Already burning out on the familiar playlist of holiday tunes? Here's a danceable solution: Consider a steamy, cosmopolitan winter soundtrack furnished by the still-dapper frontman of glam-rock pioneers Roxy Music.
Bryan Ferry always seemed a man out of time, gilding his musically adventurous songs with references to arcane dances and golden-age starlets. And though he was known to don the occasional wild get-up, his sartorial compass pointed more toward James Bond than Ziggy Stardust.
This dinner-jacket sensibility has aged quite gracefully; at 65 Ferry looks far more comfortable onstage than do many of his peers (several of whom would be well advised to cut their thinning hair and trade their kimonos for more dignified attire).
Indeed, Ferry has rarely sounded anything but current. His latest offering, Olympia, is his finest in years — and will appeal to those who miss the stately, grooving ambience of late-period Roxy. (That's ultra-model Kate Moss on the cover, in keeping with the band's cheesecake convention.)
To fill out his glossy, penthouse sound, Ferry enlisted Roxy confrËres Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno and Andy Mackay — not to mention kindred spirits like David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Nile Rodgers (Chic), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Marcus Miller (Miles Davis), Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) and Groove Armada.
As a whole, the disc suggests an older, wiser take on the concerns simmering throughout the Roxy Music oeuvre: the giddy-yet-empty adventure of promiscuity; the restlessness that shadows domesticity; "The search for perfection/ Your own predilection" (as the man himself sang a lifetime ago in the classic "Mother of Pearl").
Olympia's pulsating, grinding, susurrating tracks — purring with desire, burbling with menace — conjure the dark, dissolute, Dionysian dancefloor we know from Siren and Stranded: thrumming with royalty and Eurotrash, jump-cutting to champagne flutes and feather boas, ringed by men in formal wear with open collars, and amber-sequined women sashaying through the shadows.
In the beguiling opener, "You Can Dance," our narrator croons: "It's the mambo talkin'/ It's got a lot to say/ Do you come here often/ Do you want to play?" As singers go, Ferry is the lothario's lothario; his lived-in voice adds a rich, gorgeous weariness to those velvety come-ons. A trio of slinky sirens churches up the background. This is, no mistake, a dead-sexy record.
But now Ferry faces an inevitability that stares us all down. Rather than conceal it, however, he seems more than willing to turn the spotlight on his age. In fact, mortality becomes, in the warp and woof of Olympia, the veritable Phantom of the Disco.
This is, no mistake, a dead-sexy record.It just happens that he's still cool enough to name-check his own songs (and the occasional Godard picture) while warbling over the silkiest funk this side of Sade. Eno lends synth texture to the rocking "Alphaville," and the ecstatic agony of the superb "Heartache by Numbers," which wouldn't be out of place on 1979's Manifesto, gets an extra-Roxy serving of Mackay's searching oboe. (Kudos to Flea for a madly propulsive bass line.)
The Groove Armada team ladle out their cracked-mirrorball punch on "Shameless." "BF Bass (Ode to Olympia)," meanwhile, is practically a full-fledged Roxy reunion. But the set's biggest surprise, apart from its addictive properties, might be Ferry's rendition of the aching Tim Buckley gem "Song to the Siren," the syncopations of which only heighten the chiaroscuro effect of its haunted melody.
The proceedings come to a fittingly languid conclusion with "Tender Is the Night," its electronic wails like bruises on the sweet surface of Steve Nieve's plaintive piano. "At the best of times," murmurs the ladies' man as we fumble for our valet tickets, "I feel misunderstood."
Ferry started out ahead of the curve, an old soul at 27, and stayed there. Leave it to him to make a seasoned gentleman's dance record that makes most younger players look stodgy by comparison.