As Time Goes By (Virgin)

We‘re on the cusp of a brave new millennium in which we’re all going to be cashing in our high-tech stock options and having virtual sex with our domestic robots, so naturally former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry gifts us with an album‘s worth of standards from the 1930s. This is hardly out of character for the man whose first solo album, 1973’s all-covers These Foolish Things, took a similar standard as its title track. (Ferry‘s most brilliant career move was to Bogart the image of a more adult performer from the onset. And he’s been playing this wounded-gigolo role for so long now that he‘s come to resemble one of those doomed vampires that Anne Rice is always writing about, an unrequited-love junkie whose ennui haunts his every reverie.)

Among the more interesting things about hearing someone perform standards is that everybody knows what these songs are supposed to sound like, so the artistic challenge lies in how to put a personal stamp on the material. As befits his status as an English miner’s son who went to art school, Ferry is well aware of this, so he colors his mixture of ballads and uptempo numbers, both familiar and obscure, from a musical palette that shifts from swinging quartets, to brassy big bands, to string-drenched orchestrations, adding and subtracting such nontraditional rock instruments as clarinet, banjo, muted horns and ondes martenot (the vintage electronic keyboard that‘s responsible for the otherworldly sounds found on this album’s voodoo version of Rodgers and Hart‘s ”Where or When“).

Ferry has always been an exceptionally stylized vocalist, and it’s his penchant for deadpan detachment that provides the knotty-but-nice splices of life-and-life-only that bind these diverse strands together (with a Continental twist). From the ”Hello, Casablanca!“ title track that opens the set, to Kurt Weill‘s curtain-closing ”September Song,“ this album might best be described as a nouveau-retro song cycle that explores the romantic links between Marlene Dietrich (”Falling in Love Again“), Billie Holiday (”Lover Come Back to Me“), Jerome Kern (”The Way You Look Tonight“) and Cole Porter (”Just One of Those Things“). Makes you wanna party like it’s 1939.

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