The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age

Why is it that so-called “heritage artists” (translation: at least three decades’ music biz tenure) almost always get a pass, despite their very longevity making it more rather than less likely they’ll release a stinker or two over time? I recall how once, as a guest on a radio show, I proposed that then-recent releases by Richard Thompson and Lucinda Williams were both major time-sucks which should have been nipped in the bud by a smart producer. O, the fresh, gaping, extruding arsehole yours truly was duly ripped by listeners, furious at my observation that the emperor and empress – their idols – had no clothes.

Screw idolatry, man. Sometimes old farts just run out of ideas. Hey, I have my heroes too. Hopefully their lapses prove temporary; maybe a stint in rehab (or a good bender, take your pick) will do the trick. Or a second opinion. Because in the case of Bryan Ferry, louche lizard of Roxy Music and solo fame, someone clearly should have stepped in with a, “Hold on there just a moment, Bry – are you sure that re-recording old Roxy classics as Roaring Twenties-style jazz numbers, without your signature vocals to boot, is a good idea?”

Granted, aficionados of big orchestras, moldy Hollywood musicals and pre-talkie cartoons might find reason to cheer; say, in the sleaze-edged, banjo/cornet/’bone-powered “Love Is the Drug,” or the clop-clopping piano tromp that is “The Bogus Man,” or the sassy trumpet sway of “Virginia Plain.” But unless you’re the type of music geek who rushes out to buy every Pickin’ On… bluegrass or Rockabye Baby! lullaby interpretations of your fave rock artists, it’s unlikely your devotion to Roxy Music will be anything but ill-served by The Jazz Age. At best, it conjures vague, fleeting melodic memories of Ferry’s golden moments; at worst, it’s a dyspeptic downer for which the term “remake/remodel” was never intended.

Lest you dismiss my rant out of hand, here’s one independent gauge (it might be useful with that David Bowie album arriving soon): When a heritage artist unveils a project and the inevitable profiles are published, see how much ink actually gets devoted to the fresh joint; that’s a clue as to what the profiler and the publication really think of it. A recent issue of respected music mag Wax Poetics devoted a whopping 13 pages to a Ferry career overview, yet buried about 3/4 of the way through was a mere one-sentence mention of The Jazz Age. Christ, Ferry’s sons got more coverage in the article than his album.

In the same story Ferry also firmly, definitively nixed the idea of a Roxy Music reunion. Judging from this new record, he’s focused on ossifying and burying the group’s legacy, too.

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra
The Jazz Age