‘Frantic’ is not a word one normally associates with the popular perception of Bryan Ferry. The eleventh solo album from this most intriguing and influential of artists is an energetic, effervescent set, blending stylishly thrilling self-penned songs with a handful of emotionally-charged covers. Clearly refreshed by 2001’s triumphant Roxy Music reunion tour, Ferry sounds punchier than ever. “The title comes from a lyric that didn’t end up on the album, but seemed to me a good title for this record. It’s been a hectic couple of years for me, both touring and recording, and the mood in which this album was created was nothing if not frantic,” he asserted.
Indeed, the album’s flushed with a vigour Ferry’s often kept veiled – it’s perhaps more song-based than texture-obsessed, with killer hooks a-plenty. He observed that, “having touched on the Thirties with As Time Goes By, this time I wanted to do something quite different, and make a guitar-based album with a direct, live feel.” Musicians involved include Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Dave Stewart (who co-wrote several numbers) and Roxy tour stalwarts Paul Thompson, Chris Spedding, Colin Good and Lucy Wilkins. Brian Eno collaborates with Ferry on the co-written finale ‘I Thought’, and also plays on ‘Goddess Of Love’. “And he sings with gusto on both!” smiled Bryan. Lyrically, to the delight of long-term Roxy fans, Ferry revisits and reinvigorates themes he’s explored before – love, lust, longing, dream homes and Dylan tropes. It can’t be entirely coincidental that frantic rhymes with romantic.
The recording of Frantic was interrupted by the Roxy reunion tour. “A great experience” for Ferry, it also gave him valuable enforced time away from the album. He elaborated, “it was great to take the energy of that tour, and some of the players, and ride on it. Colin Good, the pianist on the tour, produced it with Rhett Davies, and we reworked and remixed some stuff I’d initially done with Dave Stewart. I always find Bob Dylan’s songs very poetic, and ‘Don’t Think Twice’ was done very simply and live, which is quite unusual these days. I’m always building these collages of sound, but it was great for me, as a singer, not to have to compete with a hundred other instruments.”
The French mediaeval-sounding song ‘Ja Nun Hons Pris’ – written by Richard The Lionheart – serves as a brief prologue to ‘A Fool For Love’, which has a kind of courtly feel, conjuring up other-worldly images of dragons and unicorns. Elsewhere, there are name-checks for iconic figures “James Bond, Jackie O, Johnny Ray, Garbo”, while ‘Goddess of Love’ muses over Marylin. “For me to write something sparked by Monroe was long overdue – she was the ultimate goddess of the silver screen”, said Ferry. Another inspiration is Leadbelly, whose blues classic ‘Goodnight Irene’ is interpreted here with Cajun musicians. “He’s the first person I remember ever hearing on the radio as a young boy. It had a huge effect on me. Such yearning and longing in his voice. The love of the blues has stayed with me ever since.”
The search extends into futurism on ‘Hiroshima’, which probes a science-fiction cyberpunk world and also pays homage to the ‘nouvelle vague’ films of Alain Resnais. Yet perhaps ‘San Simeon’, a return to the scene of the beautiful crime that was Roxy’s ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’, paradoxically represents Ferry’s most daring imaginative leap. As he explains, “the bulk of those lyrics were written some time ago; some were from verses I left out of ‘Dream Home’ – I never threw them away. The song is inspired by Orson Welles’ movie ‘Citizen Kane’, with a castle haunted by the ghosts of a thousand Hollywood parties.”
Timely and timeless, Bryan Ferry’s music continues to seduce and surprise. Frantic is a lush rush.
–Chris Roberts, 2003 (edited by Hal Norman, 2010)