From the cover photo culled from his younger days to a cast of collaborators from his past (Nile Rodgers, Johnny Marr and producer Rhett Davies, among them), Bryan Ferry is making no effort to hide the fact that his 14th solo album is an attempt to recapture the glory days of Avalon and his ‘80s solo successes.
The simple question is: why? Did he stick with the glitzy, mirrorball-kissed pop so as to insure a healthy commercial return in an already stretched-thin market or was this out of habit? Because goodness knows, Avonmore could have gone in any direction Ferry wanted to, aided by at least two-dozen producers or arrangers who would kill to work with such an icon. As it stands, we get only a small taste of that delicious possibility.
Tacked on to the end of the album is Ferry’s rendition of “Johnny & Mary,” a song originally recorded by fellow UK soul-pop crooner Robert Palmer. Over a bed of throbbing bass and synth pulses provided by Norwegian producer Todd Terje, Ferry curls his devilish voice around the melody like a waft of blue smoke. It’s as sexy as anyone pushing 70 could ever hope to sound.
For the rest of Avonmore, Ferry slips back into his familiar patterns as surely and comfortably as a bespoke suit. The lite disco and Euro R&B swims and shimmies behind him as if the sultry, synchronized movements of a trio of curvy female backup singers were made audible. Over it all, Ferry oozes his aging, but still effective vibrato-heavy voice, expressing romantic regret, sexual longing and the kind of smooth come-ons that a man his age should really have outgrown.
It’s laudable that the 69-year-old Ferry is able to ply his wares in the studio and onstage while many of his contemporaries have long since hung up their spurs or shuffled off this mortal coil. And beyond his Terje collaboration, he manages to give off a little steam here and there: he’s particularly good playing off the driving groove of the title track, and he sounds three decades younger on the shivering “Midnight Train.” Otherwise, Avonmore is Ferry teasing at the possibility of something more and never quite delivering.