Release Date: Nov 17, 2014
Record label: BMG
Always sonically adventurous and seemingly ahead of the curve by leaps and bounds, it’s slightly jarring to hear Bryan Ferry jump on anyone’s bandwagon. After all, this is the same guy who, for his last album, released a set of covers of songs made famous by the group in which he made his name (Roxy Music) done in the style of early 20th century jazz titled, appropriately enough, The Jazz Age. So to hear him revisit a style he virtually popularized, that of sophisticated pop, in the wake of Daft Punk’s massive success utilizing a similar format on last year’s Random Access Memories seems a bit reductive, until you realize that he’s been putting out albums just like this for quite some time.
On the album art of Avonmore, the record he released when he was a year shy of 70, Bryan Ferry showcases himself as a dashing young man -- a portrait of an artist not as a glam trailblazer or distinguished elder statesman, but rather caught in an indeterminate time between the gorgeous heartbreak of Roxy Music's Avalon and the meticulous solo work that came immediately in its wake. This is Ferry's prime, a moment when his legacy was intact but yet to be preserved in amber. Avonmore consciously evokes this distinct period, sometimes sighing into the exquisite ennui of Avalon but usually favoring the fine tailoring of Boys & Girls, a record where every sequenced rhythm, keyboard, and guitar line blended into an alluring urbane pulse.
Bryan Ferry recast Roxy Music faves in a 1920s setting on his last album The Jazz Age, but on the follow-up he returns to the super-smooth lounge pop with which he’s long been associated. Avonmore is co-produced by Rhett Davies, Ferry’s collaborator since the later Roxy albums, with which this shares an icy sophistication. Johnny Marr, Nile Rodgers, Flea, Ronnie Spector, Mark Knopfler and Maceo Parker all feature, but are subsumed into the lush Ferry soundscape.
From the cover photo culled from his younger days to a cast of collaborators from his past (Nile Rodgers, Johnny Marr and producer Rhett Davies, among them), Bryan Ferry is making no effort to hide the fact that his 14th solo album is an attempt to recapture the glory days of Avalon and his ‘80s solo successes. The simple question is: why? Did he stick with the glitzy, mirrorball-kissed pop so as to insure a healthy commercial return in an already stretched-thin market or was this out of habit? Because goodness knows, Avonmore could have gone in any direction Ferry wanted to, aided by at least two-dozen producers or arrangers who would kill to work with such an icon. As it stands, we get only a small taste of that delicious possibility.
Earlier this week, the Indian opening batsman Rohit Sharma scored a scarcely believable 264 runs from 173 balls in a one-day international cricket match against Sri Lanka. Studiously ignoring the Indians’ successful approach of having a big-hitter at the top of the order, England are poised to go into a seven-match series against the same opponents at the end of this month with the plodding, slow-scoring captain Alastair Cook occupying the same position as Sharma in the batting order. It’s a painfully English approach, one that they have by and large stuck to throughout the history of one-day cricket, with the odd experiment with a pinch-hitter opening, in the face of the wider game evolving constantly.
Throughout his post-Roxy Music solo career, Bryan Ferry has rarely stood still. Aside from an ill-advised collection of Dylan covers in 2007, his recorded output generally represents a series of assured steps forward. His last record, 2013's The Jazz Age, allowed Ferry to play around with big band takes on his expansive back catalog, a project that could have potentially been dismal (and unnecessary), but instead came off as both fun and surprisingly inspired.
It's an unproven medical fact that one in five children born between 1983 and 1985 were conceived while an 8-track tape of Roxy Music's Avalon was playing. A night may begin innocently with roses and a candlelit dinner, but once Bryan Ferry's voice drifts out from the stereo speakers there's little doubt where that evening is heading. .
Following a 2012 release with the bafflingly Ferry-less Bryan Ferry Orchestra, the duke of avant-fop returns with this lavish set. Opener "Loop De Li" alone credits six guitarists, including Nile Rodgers, Johnny Marr and Neil Hubbard, the latter a vet of Roxy Music's Avalon, a set this LP recalls in more than just name. Highlight: "Johnny & Mary," a collaboration with Norwegian EDM romantic Todd Terje – a savvy gesture from a dude who somehow never gets old.
It’s hard to imagine Bryan Ferry releasing an album that doesn’t sound refined and elegant. And on that count Avonmore – a return to more contemporary sounds after 2012’s The Jazz Age – doesn’t disappoint. The eight originals and two covers exude class throughout, from the irresistibly funky title track to the atmospheric cover of Robert Palmer’s Johnny & Mary, a collaboration with Norwegian DJ Todd Terje.
With Roxy Music having recently called it quits (again), their frontman Bryan Ferry is now able to concentrate on the full-time job of being Bryan Ferry. And on this, his 14th solo album, it shows. Put simply, he is not messing around. There’s a plethora of celebrity guests, including Johnny Marr, Nile Rodgers, Flea and Mark Knopfler; the album’s title seems like a deliberate echo of his former band’s 1982 opus Avalon; moreover, Ferry – normally such an enthusiastic coverer of other people’s songs – limits himself here to just two non-originals.
As many nostalgic listeners have learned, it’s much easier to appreciate Roxy Music’s pivotal album, Avalon, in its original context, not to mention the other campy trappings of the glam rock movement that birthed it: flamboyant costumes, dance halls, moody lighting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bryan Ferry’s latest solo album, Avonmore, is similarly easier to appreciate when considered within the context of Roxy Music and the glam rock movement. Which is to say that upon first listen, Avonmore sounds a bit dated.
In the last few years Bryan Ferry has busied himself with jazz instrumentals and “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack. He returns with his first album of new material in four years and his husky velvet croon is in fine shape. “Avonmore” is all lush layers and quiet urgency with songs of love won and lost, offering a mesmerizing combination of sophistication, melancholy, and danceability.
After a diversion into the 20s on 2012’s The Jazz Age and The Great Gatsby soundtrack, British crooner Bryan Ferry returns to the highly polished and multi-layered sound that became his signature with Roxy Music in the 70s and 80s. Avonmore features a typically star-studded cast of players – Johnny Marr, Nile Rodgers, Ronnie Spector, Mark Knopfler among them – who meld seamlessly into his world of anguished glamour and romance. With each record, Ferry’s voice has become more relaxed and grizzled, and on the psyched-out funk of One Night Stand, his thin vocals pass through the pulsating bass and rollicking background singers like a cold wind.