arm.

He's married into the aristocracy, been cuckolded by Mick Jagger and hung out with the original Pop Artists. It's quite the C.V. And of course he does, even if it seems increasingly discreetly, deliver albums of jewelled perfection every three or four years. It's hard to know what Bryan is trying to achieve now; there are no real progressions here from 2007's "Dylanesque" or 2002's "Frantic", but then Bryan's not really about progression. He's about distillation. He know what it should sound like and he has the clout and good taste to bring in whoever he wants to play bits on his records. The roll-call of players on this record is extraordinary: Nile Rodgers, Dave Gilmour, Flea(!), Mani, Jonny Greenwood and that baldy guy from that band he used to be in. If anything this album is too tasteful; there are too many slapped basses and untreated blues licks for my liking but there's not doubting Bry's intent: this is the album he wanted to make, the album in his head. Pretty much like all of the rest of them.

It starts well. "You can dance" is a chilly floor filler with the dead-eyed repetition of the title at first a command, then a mantra. "Alphaville" is remarkable chiefly for the fact that he has never used the title before. "Heartache by Numbers" is a very brave title for Bryan to use and is his collaboration with the Scissor Scissors. It has a bit more wah-wah on it than usual but sits very neatly with the rest of the collection.

Bryan's voice is quite extraordinary these days, hollowed out and smoky; it's a parched whisper, infinitely subtle. It allows him to sing anything and imbue it with a sense of meaning and dignity. It's by far the most interesting thing on "Me Oh My" which has far too many sensible guitar parts. His voice is almost subversive, it's watery gurgle almost detathed from humanity as it slops around on these songs.

"Shameless" is expensive sounding disco - you can imagine it filling the floors in a St. Moritz nite-club with people too rich to know how to dance. We'll gloss over the covers, except to say that if you ever want to hear Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" produced to sound like "Sweets" by World of Twist, this is the place to start, because the real meat of the album is in its last two songs. "Reason or Rhyme" with its none-more-Bryan reference to "A Dance to the Music of Time" is seven minutes of sumptuous euro- cosmopolitanism; Bryan's alternately husky and trilled vocal shadowed by a simple piano figure, over a backdrop of whispering female vocals and a juddering, echoing bass. "Tender is the Night", another archly self-referential title, starts with a selection of parping space-ship noises, and you can practically smell the Eno, although this is the nearest thing to a piano ballad on the record. The lyrics are a list of older songs, half remembered, a pop-cultural shopping list, but Bryan's languorous delivery makes them sing like poetry on the page. It is beautiful.

This is another Bryan Ferry album made by and for Bryan Ferry. You may like it but you'll never love it like Bryan does.

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