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Bryan Ferry

With all the suave and debonair sophistication of a film noir movie of the 40s, cool dude devotee BRYAN FERRY (born 26 September 1945, Washington, England), and his ROXY MUSIC cohorts, were as much to style and fashion as they were to nostalgic rock. Art-school graduate and son of a coal miner Bryan was the group’s crooning protagonist, while the glittering 70s were made for the man and his London-based outfit. A change of shape and musical make-up took place as the new wave scene took over, but FERRY and Co (he was also a top-selling solo artist in his own right) rode the terrain, securing both parties further hits in the exasperating 80s. It was a long way from his days in the mid-to-late 60s fronting pub bands, The Banshees and The Gas Board.
BRYAN FERRY began his solo career in 1973, which he ran in tandem with ROXY MUSIC’s more sublime releases. An album of cover versions, THESE FOOLISH THINGS (1973) {*6}, was one for the frontman’s flourishing female fanclub, although Roxy’s male maelstrom were seeing signs of self-indulgence and sell-out. Unperturbed and happy to please his bank manager, accountant and a plethora of super songsmiths (including DYLAN and a changeling Top 10 version of his `A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’), Bryan was honest and true enough to otherwise wear his R&B/nostalgia heart strictly on his sleeve. For trivia buffs everywhere other tracks stemmed from the pens of Zachary-Brown-Zachary (`River Of Salt’), Goffin-King via The CRICKETS (`Don’t Ever Change’), Bert Berns & Jerry Ragavoy via JANIS JOPLIN (`Piece Of My Heart’), Leiber-Stoller via ELVIS (`Baby I Don’t Care’), Gluck-Gold-Weiner via Lesley Gore (`It’s My Party’), The BEACH BOYS (`Don’t Worry Baby’), The ROLLING STONES (`Sympathy For The Devil’), SMOKEY ROBINSON (`The Tracks Of My Tears’), The BEATLES (`You Won’t See Me’), Kolber-Mann via The Paris Sisters (`I Love How You Love Me’), STEVIE WONDER (`Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’) and Link-Marvell-Strachey via Cole Porter (`These Foolish Things’).
By the following summer, FERRY had yet another solo covers album on the shelves. ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE (1974) {*6} – the finale title track was his own composition – saw the crooner revelling in the role of slicked-back sophisticate and Top 20 hits just kept coming by way of `The “In” Crowd’ and `Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’, both golden oldies for Dobie Gray and The Platters respectively; tracks 3-9 comprised of numbers from:- Joe South (`Walk A Mile In My Shoes’), WILLIE NELSON (`Funny How Time Slips Away’), Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell (`You Are My Sunshine’), SAM COOKE (`What A Wonderful World’), DYLAN (`It Ain’t Me Babe’), IKE TURNER (`Finger Poppin’’) and KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (`Help Me Make It Through The Night’).
FERRY, meanwhile, concentrated on his burgeoning solo career, hitting Top 5 with the funky `Let’s Stick Together’ (an re-vamp of Wilbert Harrison’s `Let’s Work Together’ made famous by CANNED HEAT), following it up with a good-time album of the same name. For once going a bit easier on the irony and now allowed to fit in his own classic Roxy re-workings, LET’S STICK TOGETHER (1976) {*6} buried the ghost of glam while exorcising his past demons. With no less than four re-takes from Roxy’s debut (`Sea Breezes’, `2HB’, `Chance Meeting’ and `Re-Make/Re-Model’), one could forgive him for retrogressing via The EVERLY BROTHERS’ `Price Of Love’ (a priceless hit once again), Jimmy Reed’s `Shame, Shame, Shame’, GALLAGHER & LYLE’s `Heart On My Sleeve’, the Coots-Gillespie tune `You Go To My Head’ and LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `It’s Only Love’; the latter four songs also shared space on an `Extended Play’ which also cracked the Top 10.
On the threshold of being usurped by the advent of punk (a scene his proto-punk ROXY MUSIC helped fashion!), his transitional self-penned IN YOUR MIND (1977) {*5} kept up the momentum, spawning two pop hits through `This Is Tomorrow’ and `Tokyo Joe’; Manzanera, Thompson and John Wetton were on hand to guide him going through the motions.
Recorded in L.A. with ageing session musicians, the sober tones of THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE (1978) {*4} was never going to gain much headway during the height of the punk/new wave explosion, yet it remained one of the more accessible of FERRY’s solo albums. Split between originals (including minor hit `Sign Of The Times’), and a raft of covers, it was cut to shreds by the critics who preferred standard versions from AL GREEN – or even TALKING HEADS’ take – (`Take Me To The River’), J.J. CALE (`The Same Old Blues’), SAM AND DAVE (`Hold On (I’m Coming)’), The VELVET UNDERGROUND (`What Goes On’), Roosevelt Jamison via OTIS REDDING (`That’s How Strong My Love Is’) and the pitifully woeful traditional (`Carrickfergus’).
Said to have turned down the Keith Forsey-penned song, `Don’t You Forget About Me’ (a US No.1 for arena-fillers SIMPLE MINDS), FERRY hit the groove again courtesy of Top 10 smash `Slave To Love’. One of three hits taken from the chart-topping parent set BOYS AND GIRLS (1985) {*6} – along with `Don’t Stop The Dance’ and `Windswept’ – the samba and sauce were spread evenly across a set strictly for post-CHIC brigade; Nile Rodgers marking his homage to the man by making a guest appearance.
