Elegant elder and chronicler of the European good life, Bryan Ferry rarely deviates from himself. The downside is that this aesthetic has yielded respectable but less-than-dazzling results for several albums. Not even 2010′s Olympia — which roped in much of Roxy Music among its vast, star-studded cast — ranked among Ferry’s very best.
Avonmore isn’t that different from Olympia or any other album that followed Ferry’s ’70s/’80s golden era. The singer’s 14th solo album favors texture and mood over memorable melodies, bringing Johnny Marr and Chic‘s Nile Rodgers on guitars, and former Luther Vandross/Miles Davis bassist Marcus Miller. These guys have graced Ferry’s records before, but never have they kicked up and stretched out for nearly an entire album: The velvety result is rarely less than Roxy-esque.
Reuniting with longtime co-producer Rhett Davies, Ferry once again revisits the studio perfectionism of the band’s 1982 maximalist masterpiece Avalon: Opening cut “Loop De Li,” for example, features six guitarists interweaving percussive, languid and piercing lines, as well as sinuous oboe recalling Roxy’s Andy Mackay, and a fervid R&B choir that brings the heat Ferry’s forever-cool sighs deny. “A Special Kind of Guy” recreates the syncopation of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” — a song Avalon-era Ferry no doubt would’ve traded in his valet to have written — while “One Night Stand” and “Lost” respectively retrace that landmark album’s “The Main Thing” and title track. It’s likely that Ferry named the disc to pay tribute to the river that runs through Ireland, but it’s also possible that he chose the title out of honesty: Ferry’s been rehashing Roxy’s swansong since the band broke up in ’83, but Avanmore is a small step from even more Avalon.
On the tempestuous title track, the rhythm surges faster and more emphatically than the singer’s solo norm. “There’s no sense in pretending,” he moans midway, “I know I’ll never fall in love again.” That doomed candor also animates one of his most-apt covers, Steven Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.” Ferry wisely avoids the power ballad format the Broadway standard has taken on and instead delivers it the way Sondheim originally intended: As a series of seething gasps from a mature ex-lover who concedes defeat. If he never releases another album, this is a fitting and grand goodbye.