Release Date: Oct 25, 2010
Record label: Virgin
Bryan Ferry has long been the sultriest of crooners and the most compelling of lyricists. There are smoke rings and cool passion to be found in every sway of his albums, whether he’s solo or with art-glam legends Roxy Music. After the husk of 2007’s Dylanesque’s tribute to the rustic bard, something suave and strange was in order. Ferry invited Roxy’s best producer and nearly all of that ensemble’s collaborators (including Brian Eno) to abet him in his most experimental deliriously Roxy-ish recordings in decades.
There are two headlines for Olympia, Bryan Ferry’s 13th solo album. The first is that it’s Ferry’s first collection of primarily original material since 1994’s Mamouna -- of the ten songs only Tim Buckley's “Song to the Siren” and Traffic's "No Face, No Name, No Number" are from another author -- the second is that among the many collaborators here are Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, and Andy MacKay, all original members of Roxy Music, their presence suggesting a return to the chilly art of Roxy’s earliest records. Neither headline tells the real story: Olympia is Ferry’s most seductive album since Avalon, a luxurious collection of softly stylized sophistication.
Bryan Ferry’s latest release, Olympia, is glacial in the best sense of the term. In subject matter, Ferry’s work with Roxy Music could be described in the same way, but rarely did those songs offer themselves at as languid a pace as the tracks do here. Luckily, the songs are more often grand than boring. Olympia sees Ferry reunited with such Roxy cohorts as guitarist Phil Manzanera and the legendary Brian Eno, collaborating with Ferry for the first time since 1973’s For Your Pleasure.
The Roxy Music frontman?s latest solo album opens with soft-focus keyboard that harks back to 1982?s Avalon, so it seems ? almost inevitable when Roxy cohorts Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, and Andy Mackay wander in later. (Chic?s Nile Rodgers and Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea also drop by.) Finding true love has never come easy to Ferry, but his famed warble still revels in elusive, discofied romance. B+ See all of this week’s reviews .
There was a point at which Olympia was intended to be a new Roxy Music album. It would have been the band's first since 1982's Avalon, and there even seems to be a sly nod to that two-decade gap on album opener "You Can Dance", which opens with a brief musical passage that is pretty much a note-for-note reference to Avalon's "True to Life". Somewhere in the process, though, this became another Bryan Ferry solo album, featuring original Roxy Music members Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera, and Brian Eno, and Ferry brought in a raft of collaborators, some old, some new, to round out the record, his first to feature original songs since 2002's Frantic.
The Manet-inspired photo of an iced-out Kate Moss on the cover of Bryan Ferry's first solo album in eight years doesn't lie. The image throws back to the impossibly glamorous artwork that graced many a Roxy Music record sleeve, and the album's 10 tracks evoke a similar nostalgia for the cult 70s act's panoramic art-pop machismo, with an emphasis on "pop." [rssbreak] Much of Olympia sounds straight out of Avalon-era Roxy, despite an array of all-star collaborators: David Gilmour, Jonny Greenwood, Scissor Sisters, Nile Rodgers and ex-Roxys Brian Eno, Andrew Mackay and Phil Manzanera. Somewhat surprisingly, they blend right in with Ferry's trembling timbre and sensual, textured atmospherics.
Brian Eno often gets the credit for Roxy Music’s early eccentricity, playing into the dynamic of a band torn between two strong personalities: Eno’s intellect on one side, Bryan Ferry’s smooth blandness on the other. This makes sense, considering the band’s gradual slide into insipidness that followed Eno’s departure, but as a singer and lyricist, Ferry has always contained multitudes, representing a continuous struggle between silky frontman aspirations and outright strangeness. That same conflict is thrown into sharp relief on Olympia, though a skew toward more overt sexiness makes for a host of cheesy moments.
Ferry's professed new sense of urgency since brushing with death in an aeroplane incident in 2000 hasn't produced too many new songs. Olympia is only the Roxy Music singer's second set of new material since 1994. However, he's busily assembled an all-star supporting cast – guitarists Nile Rodgers, Jonny Greenwood and Dave Gilmour, Mani and Flea on bass, and most of Roxy, including Brian Eno.
Given the average age of the readership of this site it wouldn’t be surprising to find that some readers most readily think of Bryan Ferry as that former M&S model who covers Bob Dylan songs all the time, rather than the front man for one the most important and influential British bands of all time. In comparison we can we can see Brian Eno’s influence in any number of DiS-friendly bands (just see the 'Children of Eno' section of our Sean’s 6Music takeover). Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Bryan Ferry’s solo output is that for a fellow of such eclectic and cultured taste, he hasn’t done anything terribly original since the New Romantic masterclass of Roxy Music swansong Avalon in 1982.
Ferry can only do jaded nowadays – but when it works, he drags you under with him. Martin Aston 2010 "Making music for a living is quite hard," Bryan Ferry said in 2009. "With every album you have to reinvent the wheel, reinvent Tabasco or HP Sauce." Which might explain why he’s recorded just one album featuring originals, 2002’s Frantic, since 1994.
On the sleeve, [b]Kate Moss[/b] “reclines seductively” (thanks, [i]Daily Mail[/i]!); musically everyone from [a]Scissor Sisters[/a] to [a]Jonny Greenwood[/a] and three members of [b]Roxy[/b] (including [b]Eno[/b]) lend a hand. But this is no disciple-assisted rebirth. All these contributors are superfluous, each ending up being merely a tiny part of one long pleasant-but-indistinguishable soup of tasteful sessioneering, over which The Voice totally dominates.
Music is meditation for Brian Eno, so it's fitting that portions of Small Craft on a Milk Sea – a collaboration with guitarist Leo Abrahams and pianist Jon Hopkins – sound like they're circulating air at a day spa. Eno's textures stimulate the visual cortex, and though there are nod-offs ("Complex Heaven"), sonic shifts into louder realms ("2 Forms of Anger," "Bone Jump") balance it out. Eno shows up on Roxy Music chum Bryan Ferry's latest, along with former fellow bandmates Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay.