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Sunday, December 16, 2012



The Jazz Age (BMG) :: Bored with the “Beguine”? The Samba isn’t your scene? Then sit down and brace yourself for what is not only the most superlative album of the year, but the most superlative album I’ve heard in, literally, over three decades.

Y’see, back in the ’70s, we all had our Art Rock Heroes; those brainy visionaries who didn’t just make long-playing albums, they made conceptual art statements by which we were encouraged to creatively live our newly-enriched lives by. Your Art Rock Hero may have dressed like a giant flower; or perhaps he painted an electro bolt on his face; maybe all he had to do was wear black nail varnish. Mine happened to be a hopeless heart-on-his-sleeve romantic who wore a tuxedo like Rick Blaine—and this is what I had to say about Our Boy Bry in 1976 upon the release of his innovative and influential Extended Play:

“From cosmic ’50s greaser stance to tuxedoed terror to USO entertainer in just four years is no mean feat, and the best part is that the masquerade has just begun to play itself out for real. Just check out the cover of Extended Play: the tired, uninterested lover; rejected and moist; eye challenging the camera before turning away, laughing ‘Ha Ha!’ and disappearing into the fog.

“This man has seen battles: dig the crease-riddled suit he’s wearing under that cheesy moustache while the CASINO sign in the background dimly reaches out through the darkness after poor Bry was taken for everything he had at the Blackjack table.

“But is Our Boy shattered? Is he licking his wounds like some inferior dog? NO! Bry knows that love is nothing but sheer human folly and that the best kind of love is a love that has to be fought for. So, the past behind him, Bry relocates at a favorite old haunt of his and storms into Side A’s ‘The Price Of Love’ and ‘Shame, Shame, Shame.’ Then, after the crowds have departed and the chairs have been stacked on the table tops, a pensive Bryan Ferry sits down at the piano in some dark, secluded corner and croons out Extended Play’s B side: melancholy renditions of ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ and ‘It’s Only Love.’

“With dawn only a few hours away, he picks himself up and goes outside where the next city alluringly winks out at him from across the harbor. Then, leaning on a railing at the water’s edge, he cinematically flicks his cigarette out into the darkness before him and slowly walks away—not even waiting to hear the sound of the discarded butt hitting the water’s surface and extinguishing in a softly muffled sigh.”

Impressive, I know. But not nearly as impressive as knowing that the lifelong faith you’ve imbued in your Art Rock Hero has been richly rewarded beyond your or anyone else’s wildest expectations—because that fulfilled expectation is exactly what Brian Ferry has uncannily achieved with The Jazz Age. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment imbued with such note-perfect precision that you’ll swear you’re listening to some arcane outtakes from Duke Ellington’s Brunswick era Jungle Band.

That’s because The Jazz Age is nothing less than a flapperesque remake/remodel of the Roxy-Ferry canon, evocatively interpreted for a century-spanning earlier era he never made but nonetheless knows like the back of his band. Even better, the seditious song selection ranges in sage from the commercially predictable (“Avalon” and “Love Is The Drug”) to the downright subversive (“The Bogus Man” and “Virginia Plain”).

But rather than dive head first into the deep end of technology as a lesser man might, Ferry dips his toe into the shallow end of analog pool instead because he realizes that period music deserves period production, which is why every song is presented in mono, with each song length suitable in size for a single 78 side; the only thing missing are the shellac scratches.

The will power it took for Ferry to eliminate the two things he’s best known for—his singing and his lyrics—is not only courageously commendable, it’s aesthetically encouraging.

That’s why I’m gifting a copy of The Jazz Age to everyone I know this Christmas—and you should too. At the very least, you’ll be giving them a valuable audio education into what modern music can still be capable of when a brainy visionary puts his mind to it. And, at the very most, you’ll be supporting a vital artist who remains our own version of battling Humphrey Bogart and suave George Sanders, all rolled into one.

Be seeing you!

Sun, December 16, 2012 | link 

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