Saturday, 1 September 2018

Bryan Ferry

"Bryan Ferry is the world's best-dressed and most languidly mannered deluxe chanteur" - GQ magazine

I was aware of Bryan Ferry from the release of Virginia Plain in 1972, so, by the time of his first solo release in October 1973, he was already quite an important figure in my teenage musical consciousness. I have stuck with him ever since. His solo career has far eclipsed his Roxy Music output and he has been delivering quality albums and live performances for decades now.

His development from the son of a County Durham miner who bought his first record in JG Windows’ shop in Newcastle’s historic Central Arcade to a fox-hunting toff is not something that sits particularly well with me. However, musically, Ferry’s heart has always been in the right place. He has an immaculate musical taste and a keen understanding of musical heritage. His roots are steeped in Motown, soul, British blues and r’n’b, The Beatles, The Stones and Bob Dylan as well as in 1920s and 30s jazz. This taste is reflected in the many songs he has covered on his albums and also in his own compositions.

He is a consummately effortless performer and, despite a few dodgy views he has always struck me as a guy who would be excellent company for a few hours, chatting about music. He is a man of culture and sensitivity. Some of our ideologies may be different but in many other ways I have always liked him. Of course, I don’t know him personally but I am sure you know what I am trying to say.

Another Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music blog that may well be of interest is:-

It comes highly recommended by me, and indeed many others.

First of all I will deal with the first batch of Bryan Ferry solo albums, released in tandem with his Roxy career....

These Foolish Things (1973)   

Bryan Ferry was the first, in 1973,
 to release an album of cover versions of some of his favourite songs, just prior to David Bowie with Pin Ups and a bit longer before John Lennon’s Rock n Roll. While Bowie ploughed the mid-sixties British r’n’b furrow and Lennon looked to the late fifties/early seventies US rock ‘n’ roll that he so loved, Ferry, with impeccable taste, covered Motown, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and even The Rolling Stones, among many others on a veritable cornucopia of influences. The results were patchy, to be honest, as some of the covers certainly do not come off, but it was a brave album, and one that I have finally warmed to over time.

One had to question why Ferry did it, though - was it all one big hoot, a raised finger to the cognoscenti that hung on his every lyric after the seismic impact of the first two delightfully avant-garde Roxy Music albums? Was he trying to show that beneath all that classy, sophisticated glam posturing he was just a fun guy underneath that liked a sixties pop tune or two? I can still remember a music paper article from the time that led with “Bryan Ferry - the guy that took the piss out of Bob Dylan and got away with it...”. It was presuming that A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall was done as a joke. I am not so sure, as Ferry’s many Dylan covers since, including one entire album in Dylanesque, would surely prove that he was covering Dylan for more than a throwaway laugh.

You have to remember that at the time, many people laughed and scoffed at Ferry’s voice, claiming “he can’t sing”. Indeed, this album highlighted his quirky, quavering voice even more than on Roxy Music material, because well-known songs were suddenly being sung by a man with an odd up and down, totally unique (at the time) delivery. For many, therefore, in 1973, these covers were seen as a travesty. So, was this a tongue-in-cheek kiss-off to the music press from an artist already known for his hauteur or was it simply an enjoyable departure from all that arty creativity? When Ferry was asked about the album, he said - 

"It's a very catholic selection, I've given up trying to please all of the people all of the time. Some will like it for one reason, some for another. And some will presumably dislike it for the wrong reasons though I hope the general point of it will be understood. It's amusement value. I think." 

A bit of both, then, it would seem.

Ferry also changed his image considerably during this period, replacing the futuristic/retrospective oddness of Roxy Music 1972-73 with firstly, a t-shirted, gold neck chain and neat hairdo fifties movie star look for this album, which soon morphed into the tuxedo-clad suave sophisticate personification of good taste that we would come to associate with Ferry for many years to come. This look transferred over into his Roxy Music image too, simultaneously.
Regarding the album itself, for many years, despite having owned it since 1973, I liked the opening and closing tracks, and felt the rest was sub-standard. Over recent years, however, I have found that I have come to appreciate some of them a lot more and feel that Ferry was paying due respect to some tracks he has liked for years. Some of them I will never be convinced by, nevertheless, but anyway, here we go.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall is a track that I have always loved, from its “fade-in” intro through its pounding backing and Ferry’s hammed-up vocal. I bought the single upon release and it blew me away (I didn’t know the Dylan original as a fourteen year-old). I loved it then and still do. Whatever anyone says, I think it is a great cover, full of vitality. I always thought at the time that it matched the Roxy output for creativity, despite the lyrics being Dylan’s. This was up there with Street Life, for me. An off-beat choice was Ketty Lester’s River Of Salt, given a brooding, bassy and almost late night soulful backing. It is very short, however, not even making two minutes. Ferry does a nice job vocally and the sound quality overall is excellent. Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Don’t Ever Change is given a jaunty, slightly camped-up makeover. It all sounds a bit lightweight, though, for the darling of serious art-rock. Once more, it is over very quickly. 

Some impressive Stax-style horns, a great rumbling bass and piano back Ferry’s take of Janis Joplin’s Piece Of My Heart. While he is no Janis, there is something appealing in this vibrant, soulful cover. Taken in isolation, it is ok.

Another sub-two minute romp is Elvis Presley’s Baby I Don’t Care, which seems to suit Ferry comfortably enough, as he does his best lip-curling Elvis. 
Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party, sung by Ferry without changing gender, is an odd choice, and is the one that suits the “send-up” theory more than any other. It is lively, poppy and enjoyable, but Ferry’s voice suffers throughout and just doesn’t suit the song. Then, unfortunately, we get three classic songs that prove to be too much for Ferry. Firstly, Brian Wilson and Roger Christian’s Don’t Worry Baby is one of my favourite songs of all time, and it has been well covered by Ronnie Spector and Billy Joel. Ferry changes the lyrics from being a teenage car racing anthem to a more adult love song. Basically, while it is musically ok, it just doesn’t do it for me. It features some fine guitar, though. 

