News that the original, glam-era lineup of Roxy Music would reunite for singer Bryan Ferry's latest solo album caused heart palpitations among the faithful. Ferry and Brian Eno haven't shared a studio in more than 35 years. On Roxy Music's first two albums, beginning in 1972, the creative tension between them -- Ferry's penchant for American soul, Eno's flashy experimentalism -- created music that was hugely influential if not terribly commercial. The two parted ways; Ferry turned Roxy Music into an intelligent adult-contemporary band, while Eno pioneered electronic music and became the go-to producer for the zeitgeisty bands. The fact that Eno's back on the lengthy guest list at another of Ferry's studio soirees, however, doesn't mean he's the life of this particular party. If you listened to "Olympia" without hearing any of its preceding hype, you'd likely never know he was there.
It's a fine record, sure -- another remarkably confident, smooth, sophisticated set of technically proficient, very adult pop music. It's certainly not a new Roxy record, even though the first sound we hear, on the opener "You Can Dance" (he doesn't make dance music, per se, but he sure sings about it a lot), is a wavy metallic synthesizer that sounds exactly like the one at the heart of "True to Life" (the last vocalized pop song we heard on a proper Roxy Music record, 1982's "Avalon"). But this song doesn't feature any Roxys. They're scattered throughout "Olympia" with the other couple dozen notable guests, including Flea (thwacking his bass on songs such as "Heartache by Numbers," co-written by Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters), Dave Stewart, David Gilmour, Chris Spedding, Jonny Greenwood, Steve Nieve, Groove Armada, on and on. A total of 45 musicians are credited on "Olympia." Amazingly, it never sounds bloated. Each composition is tightly controlled, carefully arranged, ruthlessly rehearsed -- the very musical ideals that made Eno flee the band.
The hope was that Eno would shake something up, muss Ferry's coif a bit. However, his presence on synthesizer barely registers -- a series of contributions that recall warm jets, but like a relaxing Jacuzzi more than his own whimsical 1974 debut LP -- save maybe in the refrain of "Alphaville," a song Ferry wrote 10 years ago and which now features a mildly psychedelic and oh-so brief synth break. The contribution worth noting in "Song to the Siren" (a Tim Buckley cover) is the beautiful, plaintive oboe from Roxy's consistently underrated woodwind master, Andrew Mackay. For "BF Bass," it's the dual guitars of jazz-rock session man Chris Spedding and Roxy's axman Phil Manzanera that sell the song's cheesy soul. Typically, it's all lush and gorgeous, full of sound and no fury. As Ferry sings, it's just "another night, a night in Alphaville."