Review: Bryan Ferry And His Orchestra – Bitter-Sweet
“We just make music for ourselves, and if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus.” This sentiment was once the self-righteous domain of indie purists everywhere, but it appears it’s now been adopted by Bryan Ferry. Why else, one can’t help wonder, would he return to the scene of 2012’s The Jazz Age, the least successful album of his career? It can only be because he can’t resist the idea of transforming another baker’s dozen of tunes from his back catalogue by rearranging them so they’d make a perfect soundtrack for a Jeeves And Wooster TV revival.
Wrong! Furthermore, there’s nothing funny about this at all. In fact, the album was inspired by Ferry’s work as music consultant on Babylon Berlin, the big-budget Sky series about the Weimar Republic that recently proved German television can be of international interest.
Ferry even appeared in it, singing – or, more accurately, huskily murmuring, sometimes in German – a threateningly tense version of Roxy Music’s Bitter-Sweet that begins with quiet cabaret piano chords and woodwind, interrupted by startling stabs of brass.
The scene here, though, is instead set by Alphaville, reworked from 2010’s Olympia, which begins in a similar fashion, albeit at a slightly more agile canter. If it seems initially charming, it nonetheless oozes a similarly latent unease, and the same can be said of New Town, though the descending melody of its verse is at least lifted by a jaunty chorus.
Even this, however, is undermined by lyrics such as: “The shadow hanging over me/ I’ve got to tear it down”, and Roxy Music’s While My Heart Is Still Beating takes on a sinister, melancholic air, too, thanks to muted trumpets and swoops of clarinet, while his voice quivers through a sedately maudlin, chamber-friendly Zamba (from 1987’s Bête Noire).
Of course, Ferry’s perfectly suited to wearing spats in the company of flappers – and an instrumental, ragtime Dance Away is ideal for a quick clinch, while Sign Of The Times, adapted from 1978’s The Bride Stripped Bare, will see many heels being kicked up. Sometimes, however, you can’t dance away the fear.
Written by Wyndham Wallace. Released on BMG.