Even more unsuccessful is The Rolling Stones’ menacing Sympathy For The Devil. I know some people like this but, no, it is pretty awful, especially vocally. Ferry just tries too hard to sound devilish and just succeeds in sounding diabolical, particularly in his cackling laugh near the end. The sooner it is over the better. Musically, it is acceptably brassy, however, and a stonking live cut of the track has recently appeared from a 1974 concert at The Royal Albert Hall. As for Smokey Robinson’s The Tracks Of My Tears, I’m afraid the same earlier critcisms apply. Ferry’s vocal oddness is ramped up to the max - he did this far more in these early days than later, almost as if it were deliberate. His vocal would never have been so theatrical in the eighties and beyond. Ferry had a genuine, long-held love for Motown, however, and one feels this was a labour of love of a cover, irrespective of whether it came off or not. Soul music was big in Newcastle when Ferry grew up, played at places like the legendary Go-Go Club, so it was not a surprise that some Motown showed up on this album. Ferry's first band, The Gas Board, also played soul/r'n'b covers and may well have played this one. Maybe it is not surprising that Ferry, once freed to do his own solo thing, went back to square one and his Gas Board days and covered several soul numbers. Avant-garde art rocker or simply an old soul boy?

The Beatles’ You Won’t See Me is solid and muscular and actually is quite acceptable in a strange sort of way, with another excellent guitar solo, this time from Roxy mate Phil Mazanera. I have always quite enjoyed this. 
The Paris Sisters’ I Love How You Love Me, from 1961, is a brassy piece of rock ‘n’ roll balladry with a great saxophone solo. Once more, you can see why it might attract accusations of being tongue-in-cheek, as it is very over-the-top. The Four Tops’ Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever is a far more effective cover of a Motown song than The Tracks Of My Tears. It has a punchy soul power to it. Again, it is probably a song Ferry had covered in his early years. The album ends with one of my all-time Ferry favourites, a wonderful, atmospheric cover from the thirties in These Foolish Things. It is just sumptuously lovely and provides a first sign of a liking for the sort of material that Ferry would cover on his later album As Time Goes By. He always liked that thirties vibe and this song suits him perfectly - the lounge lizard, classy dinner-jacketed persona is getting its first outing here. The song is packed full of cinematic images and my late mother loved it too (she knew every word) so it has many plus points.

I still can’t get away from the first and last tracks being the best, but I have given those in between a bit more of a chance here. The album hides a bit of a quirky appeal, I have to admit. Amazingly, though, Ferry recorded the Roxy classic 
Stranded around the same time, maybe this really was just light relief. Its general feeling of playfulness would seem to back that up. What comes across loud and clear all these years later is that actually, as these cover albums go, it is actually one of the best. Above is The Gas Board with Ferry on the rear far right.

Another Time Another Place (1974)                    

Released in 1974,
 I find this, Bryan Ferry's second solo album, to be a better and far more enjoyable effort than his first, These Foolish Things, which contained, in my opinion, a few truly awful, ill-considered covers. I prefer the choice of material on here, more soully and rocking country than some of the sixties pop of the first album. These Ferry solo albums should be taken for what they are though - not Roxy Music albums. Ferry covers stuff he liked. If he liked You Are My Sunshine then that is his prerogative. Obviously, it is then down to how he covers the songs. His Sympathy For The Devil on the first album is a million times worse than anything on here. He covers the material on here well, overall. What is still shining though, brightly, however, is Ferry's love of soul, something that dated back to his mid-sixties Gas Board days.

Starting off with the album's two singles, covers of Dobie Gray's Northern Soul classic The "In" Crowd and The InkspotsSmoke Gets In Your Eyes, the album has a more confident feel about it than the last. The "In" Crowd is the best track on the album, a strong rocker, while the laid-back, melodic Smoke has an excellent saxophone solo from Chris Mercer. Dare I say it, the rumbustious The "In" Crowd puts Dobie Gray's version in the shade somewhat. Listen to the great intro - Ferry's electric piano beginning the song, his cool finger-clicking and then some huge, scratchy guitar bursts into action followed by the brass. It hits you right between the ears.

Walk In My Shoes is an excellent throaty, rocking cover of Joe South's 1970 soulful country hit, with nice bass, solid drums and a soulful organ backing. Great backing vocals and horns also with a bit of electric violin in there too. Pretty much everything seems to be played on this track. Good stuff. 

Funny How Time Slips Away
 is a soulful cover of another country song but it is marred just a little bit by Ferry's semi-spoken introduction. Things are redeemed, however, when it kicks in with more great guitar and horns backing. The musicianship on this album certainly is top notch. You Are My Sunshine is given the big backing choir treatment that Ferry used on Psalm, from Roxy Music's Stranded album. Lovely New Orleans-style brass features though, as the song mournfully builds up, like a funeral march. It sort of suits Ferry's melancholy voice and is truly enhanced by those wonderful backing vocals. I like it and always have done.

Ferry's vaguely reggae-ish cover of Sam Cooke's What A Wonderful World is appealing as, actually, is his first effort at being "Dylanesque", a strong mid-pace rock cover of It Ain't Me Babe
The upbeat Fingerpoppin', initially recorded by Ike & Tina Turner, tests Ferry's vocal range and Gladys Knight's Help Me Make It Through The Night sees him back on safer ground.

The final track is his first solo solo composition, if that makes sense, in the beguiling Another Time Another Place, which was a riffy rocker that could have come from Roxy's Country Life. As Ferry's albums progressed, more and more of his own compositions crept in and there were far less covers, which was a good thing. As much as I quite like this album, 1977's vibrant In Your Mind was a much better album, full of his own songs. In between, however, came the odd curio of Let's Stick Together, which I will discuss next (after the live album).

This 1999 remastering is pretty good, except that The "In" Crowd has a few tinny moments. It always has. Maybe it just always will.

