BRYAN’S NEW SONG
Byline: Dana Wood
The weight of the world seems to rest on Bryan Ferry’s well-tailored shoulders.
After a dangerously lengthy break from public viewing, the poster boy for chic has pushed himself back into the limelight. To support “Mamouna,” his first album of original material in seven years, the 49-year-old British rock star has been trotting the globe as if his very life depended on it.
Or at least his career and bank account.
“I never at all intended to take so long between albums,” says Ferry, lazing on a loveseat in a suite in New York’s Parker Meridien hotel. “But sometimes you have problems. Life isn’t always straightforward and easy. I wish it were. But then again, maybe I don’t. Because then everyone would be doing what I do.”
For the uninitiated — and Ferry admits that even after all these years there are still some of those — what he does is craft some of the most idiosyncratic, haunting and lushly produced music around, album after album, always connecting to a core of urbane seen-it-all-and-done-it-alls. He’s pretty much created the theme music for makeout sessions and manic depressive traumas due to unrequited love — and those never go out of style.
There exists not a note on a Bryan Ferry solo effort that hasn’t been subject to its creator’s legendary perfectionism. Perhaps that’s why his output of the last decade has been so scant; “Mamouna” was preceded only by “Boys and Girls” (1985), “Bête Noire” (1987) and “Taxi,” last year’s collection of cover tunes that, according to industry chatter, was dashed off to appease an increasingly anxious record company.
With a toss of the famous black tresses and a narrowing of almost-as-famous slate blue eyes, the former Roxy Music frontman disputes the charge that Virgin Records pressured him in any way.
“They’ve always been incredibly supportive,” he says. “They probably should have pressured me more.
“After the last tour six years ago, I wanted to do an album really fast and get back out on the road again,” he adds. “I had rediscovered my interest in touring, whereas in 1982, after the ‘Avalon’ tour with Roxy, I felt as if I wanted to retire from the stage. I thought that, just like my friends who are painters, I’d go to the studio every day and work 10 hours. I still wanted to work hard, but I didn’t want to tour.”
That decision, Ferry concedes, was a mistake all the way around. Not only did the protracted studio adventure reduce Ferry’s public-awareness level, it cost him a fortune in recording fees.
“It started out well, the first six months, writing the music for masses of songs. But then I had a lot of problems with the lyrics,” he says. “I lost my tongue. I had a hideous writer’s block. And at the same time, I didn’t have a manager or a producer. My life was in turmoil.”
Ferry confesses to still being tripped up by the written aspect of his job.
“It’s always hard for me — some people are just more fluent than others. And I’m very fussy. You’re always treading a knife-edge as it is when you’re writing lyrics because they can be so corny. You’re trying to be colloquial, and you’re trying not to be too intellectual, and you want it to feel good with the music and to express feeling for the music. It’s really hard to get it right.”
As for the perpetually angst-ridden, love-torn tone, Ferry says his status as a husband and father of four boys (ages three to 11) has done little to squelch his inner tumult.
“I have a very turbulent family life,” he says. “Certainly it’s all part of the same airplane ride — the turbulence alongside everything else.”
But, for the moment at least, turbulence has given way to practicality. To reduce the type of financial outlay required for “Taxi” and “Mamouna,” Ferry recently purchased a small studio of his own. And he has bid au revoir to his family and his homes in London and Sussex to go on tour for just short of a year.
Tonight, Ferry will mount the first of three shows at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side, a considerably smaller venue than Radio City Music Hall, the site of his last interaction with adoring New Yorkers. Ferry says the entire “Mamouna” tour was deliberately staged at smallish, 2,000-seat theaters, and funding from his first-ever corporate sponsor — Johnnie Walker Black Label — has meant he could offer his fans what they long for most: him.
“I don’t know why, but the audience always likes to see me,” Ferry says. “I tend to work on a small scale. So it’s really good for me when the audience is allowed to get closer.”
They might need to. “Mamouna,” with its vaguely Moroccan feel, is even more exotic and ethereal than Ferry’s previous works — a far cry from the glam rock standbys of the “Love Is the Drug” days. To wit, Ferry’s former Roxy Music bandmate — über-synthesist Brian Eno — even provides “sonic awareness” on the new offering.
Reviews of the show, which is peppered with golden oldies like “Virginia Plain,” “Jealous Guy” and “Editions of You,” have not been universally stellar. And, interestingly, it is the British press that has been particularly brutal. Tagged as a “leather-trousered lothario” and “lounge lizard,” Ferry has been called on the carpet for his lyrics (“pretentious”), his stage demeanor (“toothless”), even his singing (“feeble”).
But Ferry wholly disowns the notion that his glory days are behind him.
“I get very annoyed when people suggest that I should be thinking of doing something different now,” he allows. “Why should I? This is what I do.
“Besides,” says Ferry, “there are certain things that actually get better with time.”