BBC - Olympia Review - Fri 15th Oct

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by Martin Aston

"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.

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