While fronting Roxy Music in the 1970s and early '80s, Bryan Ferry devised a blueprint for art rock, and as a solo performer, he brilliantly updated the parameters of the pop songbook. Although Ferry's solo career has included several excellent self-penned tracks, he's best-known for his adventurous interpretations of songs from the rock and pop canon. Combining a studied, wry, lounge-singer persona with a genuine passion for everything from Motown and Bob Dylan to the Great American Songbook of the 1920s and '30s, Ferry's performances add a post-modern gloss to pop standards. Following rumors of a reunion, Roxy Music re-formed in 2001 and did several tours during the ensuing decade. Born September 26, 1945 in Washington, England, Ferry, the son of a coal miner, began his musical career as a singer with the rock outfit the Banshees while studying art at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne under pop conceptualist Richard Hamilton. He later joined the Gas Board, a soul group featuring bassist Graham Simpson; in 1970, Ferry and Simpson formed Roxy Music. Within a few years, Roxy Music had become phenomenally successful, affording Ferry the opportunity to cut his first solo LP in 1973. Far removed from the group's arty glam rock, These Foolish Things established the path that all of Ferry's solo work -- as well as the final Roxy Music records -- would take, focusing on elegant synth pop interpretations of '60s hits like Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," and the Beatles' "You Won't See Me," all rendered in the singer's distinct, coolly dramatic manner. Roxy Music remained Ferry's primary focus, but in 1974 he returned with a second solo effort, Another Time, Another Place, another collection of covers ranging from "You Are My Sunshine" to "It Ain't Me, Babe" to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." His third venture, 1976's Let's Stick Together, featured remixed, remade, and remodeled versions of Roxy Music hits as well as the usual assortment of covers. Released in 1977, In Your Mind was Ferry's first collection of completely original material; the following year's The Bride Stripped Bare, a work inspired by his broken romance with model Jerry Hall, was split evenly between new songs and covers. Ferry did not record another solo album until 1985's Boys and Girls, a sleek, seamless effort that was his first "official" solo release following the Roxy breakup. For 1987's Bete Noire, he was joined by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr on the shimmering "The Right Stuff," and notched his only U.S. Top 40 hit with "Kiss and Tell." Another covers collection, Taxi, followed in 1993; Mamouna, an LP of originals, appeared a year later, and in 1999 Ferry returned with a collection of standards, As Time Goes By. After a brief tour in support of As Time Goes By, there were rumors of a Roxy Music reunion. The next summer, the practically unimaginable came true when Ferry joined Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera for a tour of Europe and the U.S. It was a celebration of hits, and the band's first jaunt out in more than a decade. In summer 2002, Ferry returned to his solo career for the electrifying Frantic. Dylanesque, a set of Bob Dylan covers, followed in 2007, featuring assistance from several longtime associates (including Brian Eno, Chris Spedding, Paul Carrack, and Robin Trower). Ferry signed with the Astralwerks imprint for the release of 2010's Olympia. In 2012, he assembled the Bryan Ferry Orchestra and recorded The Jazz Age. This completely instrumental album featured his band re-recording some of his biggest hits in a 1920s jazz style. Ferry returned to the studio with longtime collaborator Rhett Davies in 2014 to record his 14th studio album. The resulting Avonmore -- which included guest spots from Johnny Marr, Nile Rodgers, and Marcus Miller and revived Ferry's mid-'80s sound -- appeared in November. In the spring of 2017, after embarking on a major world tour, Ferry made his debut at the legendary Hollywood Bowl amphitheater, performing nearly the entire set backed by a full orchestra. That same year, he also appeared as a cabaret singer in the 1930s set drama Babylon Berlin, for which he also contributed several songs. Those tracks were then included on a full-length album recorded by Ferry and his jazz orchestra, 2018's Bitter-Sweet. Ferry continued to tour into the last years of the 2010s, a period highlighted by Roxy Music's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. The archival set Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974 appeared early in 2020.
© Jason Ankeny /TiVo
© Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1999 | EG Records
When Jerry Hall, front-cover model on Roxy's Siren, left Ferry for Mick Jagger, his response was this interesting album, not a full success but by no means a washout. In part Ferry returned to the model of his solo work before In Your Mind, with half the tracks being covers of rock and soul classics. Thus, Sam and Dave's "Hold On (I'm Coming)," Al Green's "Take Me to the River" (which arguably sounds like a strong influence on Talking Heads' near contemporaneous version) and even the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On," among others, take a bow. Unfortunately Ferry's backing performers, mostly drawing on studio pros like Waddy Wachtel, don't seem to have the real affinity for the material like his earlier solo-effort cohorts did. If anything, though, there's also the sense of Ferry channeling his romantic gloom through a number of the songs, giving them a strong personal bite. The guitar and bass-only version of the traditional folk tune "Carrickfergus" works best of all, its lovelorn sentiments and slow pace connecting just right. As for Ferry's originals, his sentiments are all the more clear, right from the abbreviated charge of the opening "Sign of the Times," its fractured sentiments of disturbed, vicious romance matched by the clipped punch of the music and Ferry's own brisk delivery. The other originals don't cut quite so bloodily, but the sense of loss and confusion is all there, from the opening line "Well I rush out blazin'/My pulse is racin'" on "Can't Let Go" to the lonely sense of mystery on "This Island Earth," the album's conclusion. © Ned Raggett /TiVo
Rock - Released January 1, 1999 | EG Records
With Roxy Music set aside for the time being, Ferry took the solo plunge with an album of totally original material. As such, the underrated In Your Mind makes a logical follow-on from Roxy's Siren, especially since usual suspects -- Thompson, Manzanera, Wetton, and many more -- assist him in the brief eight-song effort. While lacking early Roxy's long-gone freakouts In Your Mind still burns more fiercely than both the later solo and group albums, at least on certain tracks - like Siren, it balances between rockier and smoother paths, most often favoring the former. Ferry's lyrics remain in his own realm of intelligent, romantic dissipation, and are some of his best efforts. The strong opener "This Is Tomorrow" starts with Ferry and keyboards before moving into a big, chugging full band arrangement and a wistful chorus: "This is tomorrow callin'/Wish you were here." When Ferry aims for a calmer mood, rather than stripped-down melancholia, he lets everyone play along. Sometimes the arrangements almost swamp the songs, but "One Kiss'" combination of female backing vocals, sax, and straight-up rock for instance, make it a great woozy, end-of-the-night singalong before the bars close. There are a few blatant misfires -- "Tokyo Joe" has the chugging, dark funk/rock beat down cold, but the lyrics play around too much with Asian stereotypes (and let's not mention the opening gong and all too obvious attempts at "atmosphere" via the strings). On balance, though, In Your Mind remains the secret highlight of Ferry's musical career, an energetic album that would have received far more attention as a full Roxy release. © Ned Raggett /TiVo
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Bryan Ferry in the magazine