As many nostalgic listeners have learned, it’s much easier to appreciate Roxy Music’s pivotal album, Avalon, in its original context, not to mention the other campy trappings of the glam rock movement that birthed it: flamboyant costumes, dance halls, moody lighting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bryan Ferry’s latest solo album, Avonmore, is similarly easier to appreciate when considered within the context of Roxy Music and the glam rock movement.
Which is to say that upon first listen, Avonmore sounds a bit dated. Some musical movements and bands age well, and others don’t. For the most part, the sounds that Ferry references here fall into the latter category, though the album does have its bright moments. Ferry starts off sounding like a decrepit lounge lizard on standout track “Lost”, but his tone quickly pivots as the first verse is replaced by a tender chorus evocative of Roxy Music’s chart-topping “Avalon”. Typical of art rock songs, much of “Lost” is airy and abstract, but Ferry manages to eschew bland, ambient territory by deftly deploying steady percussion, a rushing rhythm made elegant by a final sweep of the cymbals.
Percussion continues to play a pivotal role on the sultry “Midnight Train”. With its propulsive beat and funky guitar riffs, the song sounds a bit like the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’”, especially if the blue-eyed soul aspects of the latter were replaced by the new wave sounds of Culture Club. Neither “Midnight Train” nor opener “Loop De Li” is much of a departure from today’s top 40, most of which features some sort of coupling of electronic elements and R&B.
Elsewhere on Avonmore, Ferry falls victim to his own tired tactics — specifically laying the romance on a little too thick. “Driving Me Wild” and “One Night Stand” are bogged down in sappy sentiment, a predictable fault coming from the songwriter of hyperbolic tracks like “Slave to Love” and “Love Is the Drug”. His cover of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” was doomed from the moment that Ferry decided to festoon an already emotional song with even more schmaltzy flourishes.
Better are the moments in which Ferry is able to blend the perfect amount of camp to emotion and create a concoction that reminds listeners of Roxy Music’s finer albums. The aforementioned “Midnight Train” and “Special Kind of Guy” feature elements of Ferry’s signature style: atmospheric synthesizers and funky guitar riffs that take turns shifting in and out of focus. Layered on top of the instrumentation is Ferry’s whispering, singsong, advances that, when taken in small doses, can slither into the listener’s ears and instantly seduce, as only Ferry is able to do.
Essential Tracks: “Midnight Train”, “Lost”