The good news, perhaps the best news, is that Bryan Ferry’s newest album Avonmore is his strongest material in many moons. It somehow finds the sweet spot that he inhabited during the remarkable period between Roxy Music’s Avalon, and his solo efforts Boys and Girls and Bete Noire. Taking the suave and sophisticated pop-jazz sound that was making the rounds in the 1980s and turning them into art rock hybrids, as smooth as glass, Ferry breezed through the records with elegance, making the whole thing look easy. Others working that same vein could hardly keep up.
Avonmore is the collection of songs were were hoping for, but didn’t quite get with Ferry’s previous proper solo effort Olympia. While that was a star-studded effort (much as this album is, only less conspicuous about it), it also felt like is was trying to be the return-not-quite of Roxy Music, while at the same time working the comeback angle that Carlos Santana had engineered many years before. Surround yourself with famous friend, like a rising tide, and all boats should lift. On Olympia, it didn’t work out that way. On Avonmore, the songs are solid. As good as their current iterations are, they could probably stand up to many types of reinterpretation, which has been a forte of Ferry’s ever since his first solo album, These Foolish Things.
Now the bad news. The weakest part about Avonmore is Ferry himself, or rather, his voice. In virtually every photo of him since 1974, Ferry has been pictured dressed to the nines, hair perfectly coiffed, and a cigarette dangling nonchalantly from his fingers. It was, during these times, the signature of “cool,” but his voice sounds to have paid the cost for that cool. He has, at the worst moments, a thin and hollow-lung sound. It does not carry the strength of a person whispering into the microphone, and having that track turned up in the mix. It often sounds like he’s giving it all he has, but just cannot get enough down in there to force it out. At other times, he does better and what you hear is the fact he’s been doing this for well on four decades. Those moments, though, don’t arrive with enough quantity to counteract the sometimes shocking moments when Ferry sounds like he cannot get the words out.
So the final analysis is that Avonmore is well worth a listen providing you know that the Ferry of, say, Siren, Avalon, or even Mamouna, is gone. With that expectation set in mind, you will be able to enjoy the CD for what it is rather than what it isn’t…which would be the mid-1980s.