Insert ‘mind blown’ reaction gif here. This here, this song right here, is the straw that broke up The Smiths. Apparently – and somehow I did not know it until just now – this is a rewrite of song by The Smiths. Not a proper Morrissey/Marr Smiths song that you would have heard of, but an instrumental B-side that Bryan Ferry handpicked as a potential hit, wrote some lyrics for, and then hired Johnny Marr to play session on. (Marr also played on the tour, and is prominently seen in the video.) Marr’s original composition, Money Changes Everything, does in fact sound exactly like a mid-eighties Bryan Ferry song without the vocal. Ferry has a bit of genius touch with picking unexpected things that suit his style, and Johnny Marr’s playing is perfectly suited for a Bryan Ferry album. Now that I think about it, having Marr on board might be part of why Bete Noire was so damn good. Ferry was right about the hit potential too; this was Bete Noire’s biggest single. Not-in-any-way-coincidentally, this was also right about the time that Marr left his day job for a less-illustrious but also probably way less stressful career as a journeyman session player. Obviously, Morrissey was in paroxysms of jealousy that Bryan Ferry would requisition one of the few Smiths songs that he’d had nothing to do with. He doesn’t directly say as much in his autobiography, but it’s heavily implied; he broke up the band because he felt ‘cheated-on’ by his songwriting partner for appearing in a Bryan Ferry video.
Show of hands, who still remembers what Morse code is? It’s that cool beeping noise that WWII movies use to underscore tension when something exciting and/or scientific is going on. Right? Right. So Bryan Ferry made an excellent production choice in using that sound effect to literalize a song about loneliness and longing. He’s like a ship at sea, you see. He needs a hero to save him from drowning in his ocean of solitude. It’s basically just a booty call, but the SOS makes it sound serious and important. And sophisticated. But you know what? Booty calls deserve to be dignified. There’s not much heavy lifting we can do for another person, in terms of rescuing them from themselves, but we can at least occasionally rescue them from being alone and horny.
I have no way of knowing, of course, if Bryan Ferry wrote this one for Jerry Hall, but I’d like to think so. If anyone makes me intrigued by the idea of romances and broken hearts, Ferry does, and if anyone makes for a muse too elevated in glamour for this world, it’s Jerry Hall. I’m not entirely immune to the tragic love story, you know, especially if by ‘tragic’ you mean being made cuckold by Mick Jagger. Most devastating thing that could happen to a man of such wealth and taste. A possible step down for Jerry, from being Bryan Ferry’s great muse to being Mick Jagger’s third or fourth best one. (As if the idea of musedom were anything but a male-gaze fantasy anyway!) Anyway, I’m way too invested in decades-old rock star romances, and I like to say that I’m fascinated by the intersection of love and creativity, but it may just be prurience.
Spoiler, the only face Bryan Ferry sees is his own. And what a face! But seriously though, I highly recommend this live performance. It’s nice to hear Ferry stripped of his usual lush orchestration. We all know and love the production values that are his comfort zone, but all that atmosphere doesn’t always let his voice shine through. What a voice, though! With just the croon and the piano, it’s an entirely different level. I haven’t loved Mamouna as much as some of Ferry’s other albums; a lot of the songs just feel kind of forgettable (and it inexplicably has a horse on the cover instead of the usual ornamental semi-naked woman.) Which is why I love the intimate presentation here. It makes the song so much fresher for me.
This sounds like classic Bryan Ferry, straight from the 70’s. But, nope, this one only dates back to 2002. So, clearly, the old glamour god can still bust out of his rut when he feels like it. I think you know what I mean when I talk about a regulation issue Bryan Ferry album, and this isn’t one of them. I love regulation Ferry, of course, because of course, but I love it more when he gets weird and reminds us of just how edgy cool he used to be. Not grand old man cool like today, but genuinely subversive cool, cool beyond category cool.
One from the Ferry vault. It may be obscure to you, but it’s an essential. Bryan Ferry’s mid 70’s solo albums don’t get much credit, but they are all awesome. They sound a lot like mid 70’s Roxy Music. Weird, funky, campy, clever, hard to define. As per usual, Ferry sings about unrequited desire a lot. He’s not the first person to make that his great theme, but he does so better than most. In this case, there’s less the scent of English garden romantic gentility and more the seedy barfly side. As evidenced by the singer wearing a plain white T (!) on the sleeve. He certainly looks like he’s crept into a downscale disco on the bad side of town to find a nice commoner to share his cocaine bender. And you know that afterwards he’s going to send her home in a taxi with a little something extra for the road. Yeah, Ferry really lends himself to those kinds of fantasies.
Bryan Ferry being a bit overly dramatic. But isn’t just the boiled down gist of every unhappy love song, though? That’s what it comes down to; if one person fails to love you, all of a sudden nobody does. Or ever will. And you might as well wilt into crumbled pile of sadness. Ferry has composed a fair share of songs taking a dramatic emotional view of relationships, so to speak. Which is to say that romantic posturing is not at all out of character for him. In fact, it’s really kind of his thing. Thankfully, there’s always a slight element of camp, a splash of cool bitters to temper down any sign of true saccharinity.