AsTime Goes By (Reviewed By Michael Sandlin) - Fri 1st Oct

AsTime Goes By (Reviewed By Michael Sandlin)
01 October 1999

Bryan Ferry As Time Goes By

Reviewed By Michael Sandlin

Anyone expecting a goofy, throwaway retro- lounge/ neo- swing affair on As Time Goes By is sorely underestimating this ambitious project from smooth operator Bryan Ferry. Ferry, unlike so many of his rock contemporaries who consistently fail to reinvent themselves in any remotely interesting fashion, once again distances himself from trends and tired rock n' roll stances here. So, if there are still any Cherry Poppin' Voodoo Daddies in K-Mart Zoot Suits and thrift- shop Fedoras out there, stick to your 8 ½ Souvenirs and Brian Setzer Orchestra crap, 'cause these jazz- age covers aren't fashioned into anything resembling your damned modernized swing. Rather, they're as irony- free and faithful to the originals as you could possibly hope for.

Ferry has always brought more to cover songs than just a verbatim remake. For him, including cover songs on his albums has never been just a symptom of writer's block (like it is for so many) or the result of just plain age- related laziness. A true respect and sense of tribute always seems to be in evidence. His interpretations of "In the Midnight Hour," and Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall," among others, are proof that his renditions can often be every bit as vital as the originals.

As the title suggests, these songs are romantic popular standards from the 1920s and '30s. Represented here are the likes of Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Rodgers and Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, etc. Strict authenticity and adherence to tradition is the rule, with Ferry's crack backing musicians sounding like they were hand- picked and acquired via time warp from a slick 1920's big band orchestra. Guitarist Neil Solberg cooks up some jaunty, ragtime-y lines straight out of some smoky Depression- era speakeasy. And Ferry's sweet (though not incredibly versatile) vocals certainly do ample justice to these classic compositions. Ferry's interpretation of Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" is certainly no less haunting and heartbreaking than the original. And other classics that benefit from Ferry's input are Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight," and another standout Porter tune, "You Do Something To Me."

It's easy to discern Ferry's high reverence for the material, as he handles these delicate tunes with kid gloves, nearly to a fault at times. He keeps his vocals restrained at an even keel throughout-- at kind of a half- whisper/ half- croon so as to blend in with the orchestration. He seems to take extra precaution not to disrupt the flow of each song with any showy histrionics.

But really, as much as I love Ferry's unique voice, the overall feel and arrangement of these songs is what ultimately makes As Time Goes By so endearing. The timeless "I'm in the Mood for Love" is one of the album's hands- down highlights. It's rife with the kind of atmospherics a lounge band like Combustible Edison constantly strives to perfect, yet never seem to escape creating inevitable tongue- in- cheek impressions.

And although I do have an affinity for the Little Rascals' rendition of "I'm in the Mood for Love" (with Alfalfa singing in that shaky falsetto of his), Ferry's version couldn't be more appropriate. Here, the percussion plunks out a cool samba-ish beat, outdoorsy noises echo in the background, a harp tiptoes behind Ferry's voice, celestial string sections hover just over the vocals, and even Ferry's old Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera ably takes on some light acoustic rhythm guitar duties.

As Time Goes By isn't that surprising a move for Ferry-- after all, his last collection of cover songs, the largely mediocre Taxi, came out only a few years ago. And as far as his penchant for singing other people's songs is concerned, this record is easily Ferry's most worthwhile endeavor yet. And it's an apt and artful treatment of these once- popular classics that have, for whatever reason, all but faded from popular consciousness. Besides, what other rock star would have the cojones to pull off demanding vocal numbers like these? Actually, I'm still anticipating the rumored release of Soft Lights, Sweet Music, and Pullin' Birds, Man!: Keith Richards Sings Irving Berlin.

Previous Article | Next Article