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. Much like Roxy Music’s most famous album covers, this release features a supermodel, Kate Moss, as its sleeve subject. All these clues, as well as the fact that this is Ferry’s first batch of original material in eight years, should provoke even the densest Ferry fan to polish off their glitter boots in hope of a Roxy Music reunion tour. Although doing such a thing could be labeled as impulsive, more than a few moments on Olympia do evoke Roxy Music’s final release Avalon.
For this reason perhaps, quite a few critics have been claiming that Olympia sounds dated. Although this criticism is certainly valid, there are those who are so blinded by Ferry’s persona of suave lounge lizard that they can overlook such impediments. Having a persona that calls to mind terms such as “has-been” while being anything but is a mighty achievement. And Ferry has, and continues to, defy conventions, even when dabbling in the retro funk of something like this album’s “BF Bass (Ode to Olympia)”.
Other songs are far more subtle than their titles or collaborators would suggest. Olympia‘s opener, “You Can Dance”, enlists its three bassists to create a definite groove, but the final result is more a nuance than an outright wiggle. Rather than being a disco anthem, “You Can Dance” plumbs the depravity of the dance floor, coming off all the more seductive for its efforts. “Heartache By Numbers” is a collaboration between Ferry and two of the Scissor Sisters, but the song is a slow, slow burn until its stately chorus. “Shameless” makes collaborators of Groove Armada in a far more obvious, and pulsing, way.
Ferry, whose last album consisted solely of Bob Dylan covers, has always been an outstanding interpreter of other artists’ work. He makes good claim to this by including two outstanding covers on Olympia, one being Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren”, the other Traffic’s “No Face, No Name, No Number”. “Song to the Siren” has been covered by artists as diverse as This Mortal Coil and Half Man Half Biscuit, but Ferry’s rendition may best them all. Ferry’s version is a mélange of strings, whispered backing vocals, and over 20 musicians, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour included. It’s little wonder, then, that the chorus of “here I am” sounds powerful enough to blow an anchored ship halfway across the sea.
Olympia ends with a less grandiose yet equally magnificent number, “Tender Is the Night”. The tune features only one special guest—that would be Steve Nieve on keyboards—and the startling intimacy of the track makes this apparent. The song is gentle and desolate, only belying Ferry’s signature iciness with a hush of electronic dissonance around the 2:30 point. Even without these electronic twitches, such a bare song would not seem out of place on Olympia. In an album teeming with class, there is no more graceful note to end on.
"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. Have 2005’s reformed Roxy sessions – after a 26 year break, and with founder member Brian Eno involved for the first time since 1973’s art-rocking pinnacle For Your Pleasure – been subsumed into Ferry’s own record, because the expectations were too great? What a shame. Years ago, he admitted For Your Pleasure remained his best album. Olympia, however, tastes as smooth as early Roxy was tangy. Mayonnaise as opposed to Tabasco.Such is the astounding polish on this album that Ferry and his producer even manage to make a cabal of guest guitarists Nile Rodgers, Phil Manzanera, David Gilmour and Jonny Greenwood sound like a paste of toned keyboards (Eno’s also on the same track but you’d never know it – likewise all four tracks he adds synth to). This extraordinary feat occurs on the cover of the Tim Buckley standard Song to the Siren, which fails to nail the lyric’s questing, yearning mood (try This Mortal Coil’s 1983 version). Ferry can only do jaded and glum nowadays – but when it works, he blissfully drags you under with him. Mayonnaise can still taste delicious.That’s when Olympia resembles Roxy’s 1979 ‘comeback’ album Manifesto, where Ferry started tapping disco and R&B while developing the murky, treacly and troubled rock noir of the post-Eno era. Even the tracks aimed at the dancefloor are heavy and mid-paced. You Can Dance (revamping the DJ Hell single that Ferry sang on in January) and the Groove Armada co-write Shameless effortlessly brood, but BF BASS (Ode to Olympia) is default 80s beige funk in every detail, and quickly forgettable. Even the Scissor Sisters co-write Heartache by Numbers isn’t BPM-friendly, but the chorus is an Olympian highlight.
On the darker side, Me Oh My and Reason or Rhyme are incontrovertibly gorgeous, but Tender Is the Night is Ferry’s finest in 30 years, which knowingly peddles lyrical clichés in a glacial lake of Euro-romantic gloom and Steve Nieve’s piano. It’s no A Song for Europe, but still. The fact the track employs three musicians – Song to the Siren has 22 – surely points to Ferry’s next move; not necessarily a Roxy album, nor reinventing the wheel or a popular condiment, but a dose of solitary confinement.
bryanferry.comBryan Ferry (born 26 September 1945 in Washington, Tyne and Wear) is a British singer, musician and songwriter, famed for his suave visual and vocal style, who came to public prominence in the 1970s as lead vocalist with Roxy Music. He is also noted for his alternative highly successful solo career.
— A NEW FANTASTIC MAN —It is a great pleasure to announce the release of the new issue of FANTASTIC MAN, for Autumn and Winter 2010. The amazing Mr. BRYAN FERRY is on the cover and inside the magazine, photographed by JUERGEN TELLER and interviewed by PAUL FLYNN. The singer talks about his daily shaving routine, about being fabulous, about his new album, and much more!
'Making music for a living is quite hard.'
"One of my favorite 80's
Artist all times!"