Arrangements are the apparel of songwriting. How a collection of chords, rhythms, words and melodic lines is draped and fitted with voices and instruments can decide, or doom, the finished song’s prospects with the listening public. It’s no surprise, then, that a sartorial icon like Bryan Ferry would also be a keen arranger. From his beginnings with the psych-rock cabaret of Roxy Music through his evolution into an alt-pop romantic, Ferry, 71, has made the tailoring of his artfully crooned songs as critical to their reception as the underlying notes.
And he’s never been a minimalist. A Bryan Ferry song has layers. Even the basic reggae bump of Love Is The Drug — Roxy Music’s first U.S. single, from 1976 — gives way to a vaulting guitar break and a swoon of a refrain. Those early orchestral maneuvers presaged Ferry deploying actual strings on later recordings such as Roxy Music’s 1982 swan song, Avalon, and the quintessential Ferry solo album, 1985’s Boys and Girls.
“It’s generally quite cinematic, what I do,” Ferry said in a 1994 interview with the British pirate-radio pioneer Robin Ross. For Ferry, this is a language of love — conjoined acoustic and electric instruments, from strings to synths, around a framework of guitar, bass and drums, and a variety of other sonic accents. Ferry is a detail man, and has to be, considering the lavish accompaniment he likes for his expressive flutter of a voice. In the same interview, Ferry described himself as “a bit particular” in his album-making habits. On his latest, 2014’s Avonmore, Ferry emerges from whatever obsessive labor went into the production projecting his usual confidence as a dapper gentleman bandleader.
The sensibility he has fashioned out of his supermodel album covers and sophisticated, often tender songs amounts to a beau ideal of either male privilege or masculine grace, or some combination of both. “People think I wake up in the morning and put on a tuxedo,” Ferry told the British tabloid Daily Mail in 2009, “but I can assure you I don’t.” But he’ll always sound like he does.
Bryan Ferry begins a North American tour on Thursday, March 9 at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood FL. Tickets are $40 – $85 at Ticketmaster.
~ Sean Piccoli