I've faithfully purchased Bryan Ferry's solo albums for years -- since I've been old enough to choose my own albums -- but I'll freely admit that some time around Taxi
, my enthusiasm was replaced by a sense of obligation. I held off listening to Frantic
for as long as I could, unwilling to add another brick to Ferry's Yuppie Nostalgia Act wall. And then, when I could wait no longer, I listened.
And guess what? Frantic is great. It's the best Ferry album in more than a decade. This time around, the man actually sounds excited to be making music. He may even have broken a sweat in the recording studio.
It would be reasonable to credit Ferry's renewed enthusiasm to last year's (by all accounts shameful) Roxy Music reunion, but Frantic has actually been in the works for several years. Content-wise, it's a fairly typical mixture of originals and covers, with two Bob Dylan tunes ("It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright") and a song c-written by Brian Ego ("I Thought") established as the biggest attractions. Other high-profile collaborators include ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart, über-session guy Chris Spedding, living legend Robin Trower and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Even the backup singers are top-shelf; they include such established artists as Alison Goldfrapp, Kelli Dayton, Lucy Kaplansky and Jhelisa Anderson.
Collaborators and songs aside, Frantic's biggest bombshell is Ferry's apparent recollection that, yes, Roxy Music did make albums prior to Avalon, and most of them were pretty good. Rather than using all of his energy on cooler-than-thou aloofness (and creating, as another writer once put it, "the music James Bond listens to in his car"), Ferry is having fun. His version of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" falls somewhere between Siren's glam and Manifesto's proto-disco, while "Goin' Down" sends a lightning jolt through Ferry's late-eighties sound. "Goddess of Love" forces its too-familiar Marilyn Monroe-as-icon concept, but it's a musical treasure, a scaled-down version of "Over You" modernized by very subtle turntable scratching (yes, it's an awful idea, but it actually works). "Nobody Loves Me" sounds like the pick of Boys and Girls' litter, while "San Simeon" is quintessential Modern Ferry.
And what of "I Thought", the Ferry/Eno collaboration? Well, it's not the disc's most arresting song -- like many Eno compositions, it's densely layered, and takes a few listens to discover -- but Ferry approaches it with enthusiasm and panache. Even his harmonica playing is tasteful.
So pleasantly surprised am I by Frantic that I can think of only one obvious flaw -- and a petty one at that. The disc's extensively Photoshopped artwork fails to conceal the fact that, from some angles, the artfully scruffy Ferry looks alarmingly like actor David Arquette. Don't believe me? Look at the photo on the back of the CD booklet. Yipes.