With Virgin Records (Reprise in the US) taking over the reins, as well as MADONNA collaborator Patrick Leonard at the desk and co-writing duties, BETE NOIRE (1987) {*6} marked another polished effort by the king of sophisti-pop. Alongside chart disappointments `The Right Stuff’ (with none other than co-scriber Johnny Marr of The SMITHS on funky guitar) and `Kiss And Tell’ (a bigger hit across the pond), well, this was one for mirror-ball musos.
Little or nothing new was duly heard from the vacationing FERRY man (bar a plethora of FERRY/ROXY MUSIC hits collections). That was, until his 1993 comeback solo covers set, TAXI {*5}. Benefitting from a cool Top 20 rendition of SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS’ `I Put A Spell On You’, the set was just kept off the No.1 spot; interested rock buffs can check it out for guest spots from ROBIN TROWER, MICHAEL BROOK, The GRID’s Richard Norris and singer Carleen Anderson. Raiding music from his favourite era, the 60s, Bryan was at his best on The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `All Tomorrow’s Parties’, `Goffin & King’s `Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, the Fontella Bass hit `Rescue Me’, ELVIS’s `The Girl Of My Best Friend’ and the traditional `Amazing Grace’, among others. Crediting just about the same stellar cast (including Steve Ferrone from their last set and even ENO), MAMOUNA (1994) {*4} was an accomplished, mature set of original material. As ever reflective and retro, the crooner plundered the sounds of the 30s to produce yet another nostalgic covers pop album, AS TIME GOES BY (1999) {*4}.
Meanwhile, FERRY’s first solo album of the new millennium was the ROBIN TROWER-produced FRANTIC (2002) {*6}, a record featuring a satisfying combination of choice covers (including a DYLAN double-header, `It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and `Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’) and originals co-written with both DAVE STEWART and one by ENO. With Bobby Zimmerman in vogue once again and FERRY as good as a modern-day interpreter could be, the man turned in a fresh full-blown set of his classics via DYLANESQUE (2007) {*6}. One could take their pick from eleven cuts including `Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ to `Positively 4th Street’ or `Simple Twist Of Fate’.
If one thought another Roxy reunion was out of the question, then one might’ve been happy to find some solace in the fact that FERRY’s thirteenth solo set OLYMPIA (2010) {*6} garnered at least three of his former compadres: ENO, MANZANERA and MACKAY. Subliminal as ever, the sheen and sophistication was back on eight self-penned cues, while one was happy to hear he’d lost none of his king of karaoke prowess by way of rendering two outsider tracks: TIM BUCKLEY’s `Song To The Siren’ and TRAFFIC’s `No Face, No Name, No Number’. You just can’t keep a good man down.
As radical bandleader rather than nostalgic crooner, it was down to The BRYAN FERRY ORCHESTRA for the marmite-inducing instrumental album, THE JAZZ AGE (2012) {*4}. Drawing influences from retro-swing icons such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (among others), this re-vamped ROXY-vs-FERRY “best-of” set was a complete turnaround to his acclaimed halcyon days of yore. While some will see the merits of an older gentleman dredging up the past, rather than just leaving it to the masters, art-rock suffers as a consequence by way of hearing jiggery-pokery jazz versions of `Do The Strand’ (there was no “new sensation”), `Love Is The Drug’, `Avalon’ and an almost unrecognisable `Virginia Plain’. As if to add insult to injury, his orchestra came up with further “Yellow Cocktail Music”, inspired this time by THE GREAT GATSBY (2013) {*4} re-make; FERRY added texture to the set with vocals on `Love Is The Drug’ and a version of AMY WINEHOUSE’s `Back To Black’.
2014’s “comeback” singer-songwriter solo set, AVONMORE {*7}, was just what the doctor ordered. Co-produced with Rhett Davis, FERRY dons his suave and sophistication suit and tie and gives a good impression of himself in the 80s; the one exception being his odd parting-shot covers of Stephen Sondheim’s `Send In The Clowns’ and cool-dude rival ROBERT PALMER’s `Johnny & Mary’. Together with a fleeting cast of NILE RODGERS, MARCUS MILLER, MARK KNOPFLER, Maceo Parker, Flea, Guy Pratt, RONNIE SPECTOR, Fonzi Thornton, Neil Hubbard and JOHNNY MARR (the latter co-scribing `Soldier Of Fortune’), FERRY’s big band this time around attain admission through pop-rock’s side door. Considering he’ll soon be turning 70, the master of panache and elegance shines on the title track, the downbeat `Lost’ and misty-eyed opener, `Loop De Li’.
Inspired to take his cool cabaret role in the Netflix drama Babylon Berlin (from late 2017) to another level, the nostalgic former ROXY MUSIC star appropriated several cuts from the showing in order to make up his next swing-styled “Jazz Age” solo album. Featuring `Dance Away’, `Reason Or Rhyme’, `Bitters End’, `Alphaville’, `Chance Meeting’ and `Bitter-Sweet’, exactly a year on BRYAN FERRY and his ORCHESTRA (with arranger Colin Good) were in fine fettle for 2018’s BITTER-SWEET {*7}. Retro, wry and romantic in his usual suave and sophisticated panache, one could almost imagine kodak ghosts from the 20s and 30s coming back to haunt us.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-MCS // rev-up MCS May2012-Dec2018

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