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Bryan Ferry: Frantic

Album: Frantic
Label: Virgin

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The turn of the century has been kind to Bryan Ferry. After spending years turning out impressive, if repetitive, knockoffs of his Roxy Music swan song Avalon, he seems to have gotten the exclusive devotion to lush synthscapes out of his system. With 1999's century-spanning As Time Goes By, Ferry finally broke the pattern, in the process producing the best of his many covers albums since the first, 1973's These Foolish Things. Now, months off a tour with a reunited Roxy Music, he's released his most adventurous solo album in almost as long. Familiar elements remain, most notably the free mingling of covers and originals, as well as the Ferry persona, a heartbroken man of the world who's more sinned-against than sinning. Without those elements, Frantic wouldn't seem like a Bryan Ferry album, but it's been a while since they've been put to such impressive use. The brisker tempo plays a part. Frantic never quite lives up to its title, which is probably preferable, given that frenzy seems so far outside Ferry's emotional range, but beginning with the album-opening "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (one of two tracks from Bob Dylan's songbook), he displays a willingness to cut loose. The album's first single, the Marilyn Monroe tribute "Goddess Of Love," continues that trend, but a general openness to experimentation makes Frantic exciting after the shock of the singer's newfound gusto has worn off. Without a doubt the first album to feature songs by both Leadbelly and the British king Richard The Lionhearted, Frantic finds more common ground between the two than might be expected. Like any great interpreter, Ferry uses his voice to make questionable ideas work, but he's more successful when using it as a tool rather than a crutch. Here, it's always a tool, and one that works as well on the originals as on the covers. For many of his own compositions, Ferry collaborates with The Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, and the pairing proves productive. Still, that new partnership can't help but be overshadowed by an old one: Brian Eno guests on several tracks and co-wrote "I Thought." More intriguing than transcendent, the song is enough to make a full-scale reunion of the former bandmates worth considering—even though, as Frantic demonstrates, Ferry still does just fine on his own.