Let's Stick Together (1976)              

Bryan Ferry trod water to a certain extent on this 1976 album,
 carrying on the cover versions tradition of his first two solo albums, but also, rather surprisingly, re-recording five of Roxy Music’s earlier songs. Four came from Roxy’s ground-breaking debut album and one from 1974’s Country Life. Quite why Ferry chose to re-do these songs is not known, maybe he was exorcising demons, maybe he wanted to record them as he felt they should have sounded, free of Bryan Eno’s influence. Maybe he just felt like it. He never really said. As it happens, sacrilegious as though it may seem to re-work these classic songs of the avant-garde they all scrub up in their new garb remarkably well. As someone who had revered the originals, I have to say that these do it for me too.
Let’s deal with those first. Casanova loses its rock bombast and becomes almost funky, with a deep, infectious, rhythmic drum backing and a moody Ferry vocal. I really like the interpretation of the song, despite loving the original too. I feel this ones really mines the song's nefarious seams. 

 is more jaunty than previously, with a prominent melodic piano coda, slightly more shuffling drums and a slightly clearer vocal. Otherwise, though, it sticks pretty much to the vibe of the original. The lengthy Sea Breezes is pretty similar until the staccato pace change in the middle, then it becomes, once again, funky, with a great chunky bass sound and some impressive acoustic guitar. Some blistering guitar riffs come too, together with some really pounding drums. This is a really good re-make, it really enhances the song, giving it a different sheen. 

Chance Meeting is similar to the original, although Ferry's vocal is more pronounced and the backing a bit more industrial, particularly near the end. It actually still sounds very Roxy-ish. Re-Make, Re-Model is a funked up, sleazy delight. The original is wonderful, but this take is too. It is shorter but it really has something about it - the funky feel works so well.

It has to be said also that featuring heavily on these recordings are Roxy alumni Paul Thompson (on all drums), John Wetton (on all bass), John Gustafson (Bass on Re-Make Re-Model), Phil Manzanera (guitar on the same track), Eddie Jobson (all violin and synthesiser), David O' List (guitar on Chance Meeting) and old mate John Porter (bass on 2HB). So there is a lot of Roxy influence going on all over the album. Other notable players on the album are saxophonists Mel Collins and Chris Mercer, percussionist Morris Pert and guitarist Chris Spedding (who went on to play in Ferry's live band in the 2000s.

Now for the covers. Let's Stick Together is now iconic, with its blistering dual saxophone opening riff, and rousing female whooping backing vocals (the vocalist was never named, strangely). Ferry’s vocal is top notch too. Great stuff. It still had the vivacious trappings of glam even though that era had passed. 
Shame Shame Shame is a superb, grinding bluesy cover of the Jimmy Reed number and The Everly Brothers’ The Price Of Love is given a similar pounding blues rock makeover. These are both excellent tracks, full of energy and verve and the former is proof that Ferry knew how to interpret the blues more than people may have thought.

The Beatles’ It's Only Love is a lot better a cover than many say it is, with a fetching brassy backing and Gallagher & Lyle’s evocative, catchy Heart On Your Sleeve is suitably laid-back in that typical Ferry style. 

Then there is the vaguely reggae with accompanying brass-wah-wah revamp of the crooner You Go To My Head - a smoky lounge bar number from the late 1930s, which is the first sign of Ferry covering a sort of song the like of which he would do many more times in subsequent times. He does it very sensually and atmospherically. Lovely. It is a most underrated song in the Ferry catalogue.

This album rarely gets mentioned in Ferry’s canon, which is a shame as it is a really good one. Some critics have bemoaned the fact that the Roxy re-makes and the rest of the album sort of delineate it into two halves. I disagree, I think they all fit together rather well.

Incidentally, Ferry's image changed slightly in this era, growing a moustache and growing his hair floppy, briefly. The old white tuxedo was still around or if not a white/cream suit was sported.

In Your Mind (1977)   

After two albums of cover versions and one of half covers
 and half re-workings of older Roxy Music tracks, Bryan Ferry returned, at the height of punk in 1977, with an album entirely made up of his own compositions. While it may have appeared to be a bit culturally irrelevant, it was actually a pretty good album, and was received as such by fans and the music media alike. I remember getting into punk at the time but still buying this with no feelings of shame. I had liked Roxy/Ferry from 1972 anyway. It wouldn’t be long, however, before Ferry entered “guilty secret” territory for me.

Anyway, it was an energetic, lively, rocking, horn-powered album and featured Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson from Roxy, along with sometime Roxy bassist John Wetton and several other notable sessionists such as Chris Spedding and Mel Collins. Thinking about it, it would actually have done pretty well as a Roxy album, following on, as it did in many ways, from the accessible sound of 1975’s Siren. Indeed, I prefer it in many ways to both Manifesto and Flesh & Blood and it bristles with far more energy and verve than Ferry’s eighties solo output - in these respects it is a bit of a forgotten gem. Although recorded in London there is a slick Transatlantic sound to it that brings to mind Rod Stewart's Atlantic CrossingIan Hunter's All American Alien Boy or even, vaguely, David Bowie's Young Americans. Horns, soul influences and Dylan lyrical acknowledgements were de riguer in 1975-77. It is no coincidence, therefore, that I also find myself thinking of Dylan's Street-Legal, from the following year, when I listen to this. Maybe these artists/or the general sound influenced Dylan? That was more than possible, as Dylan would freely admit.

In early 1977, when it was released, punk was still a bit cult-ish and Ferry was certainly not considered old hat just yet, his persona as the epitome of cool was still intact and generally admired, as opposed to scoffed at. He appeared on the cover suntanned, with neat hair and a bit over-heated looking in a plain white t-shirt and aviator shades - sure, it was hardly full-on punk, but in 1977 anything that was not typical Peter Frampton-esque long rock star hair gained a certain amount of respect from those determined to eschew traditional seventies rock styles. David Bowie also now had shorter hair, Freddie Mercury was getting there and even Marc Bolan’s corkscrew curls had gone. Ferry, actually, had always been his own man, image-wise - think of the-shirt of These Foolish Things or the tuxedo of Another Time, Another Place or the moustache/floppy hair of Let’s Stick Together. That was one of the reasons the punks didn’t turn on Ferry as they did other supposed “dinosaurs”.

