It bothers me that Bryan Ferry’s new album Olympia slips into the “what might have been” category so easily. For what it is, being a release primarily comprised of Ferry’s original tunes versus his standard slate of cover songs, it works rather well. The album is meant to evoke the chilly glamour of latter day Roxy Music as well as the creative peak that their final studio album Avalon represents, and it does to a certain degree. Tracks like Scissor Sisters co-write “Heartache By Numbers” are prime examples of this goal being met. “Shameless” featuring Groove Armada, not so much. Tim Buckley cover “Song To The Siren” takes Ferry’s best instincts for making another’s song his own and runs with them. Traffic cover “No Face, No Name, No Number” comes off as misstep.
If you look closely at the credits for “Song To The Siren,” you see some intriguing names involved like David Gilmour and Johnny Greenwood on guitar. You also see Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno and Andy MacKay. Andy Newmark makes appearances on the album as well. The opening sample of “You Can Dance” is from the Roxy Music track “True To Life.” The seductive photographs of Kate Moss that adorn the package, even the clean, crisp font used in the design scream, “This was supposed to be the Roxy Music reunion album.” So, by knowing this is the undercurrent flowing beneath Olympia, you appreciate and respect the recording, but only up to a point. Then those thoughts of what might have been drop into gear.
Does that diminish what’s actually here? When all the elements are right, no. This represents the stylish, classy new wave art rock fans have been longing for, and while Ferry’s voice no longer has the virtue of youth, his relatively clean living has allowed aging to sound dusky and interesting, not decayed and sad. All in all, fans will be impressed and appreciative. They will not, however, easily forget what this solo album represents, or rather, what it might have been.
Olympia is available from Amazon.com.