Depending who you’re talking to, Bryan Ferry is either the avant-garde hero who helped Roxy Music write the art-rock blueprint in the 1970s, or the impossibly suave crooner engulfed in elegant adult pop.
But who says you can’t have both? Ferry’s former Roxy sidekick Brian Eno may still be more in thrall to art installations and sonic abstractions, but Ferry has always walked that tightrope between highbrow and smouldering pop.
Along with Eno and the rest of the Roxy virtuoso players, Ferry added some finely-crafted sophistication to early 70s rock – adding leopard print glam to proceedings while leaving the one-trick pony glam-rock bands tongue-tied in their wake.
On their 1972 debut album and its follow-up For Your Pleasure, Roxy Music were arguably shaking up rock’n’roll more than Bowie – sonically at least, with Eno’s modular synth explorations and and Andy McKay’s radical clarinet solos. Ferry also turned heads with his lyrics and subject matter – referencing the American Civil War, Lolita, Louis XVI and one kitchen sink love song to a blow-up doll (“I blew up your body, but you blew my miiiiind!”)
After Eno left over the cliched ‘creative differences’, Ferry eventually smoothed out the avant-garde shrieks and left turns over the next decade, and bowed out after eight magic albums with the opulent art-rock masterpiece Avalon, with sumptuous production and arrangements bordering on the aristocratic.
Ferry’s 2014 album Avonmore is a companion piece of sorts to Avalon, at least in its effortlessly cool delivery and delicate orchestration. His last Olympia show was on the Avonmore tour, and he shuffled and shimmied gracefully through album highlights Driving Me Wild and Midnight Train, along with Roxy classics, deep cuts and his classic covers Let’s Stick Together and Jealous Guy.
The 2016 Olympia gig was an all-seated affair, so there was an inevitable dip through the low-key sophisticated moments – while the awkward seat dancing was brought out for the belters near the end.
This time round the Olympia floor is for standing, so there’s plenty of opportunity to “dance on moonbeams, slide on rainbows” when he inevitably plays Do the Strand, and other hall-of-fame tracks like Editions of You, Ladytron, Virginia Plain and Love Is the Drug.
He has no album to promote this time, and even though his last release was an Avonmore remix project, he won’t be knocking out any 4/4 kicks on the Olympia stage.
Really, it’s probably a chance for a victory lap of sorts, a best-of run-through of Roxy and solo classics, with no pressure and a bulging songbook to choose from.