On to the music. Starting with some tropical insect sound effects, followed by Ferry at the keyboards, This Is Tomorrow soon launches itself powerfully as a convincing, catchy rocker, full of chunky Stonesy riffs, Stax-style horns and a hooky vibe that made it a perfect choice for a single. It was duly a big hit that showed that Ferry still carried enough clout to chart. All Night Operator is a punchy, brassy number that keeps the tempo at a robust level. It wouldn't have sounded out of place on Roxy's Country Life, or Siren for that matter. One Kiss is a slower paced but dramatic  ballad featuring some fine saxophone and an enthusiastic Ferry vocal combined with some equally excitable female backing ones. Its chorus has an unusually loose singalong feel to it - a sort of semi-drunken carousing led by a Ferry who has let his classy veneer slip briefly. It ends with some instantly recognisable solid Thompson drumming on the fade-out.

Love Me Madly Again is a lengthy, dense, industrial rocker with verses that build continually to a solid but strangely seductive chorus. On first hearing it can seem a bit dull but it has a staying power that ensures you get into it eventually. Ferry has sort of taken the extended indulgence of Roxy tracks like The Bogus Man and For Your Pleasure and rocked it up a bit, adding some brass, resulting in one of his heaviest numbers to date. It stands out notably, as the most Roxy-ish song, from the more poppy feel of the rest of the album and has a hint of The Thrill Of It All from Country Life to it together with a slight bit of The Beatles' Savoy Truffle at one point (in the horns). In retrospect it is probably the album's mature high point.

The album’s other hit was 
Tokyo Joe, an instantly attractive song somewhat blighted by some “far-East by numbers” musical cliches that are also matched by some of the lyrics. As time has gone by it has tended to be forgotten by fans and Ferry alike (he doesn’t ever seem to play it live) but at the time it was on the radio regularly and was one of his biggest hits thus far. Party Doll is an organ-driven mid-pace rock number with a bit of a vague Dylanesque feel to it. Ferry gives us a great, swirling organ solo mid-song. 
Rock Of Ages rises slowly into big, brassy chorus parts - this is as dramatic and vibrant as Ferry has probably ever been or would be. It has a slow, instrumental noise build-up similar to Sentimental Fool on Siren

Verbose, image-laden Dylanisms are back on the closer, the atmospheric slow burner In Your Mind. This could have been a Roxy Music Phase Two song - those Dylanesque lyrics, and a great delivery from Ferry, plus  impressive playing from the musicians involved. It really builds up momentum as it continues on, insistently, then comes down again, while retaining its intrinsic melancholy. I'm not really sure how to express what I mean here but there is a tragic feel to this song, I feel.

Finally - "see the veiled prophet's withered glaze reflect the nouvelle-vague..." sings Ferry, the great Francophile using the French for "new-wave". Coincidence? Surely not.

In summing up, this is just a good late 70s rock album. Nothing more nothing less. Probably getting a little bit dated in 1977 but not incredibly so. Nice one.

The Bride Stripped Bare (1978)
This is one of Bryan Ferry's solo albums
 that has sort of slipped under the radar (comparatively). Being really into all things punk and new wave in September 1978, when it was released, it was the first of his solo albums that I didn't buy. In fact at the time I paid it little attention. I subsequently bought it several years later, but don't return to it that often, which is a bit of a shame as it isn't a bad album. It is a healthy mix of Ferry original compositions and covers and it contains probably Ferry's bluesiest material too.

It was a funny thing that in 1977 I was quite happy to listen to Ferry's In Your Mind, yet by 1978 he had no relevance. That's the young for you. Thankfully a few years later I restored the balance. Briefly, in that glorious autumn of 1978, all that mattered was The Jam, The Clash and Elvis Costello.
As an album that was a bit unsuited to its times the first track is somewhat aptly titled. Sign Of The Times is a thumping Ferry rocker that wouldn't seemed out of place as a Roxy Music single, to be honest. For some reason, it ends abruptly, just when you are getting into it. Maybe Ferry was trying to re-create that Virginia Plain thing. It didn't quite work here, however. Can't Let Go is a Ferry original that has a feel of the sort of material he would use on Roxy Music's 1982 Avalon album, and indeed on 1979's Manifesto. It is a solid, pumping mid-pace rock-ish number with impressive string, drum and lead guitar backing. Ferry's vocal is excellent too. Sam and Dave's Hold On (I'm Coming) is covered effectively and Ferry does this very well live, many years later, as a show closer.

The best track on the album, for me, is Ferry's treatment of J.J. Cale's The Same Old Blues. It is chock full of brooding atmosphere, a solid backing and Ferry's quirky voice ideally suited to it. Great guitar on it too. 
When She Walks In The Room is not, as you may imagine, a cover of the Jackie DeShannon number, but an evocative Ferry composition. It is a bitter-sweet romantic, mournful song, possibly written by a heartbroken Ferry at the loss of Jerry Hall to Mick Jagger. It is full of sonorous, sweeping string orchestration and a lovelorn vocal. The bit where the beat goes quiet with two minutes left is sublime.

Ferry's cover of 
Al Green's Take Me To The River was overshadowed by the contemporaneously fashionable Talking Heads' cover of the same song. While theirs was undoubtedly excellent, in any other era, Ferry's would have garnered praise, as, for me, it is a good one, with impressive vocals, guitar and a great funky drum intro. Actually, though, nothing really compares to Green's original.

The Velvet Underground's What Goes On is dealt with suitable riffage. It rocks, solidly, as indeed it should. A contrast is up next in Ferry's Van Morrison-esque interpretation of the Irish folk song Carrickfergus. It utilises some Astral Weeks-sounding string bass sounds. The cover of Otis Redding's That's How Strong My Love Is is musically good, but Ferry's voice, although moving, is no Otis Redding. He does his best though, and Mel Collins provides a superb saxophone solo. You do feel, though, that Ferry really means it as he sings it. 

This Island Earth is a Ferry tune to end with and it is probably the first of the laid-back, rhythmic style that would so dominate his eighties output on albums like Boys And Girls and Bête Noire. Listening to this album now, it strikes me it would have been considered a really good one, had it been released in 1976 or 1985, as opposed to 1978.

