Flesh for fantasy: Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry – Avonmore

There’s a difference. Slight. Old pal Rhett Davies gives each instrument its weight, with Ferry’s keyboards audible like they haven’t been in years. The title track and “Driving Me Wild” are the equals of Olympia‘s “Reason or Rhyme” and “Heartache by Numbers.” Ignore the expensive guest list. Like the inclusion of scrapped Horoscope tracks, hiring Steve Jones, Johnny Marr, and Nile Rodgers to play on “One Night Stand” means he can transmutate past and present, distinctions and quirks, into perfumed sighs. Flea is Marcus Miller is Guy Pratt. If the test of sustained vision is the interchangeability of parts, then Bryan Ferry rules all.

An artist operating at the Love God’s level of distance requires specifics. Bryan Ferry’s songs are “funky” like they’re “romantic.” With their slap bass runs they approximate funk; with their allusions to being driven wild and crazy they approximate romance. Ferry has as much use for them as I do for girdles. No one in rock has conceived an aesthetic so resistant to friction, bodily contact. Sometime after Avalon, perfected on Boys & Girls and Bête Noire, Ferry figured out that pining and dreaming and luxuriating constitute the dirty secret about relationships. We’re beholden to the ritual and correctness of form. To plan the night out matters more than the post-dinner sex. To realize his obsessions would scare him to death. The half dozen crisscrossing guitar lines, zealous backing vocalists, and keyboard swells comprise a surface whose gleam is supposed to distract; he’s in there but don’t look too closely. As he approaches the fifth decade of his recording career Ferry sounds as if he’s rehearsed a mood called “forlorn” and for the next forty minutes will demonstrate how well he performs it. But don’t ask him to commit to it. “A Special Kind of Guy” boasts a distinctly un-Ferryesque title until the zing: “A special kind of guy/Would take you by the hand/For all the world to see/Wish it could be me.” Now that’s a Ferry lyric worth preserving. The aptest line though is Robert Palmer’s, buried in the fluttering, dessicated “Johnny and Mary” cover first heard last spring on Todd Terje’s own album: “He needs the world to confirm that he ain’t lonely.”

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