Bryan Ferry - Boys and Girls SACD -long-
my first ever review! yay:
It's hard to do a review of Boys and Girls without referring back to Roxy Music's Avalon. It's also fair to do, considering that Boys and Girls is very much the spiritual successor of Avalon. Having disbanded Roxy Music after Avalon, Ferry took a hiatus of several years before releasing this, his first solo album post-Roxy. Instead of a radical re-invention as many solo artists do after leaving a group-unit, Ferry continues the themes, sounds, structures, and mood of Avalon, tweaking things just enough here and there to keep it from being a complete retread.
Like Avalon, the songs reveal their depth with repeated listenings. It would be easy to initially dismiss the album at first as over-produced-yuppie-pop, and such a dismissal would be valid were it not for the quality of the songwriting and the quality of the production itself.
The songwriting structures and indeed the overall flow of the album begining to end follow a similar structure to Avalon, and at the core the songs are generally of the same quality, which is to say: amazing. As previously stated, the themes of Avalon of general despair, hearthache, etc are continued here and a little more fleshed out, even evovling into full-blown paranoia in the album's fantastic titular closer, where Ferry gives Morissey a run for his money for the title of mid 80s MopeRockSuperstar. The only time spent on this album not treading mope-rock territory is, well, there isn't much at all. Even the immensely popular single (circa 1985 - i was 6!), Slave to Love and the radio-friendly Don't Stop the Dance have darker undertones not immediately noticeable, lest ye have the lyric sheet handy. Like Avalon, the music is constantly in motion, which is part of the allure of Bryan Ferry's work. Early Roxy Music would have these same radical shifts, which is a good reason as to why they became regarded as avant-garde gods of the period. What's most interesting in contrast to his earlier work is how he's matured as a songwriter by learning to keep the best aspects of the avant-garde early work and allow subtlety to carry the emotion to the listener, as opposed to using a 2x4 to smack you in the face with it. Both techniques have their place, for sure - but here Ferry shows his confidence and ability to master the former, a feat that some of his contemporaries and followers have yet to master.
What truly sets this album apart from Avalon isn't in what Bryan Ferry brings to it, but moreso what Bryan Ferry *didn't* bring to it: namely Roxy alums Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay. Surrounded by extremely capable studio musicians and a host of A-list guests including Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Ferry loses a little bit of the magic. Whether Ferry consciously instructed the guest musicians to tone down the experimental works so prevalent in the backgrounds of Avalon, or whether it was simply a case of musicians lacking the confidence and chemistry that the familiarity of having played together for years breeds, the fact remains that the more subdued accents of their replacements don't fully satisfy. They simply do not achieve the same level of intrigue and mystery on which this type of album heavily relies. Understand that the musicians are capable and do a wonderful job, but fall just a hair short of exlempary. Manzanera and Mackay could've possibly helped cross that line, and brought this album up to the level of Avalon.
As far as production goes, this is as slick as they come. The team of Rick Davies and Bob Clearmountain are back from Avalon and the engineering and oh-so-polished feel have returned with them. This is a good thing, because the production is what allows the music's depth to be fully realized. The clarity and slickness of the engineering allow for the minute details to be heard, which is of the greatest importance for an album such as this where the beauty is in the details, musically. As previously stated, the textures of the soundscapes are constantly in motion. With substandard engineering and production, it would have been all too easy to lose those the barely-tengibles in a mess of muddied sound. Every washing synth, every samba-infected beat, every note on the (as Ferry would say)"wailing saxophone" is perfectly clear and unmuddled. With the sheer amount of instrumentaion and multiple layers of music, this is quite a feat in itself.
The album's strongest asset, however, lies in neither the core lyrical/musical content of the songs or the production alone. What makes Boys and Girls such a success, much like Avalon, is the seeming juxtaposition of the two. As I stated earlier, the album can come off at first as overproduced mid-80s yuppie fare. (not helped by the fact that Slave to Love propelled the soundtrack to 9 1/2 Weeks up the charts) What is unique about Ferry's output is his usage of the super-smooth soothing production as a vehicle to carry his lyrics of despair, heartbreak and paranioa. Where David Bowie a few years earlier conveyed his cocaine-fueled paranoid rages with a nearly-cacophonous, aggressive assault on 1979's Scary Monsters, Ferry takes a radically different approach. At first, he uses the music to disarm the listener. With the lush, elegant production, it's hard to imagine the darker undertones. As the songs progress, the listener who expects to hear the repetitive, linear progression of an '85 pop song gets his first twinge of unease as the constanly shifting musical modes and textures are utilised to form a mild and barely noticeable sense of trepidation. The final payoff is the lyrics, which are at times suspiciously and eerily slurred, which helps add to the mystique. As the true nature of the songs come out through Ferry's semi-morbid and slightly sinister lyrics, it is then that the listener realizes that there is indeed a Scary Monster of sorts behind the chrome veneer.
If Avalon is a 10 out of 10 (which it is) then ultimately Boys and Girls gets a solid 8.5/10. For those up on newer music, the difference between the two is comparable to the difference between Interpol's first and 2nd albums: Both are incredible, one is spectacular.
------Sound Quality------- (you audio geeks skipped right to this part, didn't you? don't lie!)
2-Channel Mix (SACD and CD layers) - SACD layer improves marginally over the CD layer, which is excellent. The production is top-notch as far as instrument placement and clarity. Don't expect organic-soudning guitars and other such nonsense! This is a mid-80s pop album fer chrissake! It's awash in synth and drum machines and enough non-natural sounding instruments to make Kraftwerk ponder a lawsuit. (zing!) The sound quality of the affected instruments is, however, top-notch. The soundstage at times becomes an enveloping 360 degree circle o'sound. The 2-channel mix could be damn near deemed flawless were it not for one small thing that i like to call . . .
. . . the Multichannel Mix! - (obviously, SACD-only)
Avalon was nominated for a Grammy for the multichannel version of it. Those who have heard Avalon multi know how amazing it is. Yes there are those who hate the idea of re-imagining 2-channel music in multichannel, and those who hate all multichannel music regardless. while i do fall into the former camp myself, i'm willing to admit when it's a good thing. Pink Floyd's DSOTM, Roxy's Avalon, and now Ferry's Boys and Girls show that certain types of music simply lend themselves to the medium and can be greatly improved by the greater flexibility that multichannel offers.
The mixes were done by the original production team who have made comments to the fact that this is how they would've done the album had the technology been readily available back then. The result is the 2nd best multichannel remix of a pop/rock album i've ever heard. (actually tied with Avalon and slightly edged out by DSOTM)
Multichannel naysayers would do well to give it a try on a properly set-up multichannel system with an open mind. It may not convert you, but it very well may. The multichannel mix is so good that i find myself slightly bored listening to it in two-channel by comparison.
EmmLabs/APL Modified Philips SACD-1000 Transport
EmmLabs Dac6 D/A converter
Emmlabs Switchman mk3 Multichannel Analog Preamp. No bass management or time delay.
3 ATC SCM-50 Active Studio Monitors used for front 3 channels
2 ATC SCM-10 Active Studio Monitors used for surround channels
Linn Sizmik Subwoofer used for .1 information, crossed-over at 50hz
DNM Reson Interconnect Cables used throughout.
5.1 System configured and set-up according to the NARAS guidelines and standards. (as close as i could get, anyway)