This subsequent period is the one that many associate with Bryan Ferry - homogenous laid-back, lounge-bar rhythms delivered with peerless class....

Boys And Girls (1985)              

After a seven-year hiatus, this was the album which saw Bryan Ferry cement the laid-back, slick, immaculately produced smooth brand of lounge bar rock that would take him from 1985 to the present day. The album stands as probably one of the best of the many that he has put out since then. The musicianship and indeed the sound quality is exemplary, (Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour and Nile Rodgers appear on the album) setting standards in hi-fi quality for the time. It still sounds great today, its easy rhythms washing over you gently, drawing you in, siren-like, as Ferry’s distinctive, mellifluous vocals float over the intoxicating rhythms.

The big hits that everyone knows are Slave To Love and Don't Stop The Dance, both full of that effortless groove and vibe that became so representative of Bryan Ferry’s sound. Gone was the Roxy Music-stye innovation and experimentation, it was easy wine bar background music all the way. It is to do it a bit of a disservice to label it just as “background music”, even though that is what it became, because the sound is a type of perfection - addictive percussion and underpinning guitar sounds, gentle bass and sumptuous, insistent keyboards.

The image Ferry puts over is one of the smooth, cool, debonair lover - knowing, attentive, a connoisseur of fine things, art, literature, music and wine, yet slightly detached, distant, aloof and not a little melancholic. Don’t Stop The Dance has a gentle samba-type rhythm, or is it rhumba? The saxophone interjections are never intrusive. This, and pleasantly smooth, easy-going tracks like Sensation and Windswept (another with some sumptuous, seductive saxophone and touches of Spanish guitar and castanets) are all very European, very cultured and urban. Like a posh evening out in Paris, Brussels, Madrid or Milan, the album playing in the taxi as the street lights flash by. It is not surprising that Ferry has always been really popular in Europe.

Mark Knopfler's guitar is superbly atmospheric on Valentine and Stone Woman has that Grace Jones Parisian feel, such as on I've Seen That Face BeforeBoys And Girls has a sumptuous, dignified, bassy ambience and a seductive, sensual, beguiling vocal from Ferry.

The album, like many of Ferry’s efforts from this one onwards, suffers a bit from no real change in pace or ambience throughout. There is nothing raw or edgy about it, but it has one hell of an air of mystery. A companion for Sade’s Diamond Life as a real symbol of the 1984-1986 zeitgeist. Just check out that infectious rhythm on The Chosen One or the totally delicious Stone Woman and let your mind, memories and fantasies drift.

Bête Noire (1987)          

Bryan Ferry’s albums didn’t divert from their easy, slick, smooth course from 1985’s Boys And Girls onwards. This one was pretty much more of the same “wine bar” fare, although there a few subtle differences. It is more than just a Boys And Girls part two, though, being a bit more dance-ish. The music, of course, is of the absolute highest quality. 

Limbo and Kiss And Tell are slightly more punchy, more drum-driven in a pacier way, but only just. The same laid-back groove is there, but there is a bit more throb to the bass and a bit more urgency to some of the syncopation. This is only a slightly detectable thing, though, just a slight nuance, really, but is definitely there. Listening to the two albums one after the other, you can definitely detect the change. The nonchalance of the previous album is a tad more peppy, more lively, while still retaining that effortless rhythmic groove.

New Town is totally beguiling, Zamba sonorous, mysterious and bassy. The Right Stuff, with its female backing vocals has that degree more of attack and edge that was mentioned earlier, just making it slightly different from the material on the previous album. The backing vocals become innovatory and quirky mid-song, which certainly wouldn’t have happened on Boys And Girls.

Seven Deadly Sins has an absolutely intoxicating, upbeat  rhythm that again carries a new, albeit silky smooth, attack. The Name Of The Game slows down the pace, but it has a certain dignified majesty that is almost ABBA-esque (odd that, because although there is the same title as one of their songs, it is in no way whatsoever a copy). Again, the female backing singers give it a different dimension to previous material.

Bête Noire is a tango-influenced Parisian cafe-style groove that is one of Ferry’s most inventive and seductive tracks. It carries a beautiful bass line too. There is a fair case for this album being a superior album the more commercially-successful Boys and Girls. It has many hidden depths.

Taxi (1993)
This was a bit of a “treading water” album from Bryan Ferry,
 after Boys and Girls and Bête Noire, which were full albums of original material, this was a collection of cover versions, apart from one song. They are all pretty well delivered, in a very laid-back, bass reverb-heavy way. Lounge bar music with a bit of resonance. Within a year, the Mamouna album of originals was released, albeit performed in the same laid-back style as this album. It is a most enjoyable listen, nevertheless. I know there will be people who say "how can you listen to this from the man who wrote all those early Roxy Music songs". Fair enough, I suppose, but I like both. I like early Roxy Music. I like this too. So there you go. 

I Put A Spell On You begins with some weird, whistling background noises until the funky-ish guitar kicks in and the Ferry joins with his smooth as satin voice. Will You Love Me Tomorrow is given classic Ferry treatment - smooth, slick, soulful and laid-back but very appealing. He does this sort of thing so effectively. Answer Me is done in exactly the same fashion. It is beautifully seductive though.

Doris Troy’s relative rarity Just One Look is also turned into a late-night, mysterious-sounding piece of intuitive seduction. Fontella Bass’s Rescue Me is no longer a soul thumper, but more of a beguiling groove. These covers really are quite unique. Very typically Bryan Ferry from this era, but also giving them something new. It is so relaxing as to be almost comatose.

The Girl Of My Best Friend is also slowed-down to typical Ferry pace and it is delivered in true laid-back, entrancing fashion. The same applies to the mysterious Velvet Undergound song, All Tomorrow's Parties. In fact, Ferry’s version is almost more beguiling and haunting than Nico’s orginal. It suits his voice perfectly. The backing is suitably seductive. Amazing Grace is given a shuffling beat and some funky-ish guitar and organ parts reminiscent of Ferry’s cover of You Are My Sunshine on Another Time Another Place.

