There is only one person I know who can make a song about immaculate virtues sound like a celebration of sleaze. It’s Bryan Ferry. Right from his Roxy Music days, Ferry’s furry girl-on-the-carpet-my-tie-undone voice has driven through various styles from glam rock, Sinatra-song and even Dylan songs in his masterful Dylanesque (2007). With Olympia, he delivers a luscious, pulsating orb.
Talking about the sigh-sleaze sound, in ‘You can dance’, we are guided into a low-lit high-life penitentiary where sins are solved by gulps of gin and come-on lines (which is what this song really is: one long, hypnotic come-on). The chugga-chugga guitars of ‘Alphaville’ makes shimmy moves in time with Ferry’s almost monotonous but strangely tuneful whispers. He teams up with the Scissor Sisters in ‘Heartache by numbers’ and sounds a dirgelike note as he sings: “I live for the moment/ I long for the day/ You walk in my garden/ You lie in my shade”. This could be Count Dracula pining for his long dead beloved wife.
The piano bar comes to life in ‘Me oh my’, that sounds a bit too lush even by Ferry standards. I treat it as an introduction of sorts to the dramatic ‘Shameless’. Anything that has the virus-like horse hooves sound has my attention. But add to that firm line the world’s most sophisticated singing voice teaming up with Groove Armada’s terrifying groovy sound and a line that goes, “In a shameless world/ Rock’n’roll desire”, I’m hooked, line, methadone and sinker.
Ferry overplays his hand in his cover of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the siren’, holds steady while singing the old Traffic song, ‘No face, no name, no number’ (here it sounds like a song you’d hear at a beach bar in Goa). As far as covers on this album goes, Ferry takes a stab at the John Lennon-Elton John number, ‘Whatever gets you thru the night’, and while he gets lotsa points for making it sound ‘his own’, he reall does fatally stab the song to death. Ferry does some damage control in the final track, Elvis’s ‘One night’, the warble of the dead, fat burger King suiting the honey’n’scotch of the living Ferry in his tux. Olympia (with its reference to Édouard Manet’s gorgeous painting of the same name courtesy Kate Moss on the CD’s cover and liner pages) is half a great album that sees one of pop music’s most famous stylists peep his well-combed head out of the box in partially controlled disarray.
Norah, a few steps back
It’s not every day that you get to hear Foo Fighters and Dave Grohl playing and singing with Norah Jones. So now that I have heard them in ‘Virginia moon’, I must say I’m at peace with myself. Nothing extraordinary happened, but for a quite contended smile. Hip-hop duo Outkast twirls their voice around with Norah a few tracks later in ‘Take off your cool’. Once again, we’re at a special musical evening featuring Norah Jones. Nothing stand-out yet.
There could be a valid explanation for this. ...Featuring is a collection of “cameos, duets and collaborations” recorded from 2001 to 2010 that, according to the blurb on the back of the CD, “span the musical spectrum and show Norah Jones to be one of the decade’s most diverse musical connectors”. M’lord, going by this particular album, I beg to differ. In fact, her last album, The Fall (2009) showed the singer-musician broaden her musical bandwidth and sound mch more than on this CD.
But I shouldn’t be too harsh. After all, we get a real swinger of a deal in the opening track, ‘Love Me’, a 2006 recording with Norah’s band the Little Willies of the classic Leiber-Stoller (made a hit by Elvis). We hear a powerful, coaxing voice nudged into the forefront by a well-tempered band.
There’s also a nice, jazzy-wazzy duet with Willie Nelson, ‘Baby it’s cold outside’, not quite worthy of any of those albums from the ‘Red Hot+ Cool’ series but entertaining. Rapper Q-Tip injects some rapper-energy into the girl in ‘Life is better’. Yup, it does have some lower Brooklyn buzz to it.
But I can see a lot of folks quite liking this collection of laidback, skirts-on-the-rails songs (probably the same folks who didn’t quite care for The Fall). Speaking on behalf of my ears, however, I would wait patiently for the next Norah Jones solo album. If the last album was any indicator, she should be utilising that voice of her for things more exciting and interesting than sighs or gentle, safe projects.
In the meantime, let’s hear that first half of that Bryan Ferry record again.