Having fronted Roxy Music's beloved 1982 studio swan song Avalon, Bryan Ferry could do anything he wanted in its wake. So he resumed his solo career, this time on a far bigger budget. Recorded in a half a dozen studios with hot-shots Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, King Crimson bassist Tony Levin, jazz sax star David Sanborn, and Luther Vandross collaborator Marcus Miller, 1985's Boys and Girls further refines Avalon's exquisiteness. Rather than having Roxy's Phil Manzanera evoke Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, Ferry calls in the real thing. There's no mistaking the stuttering rhythm guitar intro on album opener "Sensation" as coming from anyone but Chic's Nile Rodgers.
As before, a small army of female background singers act both as musical foil and embodiment of his desires. While holding back vocally and achieving more with fewer lyrics, he's speaking through them. That's why it's not offensive that he's hired black women to wail, "I'm a slave to love," because if you know anything about Ferry, it's that he's one himself. For that reason and because it's so damn beautiful, "Slave to Love" remains his quintessential solo single, and one, like "Love Is the Drug," that sums up his worldview. "To need a woman you've got to know/How the strong get weak and the rich get poor," he cries. Like a junkie understands his fix, Ferry knows.
Boys and Girls isn't as thoroughly memorable as Avalon; it's more of a sonic environment than a collection of songs, and a ravishing one at that. Beyond "Slave to Love" and its equally sublime follow-up "Don't Stop the Dance," a fitting end-of-the-night club cut, much of it is heavier on mood than melody, and that's as it should be: Ferry's reaching beyond self-portraits to create Impressionistic landscapes of love. These are his water lilies.