Taxi doesn’t break the mould at all, it is played in exactly the same style and is very like the material that would appear on Mamouna. It actually sounds like a Ferry track, but isn’t. The final number, Because You're Mine, is a Ferry composition but is a short, relatively ambient but inconsequential instrumental. It is worth giving this inventive album a listen, despite its relatively homogenous sound.

Mamouna (1994)                                       

Mamouna is absolutely jam-packed full with top notch musicians, including Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, and Brian Eno is back working with Ferry for the first time since he left Roxy Music in 1973. All that consideed it would not be unreasonable to expect a corker of an album. Actually, although the sound quality and muscianship on the album is first class, somehow there is a sameiness to it that ensures it never really takes off. Rather like Boys And Girls it continues at the same slick, immaculately-delivered lounge bar pace without ever changing its mood or ambience. In many ways it is too polished for its own good. Which is a bit of a strange thing to say, considering it is Bryan Ferry, who wrote the book on that sort of thing. Listening to it, though, it is remarkably pleasant, assured and classy, but it never hits any highs. You get the impression that Ferry could do stuff like this in his sleep.

A track like Which Way To Turn, for example, is hauntingly beautiful, both grandoise and understated simultaneously, with an infectious rumbling bass underpinning it, some Mark Knopfler-style guitar interjections subtly behind the beat and Ferry’s high-toned vocal floating around over the top of it. It wafts in to your consciousness, then it gently blows away, like dandelion seeds in the gentle summer wind. The problem is, on this album, every track has the same effect, so the overall feel is rather soporific. 

Don't Want To Know kicks the album off as it means to go on, as described above. N.Y.C. is a mysterious-sounding, beguiling track that brings to mind Paris more than New York City, I have to say. Your Painted Smile is also mouth-wateringly intoxicating. Ferry’s lush, husky warm voice just washes all over you, as does the subtle keyboard and saxophone backing. You simply can’t argue with the quality of these songs, however homogenous they are. Mamouna has some distant Eastern-sounding backing vocals, but Ferry doesn't change the mood himself.

The Only Face has an intoxicating deep percussion backing and some addictive wah-wah guitar breaks. Ferry’s vocal is again lazily seductive. Deliciously sensual. The 39 Steps comes thumping in with some solid backing, but the vibe is the same shufflingly seductive one.

Wildcat Days is sublimely beautiful but also ups the thump from the drums a bit, with some eerie background noise too. Eno, no doubt. The bits near the end are some of the most obvious Eno bits on the album. It has that vaguely Parisian late-night feel to it that Ferry does so well.

Gemini Moon has a slightly more lively beat, just slightly, and is one of the most appealing tracks on the album. Chain Reaction concludes matters in the same style as it had begun, of course. Yes, I know this album sounds pretty much the same throughout, but once it is playing and you let it seep into you, it becomes rather irresistible.

As Time Goes By (1999)                      

Bryan Ferry has always loved a cover or two - particularly Bob Dylan songs, but also pre-WWII crooning classics like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and You Are My Sunshine. On this album he delves completely into that luxurious twenties/thirties era, an era of lavish hotels, grand dining rooms, beautiful ladies in elegant dresses and men in tuxedos, overnight cross-Europe steam train travel and so on.
You would expect the album to be hugely orchestrated - full of strings played by a large orchestra. To a certain extent this sound is replicated, but not nearly as much as you may have expected. The band is a small combo, with some strings, but not the full Monty. A lot of the material has been given a smoky, jazzy soulful makeover that, while still retaining a lot of the music's original flavour and atmosphere gives it a jazz club-ish feel. All very intimate. Dinner for two by candlelight.

Ferry's vocals are his usual - slightly quavering in his delivery with his instantly recognisable mellifluous warble. The whole sepia-tinged ambience that these songs deliver is entirely suited to Bryan Ferry, let's be honest. He has donned a tuxedo many times in the past, so this album is no surprise at all. In fact, the only surprise is why it took him so long to release it. Nobody does lounge lizard, smooth, suave, casual elegance like Bryan Ferry after all.

Personal highlights are the gorgeously toe-tapping and sensual The Way You Look Tonight; the plaintive Where Or When; the tragic tale of Miss Otis Regrets; the lively lounge jazz of Lover Come Back To Me; the teutonic romance of Falling In Love Again and You Do Something To Me. All of it is good, however - ideal evening dinner background music. Nobody can take any offence to this. It has a seductive appeal to it and is a most nostalgic listen.

Frantic (2002)               

This was Bryan Ferry's first album not completely of covers since Mamouna in 1994, eight years previously. The only album in between had been the thirties covers of As Time Goes By from 1999. It is a most underrated, varied and satisfying album. Some of Ferry's albums suffer ever so slightly from getting into one vibe and staying there. Comparatively, this one is more varied in styles while still obviously containing Ferry's laid-back lounge-bar vocal style.                                    

The album begins with a precursor to 2007's Dylanesque, with a storming harmonica-drenched cover of Dylan's It's All Over Now Baby Blue. A lot of people seem to have a problem with Ferry's Dylan covers. As a Dylan fan, personally I really like them. Almost half the songs on the album are from Ferry's collaboration with The EurythmicsDave Stewart. The insistent, atmospheric Cruel is one of these. It is full of industrial, swirling guitar sounds and a detached but captivating Ferry vocal. Goin' Down is a cover of a Jeff Beck Group song. It is done in a similar bluesy style, with Ferry's harmonica replacing Beck's guitar for the most part, although there is still some good guitar on this one. It has a great atmosphere all over it. As if it were made for Ferry.

Goddess Of Love is a haunting song about Marilyn Monroe that has that lounge bar style that 1994's Mamouna album had. The album's second Dylan cover is Don't Think Twice, It's Alright and has a fetching Ferry vocal backed by a rolling piano. It is starkly evocative and also contains another excellent harmonica solo. Nobody Loves Me has some impressive guitar riffage and another haunting vocal. Ja Nun Hons Pris is a thirty-five seconds long, odd track. It is simply some female vocal incantations in Old French. It is appealing though, a shame it doesn't last longer. It merges into Ferry's composition, the graceful mid-pace rock balladry of A Fool For Love. Bryan is loving the harmonica on this album, isn't he? Here it appears again, to great effect once more. It also has some nice backing vocals.

