Spectrum Culture OCTOBER 31, 2010 - by Nathan Kamal


Bryan Ferry is a consummate covers artist, a man so suave (yep, it took less than ten words to work "suave" in there) that he can make any song sound like a haunting, twisted love song. Thus, it can be easy to forget that outside of his storied career as the main man of art-rock legends Roxy Music, he's been an enigmatic solo songwriter for years, crafting everything from dance-pop to sci-fi rockers. But his solo career has been so dominated by his love of covering other artists that it comes almost as a surprise that Olympia is his first album of predominately original material since 2002's vastly underrated Frantic (2007's Dylanesque is best left forgotten).

Of course, with the band he's brought together, the album may well be attributed to Bryan Ferry and the Super-Friends. Along with his Roxy cohorts, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay, Ferry has enlisted Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, David Gilmour, Jonny Greenwood, Flea, Scissor Sisters, Groove Armada and super-producer/god amongst men Brian Eno. That kind of music murderers' row could lead to an excess of professionalism in an album, a kind of smoothness by committee, but fortunately that had been Ferry's stock in trade for years. After the (unavoidable to mention) swansong of 1982's Avalon, an album perfect in its own lounge histrionics, Ferry has seemed to actively work to remove the edges from his music, to create an impossibly languorous sound to complement his legendarily silky voice. On Olympia, that's complemented by his band's technical virtuosity as well as a healthy dose of dance-ready energy from the younger spectrum of his contributors.

Opening with the first single, You Can Dance, and a brief synthesizer nod to Avalon, Ferry's strangely desperate vocals sound over vaguely Eastern, abrasive guitars. It's familiar lyrical territory for him, with lines like, "The hitchhike into Paris / And zigzag by the Seine / The Hollywood moment / I'll never be the same" basically par for the course. But it's the slinky, sinister bassline and Ferry's newly committed vocals that make the song. Alphaville is shared territory, right down to the Talking Heads-style bass (figures, considering it's a tracked worked-over by Eno), reflecting Ferry's lifelong love of cinematic references. Heartache By Numbers (the Scissor Sisters-aided track) doesn't work quite as well, anchored by a piano riff that wouldn't be out of place on a Coldplay record; the piercing, choral chorus doesn't quite work, sounding jaggedly out of place with the rest of the song. Fortunately, the Groove Armada contribution, Shameless, more than makes up for it, an eerie synthesizer and club beat balancing out Ferry's sneering, self-reflective "famously inspired / Privately absurd."

One of only two covers on the album (the other being a warmed-over, easily discarded Traffic number), Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren is perhaps a perfect song for Ferry. With delicate instrumentation broken by deep, dramatic percussion and shimmering, fluttering synths, Buckley's "Here I am, here I am waiting to hold you / Did I dream you dreamed about me?" sounds so appropriate, so right coming from Ferry, that it's difficult to believe its not his own words. Such is the power of a well-chosen cover. The closer, Tender Is The Night takes Ferry back to his strengths, a lonesome piano over radio distortions and wry references like, "I wanna be where strangers meet / I wanna hold you at the dark end of the street." It's a warm yet melancholic closing song for an artist who never seems to struggle, yet is always on the precipice of some kind of desperation. Olympia is a welcome return for Ferry and his songwriting (and all his friends).