With Roxy Music having recently called it quits (again), their frontman Bryan Ferry is now able to concentrate on the full-time job of being Bryan Ferry. And on this, his 14th solo album, it shows. Put simply, he is not messing around. There’s a plethora of celebrity guests, including Johnny Marr, Nile Rodgers, Flea and Mark Knopfler; the album’s title seems like a deliberate echo of his former band’s 1982 opus Avalon; moreover, Ferry – normally such an enthusiastic coverer of other people’s songs – limits himself here to just two non-originals.
Across its 10 tracks, Avonmore seems at pains to comply with the suave image Ferry has culminated over the past forty-odd years. The album’s lyrics are speckled with references to the night time, decadent behaviour and sex. The music, too, will push the pleasure buzzers of long-standing Ferry fans.
Opener Loop De Li uses the same cocktail bar-friendly drum machine setting as Roxy Music’s Dance Away. Those who (rightfully) adore Avalon will get a kick out of Lost, a shimmering soft rock ballad as serene as the unbroken surface of a swimming pool; while those lured on to countless wedding reception dancefloors by Love Is The Drug will be similarly affected by the lascivious One Night Stand.
With such a big supporting cast, Avonmore was always in danger of sagging beneath the weight of its collaborators. And this, irritatingly, is manifested in the production, which only foregoes the kitchen sink in its quest for listener bombardment. Sometimes – as on the instantly forgettable title track – the busy production is slathered over weak songwriting like plaster over a porous wall.
But, more often, the production serves as an unwelcome distraction from Avonmore’s generally sturdy melodies. Driving Me Wild, a strident rocker, is inexplicably hamstrung by some lame scratching more befitting of a Morcheeba record. A Special Kind Of Guy, a sensual ballad reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, would have suited a minimalist approach but is instead burdened with an abundance of guitars and keyboards.
Ferry has always been a dab hand at cover versions and the two that appear at the end of Avonmore uphold that tradition handsomely. His take on the Stephen Sondheim standard Send In The Clowns swaps the poignancy of the original for downright strangeness, as Ferry delivers a restrained vocal over psychedelic, Beatles-esque tape loop effects.
Best of all is his cover of Robert Palmer’s Johnny & Mary. Produced by Norwegian futuristic disco maestro Todd Terje, the track slows the perky original down to a snail’s pace, and envelops Ferry’s elegantly crumpled vocal in gorgeous, sweeping synths. It’s one of the very best things Ferry has ever lent his name to but, crucially, it’s not a new track: it already appeared on Terje’s own album that came out earlier this year.
The appearance of Johnny & Mary on Avonmore does, however, leave the listener with a tantalising prospect: what would a Bryan Ferry album produced entirely by Todd Terje sound like? It seems reasonable to suggest that it would sound significantly fresher than this fittingly enjoyable but frustratingly retrograde effort.