Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Bryan Ferry 9: Mamouna

As it turns out, writer’s block had kept Bryan Ferry from releasing a new album for so long, and only Taxi was able to break it. Working with Robin Trower must have helped too, as he’s credited as co-producer on Mamouna as well. The rhythm section was generally Nathan East and Steve Ferrone, then on loan from Eric Clapton. Even more interesting is the occasional presence of Brian Eno, who had legendarily fallen out with Ferry in the early days of Roxy Music.

Not much has changed since the last time, as “Don’t Want To Know” burbles with the same grooves that have dominated his work over the previous ten years. But for some street noise, “N.Y.C.” is straight-ahead Nile Rodgers funk with Maceo Parker guesting on sax. “Your Painted Smile” and “The Only Face” get the mix of mood and melody right, but in between, the title track follows on “To Turn You On” without the emotion.

“The 39 Steps” is just another groove with occasional soundbites that have us wondering what the song has to do with the film (any version). The heartbreak comes through big time on “Which Way To Turn”, but it’s the insistent “Wildcat Days” that really stands out, being co-written with Eno and also featuring Andy Mackay on sax somewhere in the mix. (He’s also credited on the mildly swampy “Gemini Moon”.) On “Chain Reaction”, he finally remembered how to write a song instead of just riding a groove, and the female vocals here are very effective.

Too much of Mamouna sounds the same, and like more of the same. But longtime fans seeking more of the same will be very pleased with it. There is definitely a flow, but if there’s any kind of story here, it’s buried.

As the album approached its 30th anniversary, an expanded package included not only the original shelved version of the album, which was to be titled Horoscope, but a third disc of “Sketches”, providing a first-ever glimpse into his creative process. Now it’s hard to hear what was wrong with Horoscope, as “Where Do We Go From Here” (the template for “The 39 Steps”) crackles with more menace, “The Only Face” is more direct, and “Desdemona” is just as solid without Maceo or Nile. “S&M (Midnight Train)” and “Loop De Li” would eventually emerge twenty years later on another album; here they provide a welcome lift (the former more than the latter, but still). “Gemini Moon” is less processed than the final version. “Raga” breaks out of the monotonic backing with some intriguing touches, but it was likely the tepid ten-minute overhaul of “Mother Of Pearl” that gave executives pause. (This was eventually used for a movie soundtrack.)

Most of the “Sketches” are instrumental—some dating back to 1989—which helps provide some musical contexts amid the finished grooves. “Robot” is a generic Ferry-by-numbers idea that matches its title for six minutes, while “Horoscope” itself has some interesting textures but with a woman’s spoken voice too high in the mix. “Your Painted Smile” and “The Only Face” each appear in strikingly intimate piano-and-vocal renditions that have us wishing he’d do more albums with performances just like them.

Bryan Ferry Mamouna (1994)—
2023 Deluxe Reissue: same as 1994, plus 18 extra tracks

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