13. Bryan Ferry, The Bride Stripped Bare
In the great mushy mess of classic rock chronology that exists in my head, there are a few standard patterns that I grab tightly on like handlebars that will help me steer through streets that are slicker than the seem. Chief among them is the timing of a solo career for an artist who first gained prominence as a member of a group. It begins years into the band’s run, usually towards the end, the first solo outing or two easy to dismiss as side dabbling or maybe testing of music industry waters. To the degree I’ve felt the need to mentally sort out the trajectories of Bryan Ferry and his band Roxy Music, I’ve always assumed that they cohered to the norm. Instead, those trajectories were essentially parallel, with Ferry issuing his first solo album in 1973, just one year after Roxy Music’s debut. When The Bride Stripped Bare (its title taken from a Marcel Duchamp piece) was released in 1978, it was Ferry’s fifth solo album, the exact same number of studio releases from Roxy Music to that point in time.
From the beginning, Ferry used his time away from the glammy wonders of Roxy Music to explore his crooner side. If a major part of the appeal of Roxy Music was hearing Ferry apply his velvety vocals to smart pop music that was shaped into something weird and beautiful by the art rock instincts of all involved, perhaps most notably bandmate Brian Eno, then Ferry’s solo work offered aural evidence of how the singer operated on a very different track, one that was shaped more by classic pop than modern daring. Ferry was a strong songwriter–those brilliant tracks on the Roxy Music albums are credited, often solely, to him–but he was very willing to lean on cover songs in his solo endeavors, especially songs that had already reached the point of being considered safe, stalwart standards. There are times when Ferry’s take on such material pushes towards revelatory, as with his version of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” released just a couple months after Talking Heads’ superficially similar cover. Both tracks apply a sort of foundational New Wave expansiveness to the material, with the Talking Heads pushing it ever so slightly towards menace while Ferry taps into the celebratory nature of the song. At the weakest, though, Ferry’s propensity for covers leads to something like “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” which is barely a notch above the sort of thing used to fill out a tie-in album from The Commitments, not a soundtrack but a third or fourth pass at ancillary revenue, assembling the songs that weren’t strong enough to make the cut on previous discs.
Ferry’s better off with his own material, if only because those songs tend to feel more current, which, ironically enough, makes them sound more timeless. Both “Sign of the Times” and “What Goes On” (another cover, but of a Velvet Underground song, putting it closer to the sensibility of Ferry’s day job band) have a hint of the melding of rock and disco that was a major component of the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls. And then there’s album highlight “When She Walks in the Room,” a mini-epic of elegant obsession and heartache. It manages to be both a quintessential Ferry song and yet something that would have no real place on a Roxy Music album (it’s too fragile for that). Continuing the aura of paradox to it, Ferry’s vocals have his trademark composure while also suggesting a man on the brink of emotional implosion as he sings, “All your life you were taught to believe/ Then a moment of truth, you’re deceived/ All the wine in your life’s all dried/ Is now the time to give up?” The album was released after Ferry’s reportedly rough break-up with model (and Roxy Music cover beauty) Jerry Hall, causing many to speculate the song was about the bitter dissolution of their relationship. In reality, Ferry wrote the song before his calamity of the heart. The backstory isn’t especially necessary to give the song resonance.
Though Ferry was recording solo efforts at a fairly steady clip through the nineteen-seventies, they were met with diminishing interest. The Bride Stripped Bare was his last for nearly a decade, during which time he concentrated on Roxy Music. After the band released their final effort together Ferry did return to solo albums, first with 1985’s Boys and Girls and then, in 1987, Bête Noire, which contained his only U.S. Top 40 single. He’s continued ever since, indulging his jazzy, lounge singer side ever more as he grows older.
–26: Darkness on the Edge of Town
–25: Give Thankx
–24: Caravan to Midnight
–23: Next of Kihn
–22: 52nd Street
–21: Crafty Hands
–20: Luxury You Can Afford
–19: Some Girls
–18: Mr. Gone
–16: Pieces of Eight
–15: Bloody Tourists
–14: Along the Red Ledge