Washington Post - Wed 22nd May

Thumbnail - Click for a larger version

Washington Post
22 May 2002

Bryan Ferry, Still the Suave Slave to Love

By Britt Robson
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 22nd 2002

The quintessential song couplet on Bryan Ferry's new "Frantic" CD begins with a 35-second snippet of the medieval song "Ja Nun Hons Pris," written by Richard the Lion-Hearted and sung by soprano Mary Nelson, and segues into what could be Ferry's theme song -- "Fool for Love." Milking every reverent syllable, he begins the tale, "In days gone by / There was a king / A fool for love / And all it brings." It's Ferry the Lion-Hearted, falling on his sword one more time.

A former art school student at the University of Newcastle and the son of a British coal miner, Ferry has always been molded by his love-hate relationship with aristocratic decadence. Roxy Music, the influential band he co-founded with Brian Eno in the early '70s, tweaked musical genres and gender stereotypes with an irreverent panache that anticipated the imminent arrival of glam rock and disco. As Roxy's frontman, Ferry was a high-class lounge lizard. From the disco rogue on "Love Is the Drug" to the tortured sad sack wooing an inflatable doll on "In Every Dream Home a Heartache," he remained an indomitable martyr at the altar of doomed romance.

From the beginning, however, Ferry felt the need to supplement his Roxy output by deploying his mock-deadpan elan on a vast array of cover tunes released under his own name.

The Roxy side of Ferry may have been more ingenuous, but it was Ferry the cover artist, bearing a special affection for Dylan and R&B from the '60s, who more often sounded like he was singing from his heart.

Almost evenly divided between cover tunes and the first original songs he has released in eight years, "Frantic" succinctly captures the myriad sources of his inspiration better than any disc in his 30-year career. Roxy fans will be joyous over "Fool for Love" and two other new numbers that hark back to the lush but delicate textures and soap-operatic sentiment of Ferry's old band. "I Thought," the final tune, was written with Eno, who provides the sonic streetlamps and mist while Ferry rues the woman who was to be "my streetcar named desire -- my flame within the fire." Eno is also on board for "Hiroshima," written by Ferry and Dave Stewart, with a burbling mix that includes former arena-guitar god Robin Trower and guitarist Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, paying his band's long-standing debt to Roxy Music.

There are also a pair of Dylan's breakup tunes from the '60s: a spunky rendition of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" fueled by Ferry's spry harmonica licks, and a tender take on "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," with pianist Colin Good serving as Ferry's lone accompaniment. There are a couple of bent blues numbers: Don Nix's "Goin' Down" (a minor hit for Freddie King), in which Ferry croons the title lyric with sweet surrender; and a version of "Goodnight Irene" by Leadbelly -- "the first person I ever remember hearing on the radio," Ferry says -- done with Cajun musicians on accordion and fiddle. And, as always, Ferry is at his most buoyant reveling in the soulful glide of vintage R&B, in this case the old Drifters hit "One Way Love."

Through it all, Ferry's vocals are like James Bond's preferred martini -- shaken, not stirred. His quavery croon, like his suave suits, foppish black bangs and penetrating stare, enable him to cultivate an image, even at age 56, of a ridiculously sublime vintage film star. You could call him Fey Wry.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

Previous Article | Next Article