Olympia | Bryan Ferry (Virgin)

Ferry has vocally aged very well, if anything his expressive weariness sounds better now than it ever has.

It has been 25 years since Boys and Girls—the Bryan Ferry album that seemingly renewed the sexuality of a generation bewildered by punk, post punk and new wave. Maybe I am overstating things, but if you are familiar with the album, you know it was like silk sheets after an evening of just the right amount of too much wine. Ferry offered us the world-weary traveler who looked amazing and moved with such grace, but underneath you knew he was sad—the kind of ennui that no amount of love could dispel.
Ferry, whose career is now in its fifth decade (Mr. Ferry turned 65 this last September), has had a very successful career both with Roxy music and as a solo artist. He emotes smooth. I must admit that I burnt out on Ferry sometime in the ‘90s when his albums had the feel of a star cruising towards its fade, more nostalgia than interpretation. I was wrong to some extent. I saw Ferry like Rod Stewart, riding somebody else’s talent as his own. But Ferry is more like a Frank Sinatra, a skillful interpreter and careful in the selection of his work. In Sinatra, Olympia finds it guide. There is a lovely feel to it that comes from the singer’s voice. Ferry has vocally aged very well, if anything his expressive weariness sounds better now than it ever has. And his songs capitalize on that voice.
Ferry chooses his partners very well on this album. He spends a good portion of the album on songs he has co-written with a great stable of writers—primarily Dave Stewart (the Eurythmics) along with members of Roxy Music, the Scissor Sisters and Groove Armada—and musicians including David Gilmour, Jonny Greenwood, Steve Nieve and Flea. Sonically beautiful, the album exudes a kind of warmth that you want to wrap around you.
Olympia opens with the Stewart/Ferry penned “You Can Dance,” which immediately sets the ethereal mood that offers Ferry at his best—surrounded with a swirl of electronica that lends musical grace. There is a slight feeling of danger and more than a touch of dirty. The thing I love about Bryan Ferry is that his lyrics often act as a primer for seduction. On record and in life, Ferry represents the fashionable man who is always dressed elegantly and has an appetite for the next party. As he says in “Alphaville,” “This town is made for love, let’s play together, in every bar and club, let’s play forever.”
Of his own songs, “Reason or Rhyme” captures his emotional angst over lost loves and the attempt to capture what he fears is gone; “In a world of fading sadness, An emerald ring, a photograph, That look in your eyes the brush of your cheek, These are the moments in life that I seek.” Ferry offers sweet and sad poetry of a life that is closer to completion than to its vibrant middle.
In choosing other artist’s songs he is precise, covering both Traffic (“No Face, No Name, No Number”) and “Song of the Siren,” a beautiful Tim Buckley song from the late ‘60s. “Siren” has been covered a number of times, but I find Ferry’s version to be one of the best. It could be that Ferry’s age adds a certain gravitas to the song, perhaps a greater sense of need than the song has had before. Once again, Ferry is looking back wistfully and yearning: “Now my foolish boat is leaning, broken love lost on your rocks. For you sang, ‘Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow.’ Oh my heart, oh my heart shies from the sorrow. I’m as puzzled as a newborn child. I’m as riddled as the tide. Should I stand amid the breakers? Or shall I lie with death my bride?” Ferry’s voice is riddled with remorse, but it is the weary remorse of one who has been there and done that.
Olympia is a masterful album from a significant artist who brings his own reality to his best recordings. This is one of them. It presents a complete package, from the gorgeous Kate Moss cover right down to the bonus tracks featuring John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” and the old Elvis chestnut “One Night.” Ferry is a classic in the making, and he has always been one. A | Jim Dunn
About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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