Bride Stripped Bare Review (Melody Maker) - Sat 16th Sep

Bride Stripped Bare Review (Melody Maker)
16 September 1978

The Bride Wore Black
written by Penny Valentine for
Melody Maker, September 16 1978

WITH his usual panache (some may say pretensions), Bryan Ferry has taken his album title from a famous work by the surrealist Marcel Duchamp: The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even. Although its symbolism is highly ambiguous, and even Duchamp referred to it at first as 'definitely unfinished' and then 'completed by chance', commentators have seen in it (among other things) a virgin bride who, while she undresses, attracts and repels her suitors, whore consequently left in 'orgasmic frustrations'.

Women on Ferry's album covers, from Roxy Music on, have always been portrayed in contradictory ways: as passive sex objects, detached and remote; yet somehow dangerous, almost predatory. Here the one woman who has wreaked havoc on the formerly cool and aloof Ferry is dead. Laid out, still cling-wrapped, in an austere, forbidding setting. The 'object' of Ferry's thwarted desires has, it appears, been killed by the most commonplace of sexual symbols - a snake.

All in the best Art School Dance tradition. What is surprising is that this symbolism should be a vehicle for Ferry's highly personal outpouring of angst, rejection and alienation. Previously he has been an aloof mannerist whose stance always distanced himself from his material, a stylist with little or no emotional investment in the lyrics. Now, in the wake of what would seem to be his one major relationship, they not only reflect his state of mind, but place him as the protagonist in his high camp tragedy.

There are five Ferry compositions, including a reworking of the lament "Carrickfergus" where he reveals a hitherto hidden dimension as an interpretative folk singer in the Richard Thompson tradition. All show a man bewildered and temporarily distraught by the final rejection. Yet, interestingly, he neither blames the woman nor sets her up as a "winner" in the scheme of things.

It seems no accident that the other numbers - including the Isaac Hayes/David Porter classic "Hold On I'm Coming" and Otis Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is" - come from rock's era of innocence and teenage crushes. Normally I find it hard to accept anything other than the original versions, yet to his credit Ferry does at least retain a sense of the dynamics of the Otis arrangement (something that evades most people) with Mel Collins' fine sax solo playing more than simple homage to that first recording.

Ferry, who always combined that innovative and avant garde with a certain nostalgic appeal, has here fused both aspects to aim straight down the middle. The result is an album set firmly in the rock and roll tradition. While it is a perfectly respectable presentation, impeccably crafted and executed - and the addition of lead guitarist Waddy Wachtel to the usual Ferry regulars is the most obvious influence on that change - there is a sense of disappointment that nothing very unexpected happens, musically, other than the odd quirky key change.

That aside, Ferry makes a passable job of turning into something of a "straight" rock singer, an interesting departure. When he used to sing "It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To" you knew he really didn't mean it. Now you're not so sure.

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