Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bryan Ferry

  • "These Foolish Things" [Atlantic, 1974] A-
  • Another Time, Another Place [Atlantic, 1974] B+
  • Let's Stick Together [Atlantic, 1976] B
  • In Your Mind [Atlantic, 1977] B+
  • The Bride Stripped Bare [Atlantic, 1978] B+
  • Boys and Girls [Warner Bros., 1985] B-
  • Bête Noire [Reprise/EG, 1987] C+
  • Taxi [Reprise, 1993] Neither

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

"These Foolish Things" [Atlantic, 1974]
"A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" defines this collection of rock classics--ranging from "It's My Party" to "Sympathy for the Devil"--as a pop statement. By transforming Dylan at his most messianic into gripping high camp complete with sound effects (when the poet dies in the gutter the chorus gives forth with a cute groan), Ferry both undercuts the inflated idealism of the original and reaffirms its essential power. Along the way, he also establishes "It's My Party" as a protest song. And just in case we're getting any highfalutin ideas, the title track reminds us that pop is only, well, foolish things, many of which predate not only Andy Warhol but rock and roll itself. A-

Another Time, Another Place [Atlantic, 1974]
Comedy routines are rarely as funny the second time around, especially when you've used up your best lines--"The `In' Crowd" is the only zinger Ferry comes up with here. Elsewhere he who plays at corruption is afflicted with disease--lead poisoning, it sounds like, affecting not only his brain but also his lungs and his pants. "You Are My Sunshine" makes "sense" slow, but too often Ferry simply indulges his taste for the lachrymose on songs that deserve better. B+

Let's Stick Together [Atlantic, 1976]
A lot of people are crazy about this record, but I find its bifurcation alienating. On the one hand, we have the usual unlikely borrowings, the most effective from Wilbert Harrison and the Everlys. And as usual, these are powerful, strange, and interesting--and often quite compelling. On the other hand, we have unlikely remakes of old Roxy Music material, much of it from the group's very first album. Although Ferry proves that he knows more about making records (and music) than he used to, the songs remain powerful, strange, and interesting--but not quite compelling. Add it all together and you get . . . two separate parts. B

In Your Mind [Atlantic, 1977]
Ferry has custom-designed a new line of songs for his solo concept, rather than borrowing from early Roxy or his humble forebears, and especially on side one the stuff is appealingly down-to-earth. But it doesn't go far enough. I used to think Ferry's big problem was the fruity baritone that epitomized his deliberate unnaturalness, but now I think it's the hopeless romanticism of his half-realized dreams. If he ever did convince large numbers of people to care about his obsessions, the result would be nothing more than a rather scary collective escapism. B+

The Bride Stripped Bare [Atlantic, 1978]
Maybe the smoke in Bryan's eyes has finally reached his heart; the apparent sincerity of some of the singing here makes those five-minute moments when he lingers ponderously over a key lyric easier to take. The Los Angeles musicians don't hurt either--the conjunction of his style of stylization (feigned detachment) makes for interesting expressive tension. And Waddy Wachtel is as apt a sound-effects man as Phil Manzanera ever was. B+

Boys and Girls [Warner Bros., 1985]
Sure "Make believing is the real thing." When Ferry is grooving, though, the emphasis is on the make-believe, not the real. Here there's heavy slippage, especially on side one. His voice thicker and more mucous, his tempos dragging despite all the fancy beats he's bought, he runs an ever steeper risk of turning into the romantic obsessive he's always played so zealously. B-

Bête Noire [Reprise/EG, 1987]
As with Mick Jagger, of all people, the signal that self-imitation has sunk into self-parody is enunciatory ennui--vocal mannerisms that were once ur-posh are now just complacent. Except for the Parisian title tune the second side is unlistenable. The first side is faster. C+

Taxi [Reprise, 1993] Neither