MORE: OLYMPIA VIDEOS
Olympia is Bryan Ferry’s 13th solo album, released on October 25th 2010 by Virgin Records. Several years in the making, Olympia contains the first original Bryan Ferry compositions to be released in nearly a decade, also featuring writing collaborations with Scissor Sisters, Groove Armada and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics.
Olympia includes a stellar cast of session musicians and frontmen; from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Brian Eno, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and ex-Stone Roses and current Primal Scream bassist Mani – not to mention Miles Davis acolyte Marcus Miller and Michael Jackson’s trusted rhythm guitarist, the late David Williams.
With such an impressive roster, it is only fitting that the album should be represented by an equally iconic image. Bryan Ferry’s work has consistently been noted for its powerful imagery, from the lustfully-gazing model on Roxy Music’s debut album in 1972 right on through to Anton Corbijn’s swirling portrait for his 2007 record Dylanesque.
“One of the inspirations for the cover was the 19th century painting ’Olympia’ by Édouard Manet (link: Wikipedia) – a kind of early pin-up picture. The picture shows a young courtesan lying on a bed wearing little more than a provocative expression, and the painting created quite an uproar when it was first exhibited in Paris.
“I wanted a cover-girl for this record who could convey the glamorous notoriety of the original ‘Olympia’ painting, and the obvious choice was Kate Moss. Kate has long been the ‘femme fatale’ of our age, as controversial as she is beautiful, and the most glamorous female icon since Marilyn Monroe.
“I was still finishing my album at the time of the photo shoot, so everything happened at the last minute (which is often the way in ‘rock ‘n roll). The shoot took place at Sunbeam Studios in West London, and the designer Gideon Ponte built a fantastic set – with the finest linen… the perfect bed… Shoes and dresses were flown-in from Paris, jewellery escorted by security guards, flowers everywhere, a supporting cast of thousands… and everyone involved worked really hard to get the right shot, especially our photographer Adam Whitehead”
Whitehead, who honed his craft under Mario Testino, said, “when Bryan approached me to shoot his new album cover I jumped at the chance, envisaging all his famous covers of the past. On the day Kate was amazing. She had in her mind exactly the character she wanted to portray. ‘Give me red lips, I want to be a Roxy girl’ she screamed!’ “
Nevertheless, it is Olympia’s musical content that makes it stand the test of time. Bryan Ferry’s latest batch of songs have a high standard to live up to, and the singer is confident that the album represents somewhat of a pinnacle for him as an artist. A key ingredient on the LP is Ferry’s own active instrumental role, as he pointed out himself: “I used to play a bigger role on keyboards on the Roxy [Music] records than I did in my solo career [...] I kind of did myself out of a job, in a way. But on this album I’ve come back into the forefront a bit more.”
Opening with the single ‘You Can Dance’, Olympia‘s intent is made clear right from the off. A pulsating tour-de-force underpinned by a thunderous bass groove, the song is crowned by a typically Pop Art influenced lyric from the inimitable Ferry. It is accompanied by a music video from acclaimed director Ferry Gouw. According to Gouw, “Bryan wanted to portray the video as a band performance in perhaps the seediest most glamorous and exclusive underground club where beautiful people are all high on life”.
It is swiftly followed by ‘Alphaville’, written in conjunction with Dave Stewart. The track is a showcase for the serpentine bass playing of Marcus Miller, and due to the presence of Brian Eno, undoubtedly arouses the interest of Roxy Music fans.
The triumphant ‘Heartache by Numbers’, Bryan Ferry’s collaboration with New York’s chart-conquering Scissor Sisters, is imbued with the heady spirit of the Big Apple. It continues the Roxy Music links by showcasing the unmistakable tones of Andy Mackay’s oboe and highlights Ferry’s gift for anthemic arrangements with its rousing chorus line, before gracefully shifting down a gear for ‘Me Oh My’, a keening ballad whose silky atmosphere is amplified by the twin guitar work of David Gilmour and forthcoming guitar prodigy Oliver Thompson.
Olympia‘s textural variety is on display in the effortless elision from the contemporary and urbane electro-disco of ‘Shameless’ (made in collusion with London’s Groove Armada) into Ferry’s achingly romantic interpretation of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’, whose rich, dense layers call to mind his hugely successful hits of the 1980s.
The album’s other ‘re-model’ is the next platter, a symphonic recasting of Traffic’s bucolic 1967 song ‘No Face, No Name, No Number’. It finds Bryan Ferry once more exploring new territory, adding a soulfully psychedelic string to his bow. ‘BF Bass (Ode to Olympia)’, a tongue-in-cheek comment on our current obsession with social networking, was written with Phil Manzanera but takes its title from its compositional origins – Bryan Ferry’s own playing on bass guitar, another first for his seasoned hand.
Olympia comes to a suitably stately conclusion in its closing pair of tracks. ‘Reason or Rhyme’ is a masterpiece of understated finesse, with Bryan Ferry’s keyboards combining with his delicate vocal to create a haunting and hypnotic ambience that belies its surface simplicity. “It’s one where you can just get absorbed in the music hopefully”, Ferry comments. The final song, ‘Tender Is The Night’, another collaboration with Dave Stewart, displays a lightness of touch with its eerie, synthesized backdrop and features a gorgeous piano melody courtesy of session supremo Steve Nieve (best known for his association with Elvis Costello).
Impeccably produced by Bryan Ferry, long-time accomplice Rhett Davies and Johnson Somerset, Olympia is a magnum opus from one of music’s few remaining living legends, full of stylistic twists and turns. It never loses its melodic or rhythmic momentum and is a testament to his never-ending passion and enthusiasm for making music that touches the heart as much as it does the hips.
The album is dedicated to two of Bryan Ferry’s recently departed friends: celebrated fashionista and international style icon Isabella Blow, who tragically took her own life in 2007, and David Williams, who sadly passed away in 2009.
Olympia is also available in two further formats. A Deluxe CD, featuring two more ‘ready-mades’: his joyous interpolation of John Lennon’s ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ and ‘One Night’, a New Orleans R&B classic made famous by Elvis Presley.
On top of this, there is a Collector’s Edition that is presented as an 11″ square book with two specially-commissioned essays (from noted music critic Richard Williams and Roxy Music biographer Michael Bracewell), and comes with three discs – the extended CD, a second audio CD of alternative mixes, and a DVD that includes a half-hour documentary on the album’s creation and interviews with all the album’s major players.