Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter 13) Bryan Ferry The Bride Stripped Bare

Bryan Ferry's furious 1978 release THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE was a relative failure upon initial release and is now mostly remembered in the context of Jerry Hall leaving him for Mick Jagger. Rolling Stone exclaimed in the headline of their original negative review that the album was "more Edith Piaf than Muddy Waters" and I always wondered why that was considered a bad thing.
THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE is one of the great break-up albums of all time as it is an album that had Ferry responding to punk and the criticism he had fell under after his first solo albums.
No band had been more progressive or acclaimed than Roxy Music in the early seventies but by the time of the brilliantly subversive MANIFESTO and FLESH AND BLOOD they were becoming more and more disdained by groups and critics who had forgotten what the word irony meant. So THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE is an incredibly ambitious album, one that sees Ferry trying to answer his critics with a reminder that he could indeed rock while still maintaining the cool and slightly sinister air that he had developed for himself with Roxy Music.
THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE is an album obviously made by a man in distress. It is one of the most authentically paranoid albums ever recorded and it is a startling cohesive album considering it is a mixture of original songs and cover versions.
Ferry is one of the great underrated singers of the rock era, he is an extremely talented song stylist who has the unique ability (like one of his idols Elvis Presley) to take seemingly any kind of song and make it uniquely his own. He is also an incredibly important songwriter and when he is at the top of his game (FOR YOUR PLEASURE, COUNTRY LIFE, FRANTIC) he is pretty unmatchable.
Ferry had been unhappy with 1977's IN YOUR MIND, even though it contained several astonishing tracks and the brutally good guitar work of Chris Spedding, and he wanted THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE to signal a new beginning for him.
The album opens with the surprisingly volcanic SIGN OF THE TIMES, one of the shortest and most potent songs Ferry has ever recorded. It's crunching twin guitar attack of Waddy Watchel and Neil Hubbard combined with some of Ferry's most biting lyrics proved a thrilling starting point. The single famously failed at the height of the punk movement but it holds up just as good as say anything off The Clash's second album that was released around the same time. When Ferry spits out, "Here is a rainbow for your hair" we know that glam is truly over and that we are in the midst of something far more desperate and real.
The album's second track, CAN'T LET GO, is its most famous as Ferry and Roxy Music have revisited it live many times throughout the years since THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE original. Again the duel guitar work by Watchel and Hubbard is incredible and Ferry delivers one of his most pained and impassioned performances. Never has anyone so known for being so cool, that they are almost cold, sounded so vulnerable. The song has been looked at as an obvious message to Jerry Hall but there is the sense that Ferry is singing also to the time period that he came from that was obviously disappearing.
The albums next two tracks were two of the most surprising choices of Ferry's career up to that point. The famous soul track HOLD ON I'M COMING had been a major hit for Sam and Dave in the sixties and Ferry's crunchy version is a fine cover with again his impassioned vocals carrying the track. Even more surprising was the tough version of J.J. Cale's SAME OLD BLUES. Ferry sounds absolutely possessed with anger on this track with Alan Spenner's impressive bass playing standing out.
The gorgeous ballad WHEN SHE WALKS IN THE ROOM marks the albums halfway point and it's a lovely track with Ferry singing lines like, "And your fair weathered friends fail to speak, they're so afraid still waters run deep". The song's final few moments with Ferry and Waddy Watchel harmonizing the title is incedibly haunting and absolutely devastating sounding when you consider what Ferry was going through at this point in his life and career.
Al Green's TAKE ME TO THE RIVER shows just how much bad luck Ferry was having at this point. Originally ridiculed for his version, it would soon become a monster hit for the Eno produced Talking Heads with David Byrne obviously more inspired by Ferry's version than Green's original.

THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE'S masterpiece follows with Ferry's thunderous stab at The Velvet Underground's WHAT GOES ON. Ferry transforms Lou Reed's original into a frustrated and impassioned plea and when he suddenly starts incorporating lyrics from The Velvets BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT into the mix we are caught in one of Ferry's great moments. The accompanying video featuring a bearded and weary looking Ferry is one the indelible images in a career full of them.
Another beautiful ballad follows in CARRICKFERGUS and like CAN'T LET GO we have Ferry admitting his inability or need to move on. It's a lovely version of a much often performed traditional Irish song.
One last cover is THAT'S HOW STRONG MY LOVE IS and Ferry's version hearkens back to not only Otis Reddings version but ironically Mick Jagger's vocal take on The Rolling Stones cover. All is fair in love and war it seems.
The eerie THIS ISLAND EARTH closes the album and it would have been right at home on one of Roxy Music's early albums. It is worth noting that Ferry's excellent keyboard work here resembles some of Eno's solo albums from this period which gives a good example that these two have always been in a way connected.
Ferry has recently returned to THIS ISLAND EARTH with some remarkable live performances and a BBC session which saw this great lost track getting an amazing response. It is one of Ferry's loneliest numbers and one of his best.

THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE was Bryan Ferry's biggest gamble and biggest failure in the decade which he owns as much as David Bowie or any other iconic figure you can think up. It was troubled from the beginning as it was originally planned as a double album (the scrapped songs showed up later as b-sides) and an odd, half-hearted marketing campaign sealed it's fate.

The album is not often mentioned among Ferry's best and while it doesn't have the majestic draw of his greatest albums it does give us a rare glimpse of one of our coolest and most important artists at his most open and vulnerable.

Ferry's newest album, Dylanesque, has just been released and the much anticipated new Roxy Music studio album will hopefully arrive later this year.

Please note that the above WHAT GOES ON sleeve collage comes from the remarkable THESE VINTAGE YEARS site. Visit them at for a comprehensive and up to date guide to the wonderful world of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry.

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