Next up is a cover of Leadbelly's thirties blues Goodnight Irene done a down-home folky style. It has a Cajun-style fiddle backing. Hiroshima...  has echoes of Ferry's earlier solo albums and also of Roxy Music's Avalon period. It has an infectious vibe to it. It merges straight into the brooding piano and keyboard noises over spooky vocals of San Simeon

One Way Love was apparently a Drifters song, although not one I knew previously. It is done in an upbeat, sixties pop style with some jangling Searchers guitar. The final track, I Thought, is a collaboration with old Roxy Music band-mate Brian Eno. It is not really a Roxy-style song, though, being a light-ish, appealing poppy number.  It is a very good song though and it ends what was one of Bryan Ferry's best, but strangely little-mentioned albums.

Dylanesque (2007)                      

It is an easy thing to criticise this album. Laid back master of the lounge bar releases an album of covers of songs from possibly the most talented singer/songwriter the world has ever known. Lots of reviewers have queued up here to exactly that. I am not going to do that. I like Bryan Ferry. I like Bob Dylan. Of course, there is no comparison with the originals. That doesn't matter. They are good songs. Bryan Ferry likes them and he wants to cover them. Fair enough. I don't have a problem with that.

Most of the songs are approached by a highly competent band, with a highly competent rock feel to them. My own personal favourites are Simple Twist Of Fate, which is speeded-up into a full band rock song, similarly Knockin' On Heaven's Door, with its excellent guitar, harmonica and backing vocals. The Times They Are A-Changin' is also given the full band treatment and I like that too, So what. There is a great bit of guitar at the end of it.

I also have a weakness for Ferry's opening take on Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. I just love the backing on this one too - bluesy guitar, rock harmonica and "whoop-whoop" backing vocals. I love Ferry's voice on it too. Ditto Baby Let Me Follow You Down. The band just have a great sound on all these tracks - guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, Ferry on harmonica - pretty basic but top notch. Chris Spedding and Oliver Thompson on guitar; Paul Carrack on organ; Colin Good on piano; Andy Newmark on drums. These guys can play. That should not be forgotten in dismissals of this album.

Make You Feel My Love is a great song, whoever covers it, and here it is hauntingly beautiful, as indeed is Gates Of Eden. If Not For You is as gently pleasing as was George Harrison's (or indeed Dylan's) version, more rocky, in fact. You know, I do believe I prefer this one to either. 

Positively 4th Street is a song, which, unfortunately, I don't feel can really be sung by anyone but Dylan, but actually, I also prefer Ferry's All I Want To Do to Dylan's. 4th Street does have a sad feel to it though and Lucy Wilkins's violin at the end is stunningly beautiful. All Along The Watchtower doesn't quite come off though. Obviously, Hendrix's is better as, actually, is Paul Weller's.

Bob Dylan is an artist whose work has been covered by lots of artists, often enhancing the songs in comparison to Dylan's sometimes questionable vocals. This is one more artist covering the great poet's songs. Nothing wrong with that. People will be doing it for many, many more years to come. I enjoy this album every now and again and am perfectly happy to admit it. I am listening to again as I write this and loving it. I have no shame in admitting that. 

Olympia (2010)

This Bryan Ferry solo album, his first containing self-penned material since 2002's Frantic was also notable for, at various points on the album, featuring old Roxy Music mates Brian EnoPhil Manzanera and Andy Mackay. It wasn't a Roxy Music reunion album, though (despite the Roxy-ish cover) - it was far more in the traditional Bryan Ferry style of a selection of sublimely created and played tracks running as one seamless, stylish whole. Seductive, sophisticated - dim the lights, you can guess the rest...                  

You Can Dance is a brooding, atmospheric, shuffling opener, full of sonorous drums and industrial guitar swirling around behind Ferry's detached but mysterious vocal. Alphaville is a sumptuous song of textured, subtle rhythms and stylings. It is both catchy and classy. Heartache By Numbers is a more upbeat, commercially-sounding number with an identifiable singalong chorus, as opposed to an ambience. Me Oh My is a quiet piece of intuitive late-night soulful groove. It never gets above walking pace. It doesn't need to.

Shameless sees a return to the subtle dance-ish vibe of the first two tracks, with an infectious, pounding beat and some beguiling vocals. This is actually Ferry's most "dance" album, although, as you would expect, it is all done in the best possible taste. The soundtrack to a West End nightclub populated with wealthy oil magnates. The album positively reeks of wealth. Even the faultless sound quality can be described as rich. Sort of hi-fi demonstration material. Song To The Siren is a Tim Buckley song, given an Avalon-style syncopated, mellifluous makeover. Once again, its rhythm is sleepy, dreamy and perfectly textured. You can just let it wash all  over you, like a relaxing warm bath. 

No Face, No Name, No Number is cover of a Traffic song from the sixties. It has a captivating gentle wah-wah guitar backing and a lightly soulful Ferry vocal. It is another song dripping mystery and atmosphere and suits the album perfectly. BF Bass (Ode To Olympia) has a deep, bluesy sort of beat with hints of Stax soul but with a contemporary dance thump. It features some Tom Tom Club style female backing vocals which give it a catchiness. Reason Or Rhyme is a very typically Bryan Ferry number, in its laid-back feel and quiet, classy vocals. It has an addictive piano line. Again, it is full of atmosphere. The melody of it really sticks in my head too. Tender Is The Night ends the album with a low-key, moving ballad with a haunting vocal. Overall the album is a quality one that explores various textures and beats while never straying too far from the one ambience that runs through the whole album. Yes, there is nothing new, save some contemporary beats, but did you really expect anything else? This is a master craftsman doing what he does best.

The Jazz Age (2012)           

This is a very odd curio of an album. Although titled The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, Ferry himself doesn't feature on it at all. It is a collection of Ferry's solo material and Roxy Music numbers played by Ferry's regular backing musicians from the time, in a 1920s ragtime-ish jazz style. There are no vocals on the album at all, and, what makes it a flawed album, for me, is that the music is played in a deliberately "lo-fi", muffled mono sound. This is done, presumably, to add a 1920s authenticity to it, rather like some artists have added scratches to songs to make them sound like old blues numbers. Personally, I would preferred it if they had applied contemporary, decent sound to the music. It is a nice concept, but I feel it could have been so much better. 

