Record Review: Bryan Ferry – Avonmore

bryan ferry - avonmoreUSCDA

BMG | US | CD | 2014 | 859381012153

Bryan Ferry: Avonmore US CD [2014]

  1. Loop De Li
  2. Midnight Train
  3. Soldier Of Fortune
  4. Driving Me Wild
  5. A Special Kind Of Guy
  6. Avonmore
  7. Lost
  8. One Night Stand
  9. Send In The Clowns
  10. Johnny + Mary

Last night my wife arrived home from work toting a bag of new CDs; among them, the one CD that had recently become something of a priority to buy. Since we just bought tickets for a Bryan Ferry show to he held on August 2nd, I really needed to get “Avonmore.” She had stopped by at Harvest Records and picked the new Ferry opus up, which shocked me since I would not assume that they would have it in stock. How did I find it? Well, after a single listen, let’s dive in with hasty conclusions!

More or less, it’s the Bryan Ferry Album® that he’s been carefully honing since 1982. Polishing, and repolishing immaculate discofunk riffs until they are suitably remote and emotionally distant. Lately he’s been deliberately pastiching the “Avalon” vibe for some of his dubbed out intros. He did it on “Olympia” and the lead off track, “Loop De Li” opens with some more dissolute 1982 atmosphere before cranking up the groove and immediacy of the number. Only six guitarists on this song, but it still managed to attain a suitable Ferryness.

In contrast, “Midnight Train” sported nine guitarists, each contributing licks that have been carefully composited in a track that managed to actually sound a little frisky with some sonic space to spare. Johnny Marr was one of those guitarists, and he co-wrote “Soldier Of Fortune” which stands out here as the closest thing to an acoustic folk number that Ferry would allow himself to record. The immediacy of its vibe was in contrast to the Ferry’s fragile vibrato for a different approach that I could stand some more of. It’s true, that Ferry has born the brunt of that cigarette addiction in his voice of the last 17 years. I notice the change on “As Time Goes By” and it’s gotten more fragile with time.”My wife says “it sounds like he’s underwater” and that’s as good a simile as any. In 2016, it’s impossible to imagine him belting out a number like “Bitter-Sweet.” So now is the time for him to use his vulnerability to the hilt.

It’s immediately apparent that Ferry is at the keyboard with the subtle Farfisa that heralds “Driving Me Wild.” His fingers are all over the keys here, with only Paul Beard additionally on a pair of cuts. Still, we love it when he plays the Farfisa. It brings a much-need rudeness to the proceedings. “A Special Kind Of Guy” comes off with the whiff of “Taxi.” You’d almost swear that it was Robin Trower [curiously, a guitarist who did not get the call for this album] back with the distinctive wah wah fills he contributed there, but it’s Ferry stalwart Neil Hubbard assuming the position here. Leaving space for Nile Rodgers to embellish with his rhythm playing.

bryan ferry - avonmoreremixedUK12AThe corker of a title track managed to actually get a head of steam up with its tightly compressed disco rhythm section. It adds the requisite whiff of desperation when Ferry concludes “I know I’ll never fall in love again.” I love the ghostly synth patches Ferry offers here. This track has been remixed on a special Tory 12″ single from The Vinyl Factory, and I would be interested in hearing those mixes. Hopefully, they will make it to DL format for the plebes.

Then there’s “One Night Stand.” This is a track where the carefully notated credits list swelled to a head-spinning 21 credits! Yes, it’s another track with nine guitarists. They’ve even got Ronnie Spector in there on backing vocals! Its probably at times like these that Ferry thanks his lucky stars he’s lived long enough to pass from the crude scribblings of 48 track SSL mixing boards to the ProTools era where there are no such limitations. The percussive funk workout somehow managed not to collapse into sonic mush, which, admittedly, is no mean feat, considering.

The two cover versions on this release were in keeping with his salting his last albums of new material with a few covers. “Send In The Clowns” is hardly a song anyone has been clamoring for yet another cover of. While a Ferry cover can be transformative and even a little daring [see: “I Put A Spell On You”] this one is merely quasi-functional. At the end of it one can relax their jaw and assess the damage done with a clear hear, knowing that at least it wasn’t Judy Collins, but don’t we deserve better? On the other hand, the version of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny + Mary” from the [slightly] earlier Todd Terje album closes out the program with a radical recasting of the venerable pop tune that loses the motorik pop foundation on the original that echoed the Johnny character. This was certainly moving in a very different direction’ one which emphasized the heartbreak at the core of the song. With that, the album was done. A tight 44 minutes just like in the old days.

