In the summer of 1972 a friend and I were seeing London record store by record store, club by club, absorbing as much of the music scene as possible. We saw the Annie Haslam edition of Renaissance performing for free in a pub before their first album came out. We went to a weekend folk festival that featured Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, the Strawbs, Al Stewart and lots of others. Bowie doing Ziggy Stardust at the Rainbow. Yes premiering Close to the Edge, opening acts included Mahavishnu Orchestra and Gary Wright. Mungo Jerry in Torquay (long before Fawlty Towers). The one group I was most curious to see but didn’t was Roxy Music. I’d been reading about them in NME and bought the album, even though I had nothing to play it on, just staring at the cover images. I got back to the US, played the record, it lived up to all my expectations, and I’ve been a fan of all of them – the band, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, Paul Thompson – ever since. (I did get to see them a couple of times later on, the last time being a reunion tour in the U.S. in 2001.)
Bryan Ferry is now 65 years old (gulp!) and has just released a new album, Olympia. It’s his first album of mostly original songs since 2002. (The covers include Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren and Traffic’s No Face No Name No Number). One song is a collaboration with Groove Armada, another with Scissor Sisters. Musicians on the album include Eno, Manzanera, Nile Rodgers, David Gilmour, Jonny Greenwood, Flea. And I can’t figure out if I like it or not.
(That’s Kate Moss on the cover.)
The sound of the album is what you expect from a Ferry album – very lush and “produced,” it may initially hit you as a wall of sound but listen closely and there’s a lot going on and it sounds as if they labored for years over every note and arrangement, it sounds carefully crafted and completely un-spontaneous, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But the first thing is Ferry’s voice. Never your typical crooner, I think in the early years many saw that voice as an acquired taste. (Roxy Music was practically booed off stage on their first US tour, opening for Jethro Tull.) But his singing here, where his voice is mostly little more than a harsh whisper , it sounds as if he’s singing a half tone flat for the entire album.
As for the songs? You Can Dance is remix-friendly, the Traffic cover sticks in my mind, the rest of the album sort of floats by, not much is really sticking. To me this is mood music, atmosphere music, a soundtrack or background to some club that would never let me past the velvet rope.
I’m gonna keep playing it. There’s something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Curious to get other peoples’ impressions on it.