As for the music itself, most of the tracks are barely recognisable as the songs they once were. Roxy Music's Just Like You is one of the only ones that does sound like it used to. Others, like Love Is The Drug and Don't Stop The Dance have hints, here and there. Some, like Do The Strand and This Is Tomorrow have me struggling to find any musical link. No doubt, there are lots of musical elements in there, to a trained ear, but to my philistine ear they sound like different melodies.

I dig this out and give it a play around once a year, but every time I do, it leaves me frustrated. I guess that will never change. I love the cover though.

Avonmore (2014)     

This album continues in the same vein as Mamouna and Olympia - high class, sophisticated art/pop, delivered with the class of a 1930s Parisian nightclub singer yet with a sumptuous contemporary, laid-back, polished backing. "Here it comes - that old ennui..." is a line from Roxy Music's If It Takes All Night from 1974's Country Life. It is so apt here. Ferry is a master of his craft, the relayer of reserved romanticism and the purveyor of polished perfection. As with those previous albums, the pace never gets above walking, gliding over the floor. It doesn't need to. It is all exquisitely seductive. Strangely, though, for such a mature, accomplished album, the cover shows Ferry as a callow youth.                    

Loop Di Li is an insistently shuffling, syncopated typical Ferry groove. Effortless and delectable. Midnight Train continues in the same appetising fashion, with some understated but melodic guitar lines floating around and Ferry's voice, as always, sounding classily detached. That voice is gorgeously croakily romantic on Soldier Of FortuneDriving Me Wild has a couple of hints of contemporary music in its "hey hey hey" vocal backing, but the overall ambience hasn't changed. It doesn't for A Special Kind Of Day either. I would say that Olympia actually had far more changes of style and atmosphere than on this album, where the vibe is the same, like on Mamouna, from track one to track ten.

Avonmore does see the pace up just a little, however, with a more frantic, rolling drum beat and a luscious, enigmatic vocal from Ferry. It is an ebullient, buoyant number. Lost has a beguiling guitar line floating around all over it and Ferry's voice is engagingly "grey" (which is the only way I can describe its slightly high, throaty tone). One Night Stand harks back to the intoxicating Grace Jones-esque nightclub rhythms of Olympia. It has some nice saxophone swirling about in there too. Despite a few slight changes in pace, the whole album plays pretty much as one continuous whole.

The final two tracks are cover versions - a haunting version of Judy CollinsSend In The Clowns and a bassy version of Robert Palmer's Johnny And Mary. The track would seem to be ideal for Ferry. He does it full of laid-back, sleepy soul. As indeed he does the whole album.

Bitter-Sweet (2018)     

After the slightly ill-conceived project of 2012's The Jazz Age, which saw The Bryan Ferry Orchestra (sans Ferry) playing several Roxy Music/Ferry solo numbers in a muffled, mock-1920s mono way. For me, the deliberately lo-fi sound did not work, and furthermore, many of the songs were unrecognisable from their originals (to me anyway).

Here, however, although The Bryan Ferry Orchestra are back, there are considerable improvements on this one. Ferry makes an appearance on several songs and the sound is notably improved. Having said that, several of the numbers sound decidedly mono. Either way, there is much more clarity of sound on these recordings. Indeed, I am pretty sure they are mono. Good mono, however. There is still a bit of "muffling" here and there. I guess that is just the "smoky" sound they are trying to achieve.
Alphaville, from Olympia, kicks off the album in a staccato, almost 1930s Berlin jazz style. Ferry's ageing voice suits the interpretation perfectly. The sound is still slightly lo-fi, but it is miles better than the previous offering. Reason Or Rhyme, also from Olympia, also has a vocal and is pretty appealing, offering a different feel to the original. Somewhat brooding and laconically melancholy in its jazzy backing. Sign Of The Times from The Bride Stripped Bare is a jaunty instrumental and pretty much unrecognisable from the rocking original. It is pleasant enough in its own right, though. New Town from Bête Noire is given a most agreeable jazz makeover and although it is enjoyable, I have to say, as with most of the recordings, that I prefer the originals. That is not really the point, however, is it?

Limbo, also from Bête Noire, is a lively instrumental and the original is discernible. Again, this is quite evocative and atmospheric. Bitter-Sweet, the teutonic Roxy Music number from Country Life, has a vocal and the song hasn't lost any of its sturm und drang. Ferry's vocal is even better than the original and the song sounds similarly mysterious and at times bombastic. Once more, it is full of atmosphere.

Dance Away from Roxy Music's Manifesto is give the instrumental treatment and its melody is there in a quirkily, "flapper"-ish fashion. I must say I quite like this one despite my misgivings over much of the instrumental interpretations. Zamba from Bête Noire has a haunting Ferry vocal. It is one of the album's best cuts. Sea Breezes from the first Roxy Music album has a most fetching jazz new incarnation despite its lack of vocals. This one works pretty well. Roxy's While My Heart Is Still Beating, from Avalon, has another excellent laid-back Ferry vocal and sumptuous backing. The song suits the new coat it has been given.

Bitter's End from the first Roxy Music album is performed without vocals but is melodically recognisable. Chance Meeting from the same album, like Sea Breezes, is a track that Ferry has re-worked before, on his Let's Stay Together album. Here, he does so with vocals and it is another success, for me, anyway. Lovely oboe work (or at least I think it is an oboe!). The album ends with the title track from the Boys And Girls album. It is an intoxicating, ghostly track that has a dignified beauty to it.

Look, this is an enjoyable listen and I know that every year or two I will give it a whirl. Will it replace the originals? No. Does it better the originals? No. Does it really matter whether it does or not? No. Take it for what it is.

Related posts :-
The Beatles
Bob Dylan
The Velvet Underground

Don't forget Ferry's marvellous work with Roxy Music too (as if you could) :-

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