Ferry has certainly developed what I’ll call a nanostyle over the last 30+ years. It’s hardly wide, in fact, it’s as narrow a style as can be, but all of the tiny particles that comprise it are exactly in their correct orbits with nary an angstrom unit left to chance. This of course, is the Ferry Paradox®. After bursting forth with a million dazzling ideas in his first five years of performance, he’s been content to heighten his sonic focus on an increasingly polished glossy surface touched with haiku-like lyrics that speak of pain and longing as his twin muses. This is Ferryangstmusik, and it’s his field alone to plow. It is a coherent body of work but it, more often than not, fails to surprise any longer. The last time I’ve been really wowed by a Ferry album was 2002’s “Frantic,” coming off of a Roxy Music reunion that resulted in a more spontaneous feel to the recordings. I’d love to hear some of that sauce the next time Ferry hits the studio.

– 30 –

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10 Responses to Record Review: Bryan Ferry – Avonmore

  1. Echorich says:

    I have to agree that this is an album that Ferry has been working toward for near on 40 years. You can hear the echoes of Avalon, the whispers of Boys + Girls, the calling darkenss of Bette Noire, even the confusion and frustration of Horoscope/Taxi/Mamouna, all embedded in the DNA of the songs here. Frantic and Olympia were arrows shot at the moon, but I feel like with Avonmore, Ferry hit his target.
    There are truly classic songs from the Ferry Canon on Avonmore – Driving Me Wild, Soldier Of Fortune and the title track are the best in my honest opinion. The last is about as urgent and focused Ferry has sounded in decades.
    Many derided the opener, Loop de Li as being a pastiche of his past 80’s solo glories, but I feel it’s much more than that – a mature, reflective funk burner.
    The use of so many of the talents he has crossed paths with on Avonmore plays to its strengths and Ferry’s keenness to create a work that he has confidently tour now for going on 2 years. Hubbar, Marr, Rogers, Spedding, Fonzi Thornton, Ronnie Spector, Andy Newmark, Steve Jones, Guy Pratt…individually and en masse contribute to the power, delicacy and beauty on Avonmore.
    Avonmore sounds like just north of Camelot, mythic, somehow unreal, but it also sounds like a modern reflection on a classic…that might be best way to describe Ferry’s music at this point in his career.

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    • SimonH says:

      Agree, I think people totally miss the point when accusing Ferry of just rehashing his sound, this is about refinement, just like Avalon was. I really enjoy Avonmore and would love to have heard the majority of it live instead of the hits. Ultimately how many artists are making music line this now? Definitely to be appreciated while he’s still making music.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        SimonH – Yeah, I get refinement. Refinement is for oil! I think Ferry is more of an obsessive. I’d like to hear him collaborate with some startling partners. All of this stuff sounds good. It’s pure Ferry, but having someone else’s DNA battling it out for supremacy with his could be invigorating.

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        • SimonH says:

          Fair point. But who…? Would be nice I guess if he operated like John Foxx, would probably exasperate many collaborators though…!

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          • Echorich says:

            As much as Ferry collaborations sound like a wonderful idea, I think SimonH hit the nail on the head. It would be frustrating and futile. Anyone who worked on Horoscope will have first hand knowledge of this. David Sylvian is another artist that comes to mind when it comes to controlling outcomes – the Japan ‘reunion’ as Rain Tree Crow ended up a remixed, re-edited Sylvian album with all the original collaboration of the members under the post production control of Sylvian and Steve Nye. I think any Ferry assemblage (see what I did there?) wouldn’t be much different.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            SimonH – I thought the Todd Terje track was more intriguing than the usual stuff with Nile Rodgers, Rhett Davies and the usual suspects.

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            • SimonH says:

              I’ve always loved Johnny and Mary as a song since buying the 7″ way back in 1980, an intriguing song, Ferry brings out the vulnerability even more.

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              • postpunkmonk says:

                SimonH – I had the “Clues” album when it came out; my first foray into Robert Palmer. With the Numan involvement, it was de riguer and I was intrigued to hear this mainstream rocker move in a New Wave direction.

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                • Echorich says:

                  I always wanted Palmer’s version of Wires to be more than it was. Yes he added some funky guitar in there (Numan took notes obviously, for use in the near future), but the vocal effects were too close and just bothered me. I’m a bit dubious on the instrumental coda as well…prog much?…Found You Now works much better – I seem to remember some uncredited electric violin in that one.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I sure hope to see Pratt play in his touring band. I’ve only had the pleasure once on the Power Station tour of 1996. Nope. Looks like Pratt is on David Gilmour’s tour right now.

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