Olympia includes a stellar cast of session musicians and frontmen; from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Brian Eno, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and ex-Stone Roses and current Primal Scream bassist Mani – not to mention Miles Davis acolyte Marcus Miller and Michael Jackson’s trusted rhythm guitarist, the late David Williams.
Bryan Ferry’s latest batch of songs have a high standard to live up to, and the singer is confident that the album represents somewhat of a pinnacle for him as an artist. A key ingredient on the LP is Ferry’s own active instrumental role, as he pointed out himself: “I used to play a bigger role on keyboards on the Roxy [Music] records than I did in my solo career […] I kind of did myself out of a job, in a way. But on this album I’ve come back into the forefront a bit more.”
Opening with the single ‘You Can Dance’, Olympia‘s intent is made clear right from the off. A pulsating tour-de-force underpinned by a thunderous bass groove, the song is crowned by a typically Pop Art influenced lyric from the inimitable Ferry. It is accompanied by a music video from acclaimed director Ferry Gouw. According to Gouw, “Bryan wanted to portray the video as a band performance in perhaps the seediest most glamorous and exclusive underground club where beautiful people are all high on life”.
It is swiftly followed by ‘Alphaville’, written in conjunction with Dave Stewart. The track is a showcase for the serpentine bass playing of Marcus Miller, and due to the presence of Brian Eno, undoubtedly arouses the interest of Roxy Music fans.
The triumphant ‘Heartache by Numbers’, Bryan Ferry’s collaboration with New York’s chart-conquering Scissor Sisters, is imbued with the heady spirit of the Big Apple. It continues the Roxy Music links by showcasing the unmistakable tones of Andy Mackay’s oboe and highlights Ferry’s gift for anthemic arrangements with its rousing chorus line, before gracefully shifting down a gear for ‘Me Oh My’, a keening ballad whose silky atmosphere is amplified by the twin guitar work of David Gilmour and forthcoming guitar prodigy Oliver Thompson.
Olympia‘s textural variety is on display in the effortless elision from the contemporary and urbane electro-disco of ‘Shameless’ (made in collusion with London’s Groove Armada) into Ferry’s achingly romantic interpretation of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’, whose rich, dense layers call to mind his hugely successful hits of the 1980s.
The album’s other ‘re-model’ is the next platter, a symphonic recasting of Traffic’s bucolic 1967 song ‘No Face, No Name, No Number’. It finds Bryan Ferry once more exploring new territory, adding a soulfully psychedelic string to his bow. ‘BF Bass (Ode to Olympia)’, a tongue-in-cheek comment on our current obsession with social networking, was written with Phil Manzanera but takes its title from its compositional origins – Bryan Ferry’s own playing on bass guitar, another first for his seasoned hand.
Olympia comes to a suitably stately conclusion in its closing pair of tracks. ‘Reason or Rhyme’ is a masterpiece of understated finesse, with Bryan Ferry’s keyboards combining with his delicate vocal to create a haunting and hypnotic ambience that belies its surface simplicity. “It’s one where you can just get absorbed in the music hopefully”, Ferry comments. The final song, ‘Tender Is The Night’, another collaboration with Dave Stewart, displays a lightness of touch with its eerie, synthesized backdrop and features a gorgeous piano melody courtesy of session supremo Steve Nieve (best known for his association with Elvis Costello).
Impeccably produced by Bryan Ferry, long-time accomplice Rhett Davies and Johnson Somerset, Olympia is a magnum opus from one of music’s few remaining living legends, full of stylistic twists and turns. It never loses its melodic or rhythmic momentum and is a testament to his never-ending passion and enthusiasm for making music that touches the heart as much as it does the hips.
The album is dedicated to two of Bryan Ferry’s recently departed friends: celebrated fashionista and international style icon Isabella Blow, who tragically took her own life in 2007, and David Williams, who sadly passed away in 2009.