When the world last heard from Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music's 69-year-old former frontman, he was reimagining parts of his back catalogue as speakeasy songs. His 2012 album The Jazz Age, recorded as The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, was an obtuse release that was wonderfully inventive and almost wilfully uncommercial. The idea of the album was to strip the original tunes of their vocals while recasting such classics as Slave to Love and Virginia Plain in the style of the 20th-century jazz greats Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Two years later, Ferry has returned with Avonmore, a far more conventional solo album, and his first since 2010's Olympia. This new work finds Ferry back on more familiar ground, swapping the speakeasy for his more conventional construct as the sultan of suave. If Olympia was dressed up to look like a Roxy release – complete with Kate Moss on the cover, mimicking the fashion model-obsessed artwork of the band's eight albums – it sounded like a Ferry solo release, all melodic tunes and mournful lyrics.
His new album flips that formula on its head. It looks like a Ferry solo album – featuring a typically moody black-and-white shot of the singer on the cover – and sounds like a natural successor to Avalon, Roxy Music’s final studio album, released 32 years ago.
Avonmore pairs eight original compositions with two covers. Roxy's 1981 reworking of John Lennon's Jealous Guy is one of the great examples of how to remake someone else's work, while Dylanesque, Ferry's 2007 album of Bob Dylan originals, is a more recent treasure. On Avonmore, Ferry takes on Robert Palmer's Johnny and Mary with great aplomb – all breathy vocals and simple sonic arrangements – and Stephen Sondheim's Send in the Clowns with less success.
But it's the original compositions that shine through. Ferry has always been at his best when he sings as if he knows the party's over. Loop De Li, Avonmore's opener, begins with instrumental fragments that sound like Roxy outtakes, before introducing lyrics that heavily reference confusion, delusion and bitterness. This is the sour taste of the slow post-party comedown.
That mood and those emotions course through the album, which features collaborations with such notables as Johnny Marr and Nile Rodgers. Ferry is on top form on Lost, featuring Mark Knopfler on guitar, which is a swirling ode to life's wrong turns. Its arrangement, leaning on Knopfler's understated craft, is exquisite.
Will Avonmore win over a new generation of fans? Almost certainly not. Will it reacquaint former fans with Ferry's work? Almost certainly. He hasn't sounded this good for a while.