Album reviews: Bryan Ferry, ‘Olympia’ and Taylor Swift, ‘Speak Now’

Jeremy Clemmons

Staff Writer

Bryan Ferry, “Olympia”

Consider our age as an age of retrospection  –  where Lady Gaga songs sound not unlike Kate Bush ballads or Madonna glam, and everybody from Daft Punk (“Discovery”) to Katy Perry (“California Girls”)  is revisiting or re-imagining the 1980s like it’s … well, the 1980s.

Even in this context, Bryan Ferry’s “Olympia” is a curious litmus test for this moment in music history.

Ferry, once the leader of the English art rock group Roxy Music, has crafted an album that at times is uncannily modern and also … well, something else.

Olympia sees Ferry reunited with such Roxy cohorts as guitarist Phil Manzanera and the legendary Brian Eno, collaborating with Ferry for the first time since 1973’s “For Your Pleasure.” Much like Roxy Music’s famous album covers, this release features a supermodel, Kate Moss, as its sleeve subject.

All these clues, as well as the fact that this is Ferry’s first batch of original material in eight years, should provoke even the densest Ferry fan to polish off their glitter boots in hope of a Roxy Music reunion tour. For this reason perhaps, quite a few critics have been claiming that “Olympia” sounds dated.

It’s the word I’ve risked using, not because its innacurate but because that word runs the risk of describing “Olympia” too negatively when it is rather brilliant at times – especially during the closer, “Tender is the Night,” and the cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren.”

Yes, the album is very much the product of a man of a certain time and a certain place, perhaps a man who might not ever trek far from that time and place, but its relation to that period is decisively unironic and genuine.  Ferry’s making music the only way he knows how.

Grade: B+

Taylor Swift, “Speak Now”

I’m not really sure what to say about this album.

Songs like “Back to December,” “Speak Now” and “Mine” are nearly pitch-perfect pop songs, full of clever and well-timed arrangements and melodies. In this respect, “Speak Now” is Taylor Swift’s most consistent album to date; it rarely keeps a dull moment for long, and at its best, the complexity of her song-writing rivals most contemporary-pop stars.

However, what “Speak Now” struggles with is difficulty of emoting and relating for a young country-pop star who has now arrived at the twilight of her youth.

Teenage inhibitions and sensitivities aren’t quite as authentic anymore, and to Swift’s credit she addresses several “grown-up” problems: her relationship with John Mayer (“Dear John”), the embarrassment of Kanye West (“Speak Now”), her feud with blogger Bob Lefsetz (“Mean”).

But the unfortunate result is that these type of songs often falter with form in light of newer, “more serious” content. “Mean” and “Better than Revenge,” especially, has her in a kind of attack mode that is at odds with her usual understated pixie girl vs. cruel, superficial girl/boy model that, while certainly antagonistic in approach, is more restrained and softly confessional.

Because of this, Swift’s limited vocal range and lyrical capability often trail slowly behind her sweeping compositions – which is perhaps unimportant to her cadre of adoring fans who won’t care either way.

Grade: C

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