Saturday, October 23, 2010

These Foolish Things (1973)

Sounding as fresh today as it did practically 40 years ago, but is it a miraculous accident? I always thought there was something special about this, a kind of first-ever "tribute" album even if it is all done nominally by one artist about several others but basically the same proto-new wave idea—wackee coverz. It's the redoubtable Bryan Ferry in his first solo outing after what? A couple of Roxy Music albums? The cheek! And then to roam so wantonly and yet obviously deliberately from Bob Dylan (start with Bob Dylan) to Ketty Lester to the Crickets to Janis Joplin to Elvis Presley to Lesley Gore, and I'm still on the first side of the vinyl LP, which packs 13 songs in to a set that constantly surprises. The big showboat version here of "Don't Worry Baby" gets within shouting distance of the Beach Boys original—I would even say it's the better of the two, quite impressive. "It's My Party" is obvious camp, then and now, and yet the band and performance are extra hot somehow. And the Dylan cover I think is no send-up; whatever Bryan Ferry the singer is concerned about in this song, however he is interpreting "hard rain," he does sound like it's something he cares about. The second side arguably loses its way some, with off choices of songs if not artists: "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones, "The Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey/Miracles, and "You Won't See Me" by the Beatles. But it redeems itself and any outstanding doubts about the album as a whole with a gorgeous take on the title song, a Depression-era standard written by Eric Maschiwitz and Jack Strachey and recorded by Dorothy Dickson rife with lovely images: "A tinklin' piano in the next apartment / Those stumblin' words that told you what my heart meant / A fairground's painted swings" and "The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations / Silk stockings thrown aside, dance invitations / Oh, how the ghost of you clings." Look, I know I'm giving Bryan Ferry big, big props here on taste alone. But there are also a good many fine performances and much comical nuance surfacing along the way in this charming mess. That it sounds better than ever is only more cause to celebrate. Somebody open a bottle of champagne.

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