Monday 18 December 2017

Why Ferry’s still got it at 65

Brian Ferry's new offering is well worth the wait, says Eamon Carr

That was the corkscrew-curled rocker's impression in 1972, when the Roxy Music singer appeared like a bloodless, Brylcreemed matinee cadaver bleating about "flying down to Rio" on the band's debut single Virginia Plain.

It wasn't immediately obvious then whether the studied nonchalance and glam-defying ennui was a cunning affectation or an existential trait to the manor born. But who cared? The music, in an era of musical bombast and loonpants overkill, was discreetly thrilling.

Ferry and his chums, the feathery Brian Eno among them, had constructed a new pop music. An exotic artefact that referenced a glitzy past and hinted at a bleepy techno future. In this circus of sequins and hair by Smile, Bryan Ferry was ringmaster -- dishy curator of an exhibit that distilled the principles of Pop Art, mixed them with vintage rock'n'roll iconography and gave the burbling melange a futurist sheen.

These days, creaking rockers re-invent themselves with gusto. Some rediscover the music of their youth. Others rediscover the music of their grandparents. Bryan Ferry has no need of reinvention. The model of middle-aged weariness he created in the early 1970s still gets him from A to B. And back again.

The Bryan Ferry, solo artist, that recorded These Foolish Things, including a wry, tremulous version of Bob Dylan's tour de force A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, is much the same agent of arch-conceptualism as the impeccably tailored gent responsible for Olympia.

Avalon and Love Is The Drug not withstanding, there are those who believe that Ferry's most inspired creation is himself. The debonair, introspective and slightly creased grandee is not from the shires. The son of Fred, a farm labourer, he was raised in a house with an outside lavatory and once fronted a Commitments-style pub band called The Gas Board.

His tutor, Richard Hamilton, was a major influence on Ferry when he studied art at Newcastle. Roxy Music's debut gig was at the Royal College of Art. It was then that Ferry unveiled himself as a Dirk Bogarde of pop and not another Otis Redding wannabe as he strove to revive the faux elegance of rock's earlier faux gold-lamé years.

When his model girlfriend Jerry Hall legged it with Mick Jagger in 1978, Ferry's Gatsbyesque persona was well and truly ingrained in the collective pop subconscious. His next album, The Bride Stripped Bare, took its title from Marcel Duchamp and further gilded the lily of decadent romance that had been carefully cultivated on every Roxy Music and Ferry solo album.

He's still borrowing from the great visual artists. And he's still using the prettiest models on his covers. Kate Moss graces Olympia, which also happens to be the title of a famous 19th century painting by Manet. "It was kind of an early pin-up, really, of this beautiful woman lying on a bed," explains Ferry. "It's an early prototype for the Roxy covers, if you like."

His last album three years ago was an entire collection of Dylan songs. But this time out Ferry contributes eight new songs and two well-judged covers, Traffic's No Face, No Name, No Number (with exquisite wah-wah guitar) and Tim Buckley's Song of the Siren (a hit for This Mortal Coil). Ferry's plaintiff reading of this much-recorded track is even more dramatic if you consider that Ferry met Jerry Hall on the photo shoot for Roxy Music's Siren album. "For you sing, "Touch me not, touch me not . . . "

Elsewhere, the ensemble, which features three of the original Roxy Music, sound slick and musically sophisticated, elevating the pedestrian ballad Me Oh My and the lurching Reason Or Rhyme to a level of luxury confection.

Primal Scream's Mani pumps up the bass on BF Bass (Ode to Olympia), a successful groove with a memorable chorus. "Love, love, you fit me like a glove . . ." Ferry does his finest weary and wasted croon on Alphaville, a song he wrote over a decade ago. "I'm hungry for your love . . ."

Shameless, written with Groove Armada, is a floor-filler filled with shimmering aural textures that cocoon the man's quiet desperation. It's subtitled Rock 'n' roll Desire.

"I can't take heartache by numbers," pleads Ferry on the new single, a song written with Scissor Sisters. It makes for easy listening.

While it lacks punch, it doesn't detract from the overall package which is a welcome, and stylish, return by a performer who makes 65 sound like the new 30. ****

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