What does it sound like?:
Mamouna is the apotheosis of solo Ferry. Its sound is almost obscenely opulent, the grooves are graceful, and the voice is yearning. If you are not paying attention, the music is so sleek it can slip by unnoticed. Both Nile Rogers and Brian Eno, never shy of a spotlight, are remarkably restrained with their contributions. There are no real choruses. Desdemona and Toil and Trouble are mentioned in the lyrics but the words are the opposite of Shakespeare, being sparse and opaque. They seem to function as abstract sounds for Ferry to sing. In 1994, Mamouna struggled to gain traction just as Britpop and the edgy dance music of the likes of Underworld captured the mood in the UK. Youthful energy was valued much more than mature sophistication.
However, it is an album that seeps into your consciousness subliminally. Subtle details reveal themselves over time. The tunes are stronger than they first seem and countermelodies creep up unexpectedly. The rhythms are deceptively complex, the ten songs effectively making a single suite, set in a rich soundscape, ebbing and flowing beautifully on a bed of immaculate musicianship. Ferry’s vocal performance across the whole set is one his very best. The lyric fragments fall into place like a Rubik’s cube, riven with loneliness, pain and distress. It’s an album that rewards multiple revisits, one that sits more comfortably in the ears as they grow older. Perhaps, its moment has come.
It took Ferry and his team seven years to complete. Horoscope was its working title for years and an earlier incarnation is the subject of disc two. You can hear him wrestling to create tension in an ornate, beautiful sound straining against deeply felt emotions. As a meticulous perfectionist, introducing a flaw into his craft proved problematic. Robin Trower helped him co-produce the perfection, eight pristine tracks blending together rather too well. They took time off, recharging their batteries knocking out a covers album, Taxi. However, the biggest differences between Horoscope and Mamouna are that Ferry wrote a few more songs and Eno was given a bit more freedom to apply his “sweep treatments”. Disc three, “Sketches”, only present in CD form not vinyl, is a surprise. It’s not often we get to hear Ferry’s workings out. Consisting of mainly instrumentals with a couple of demos, the fragility of the songs is readily apparent, as though floating in an infinity pool, at risk of being sunk by the slightest ripple.
The box is, of course, tastefully put together, either as 3 CDs or a double LP. The main outer cover is changed to a dancer dressed as a devil, taking a breather. The original enigmatic white horse is retained for the Mamouna disc and a deranged looking Ferry headshot adorns Horoscope.
Patience was in short supply in 1994. Mamouna rounded off a great Ferry trilogy after Boys And Girls and Bette Noire, but suffered for not being finished in the late eighties. This value-for-money package gives us the opportunity to appreciate its worth, pulls back the curtain on Ferry’s methods and gifts us Horoscope.
What does it all *mean*?
If ever an album needed six listens, this is it.
Goes well with…
An expensive stereo
17th November 2023
Might suit people who like…
Solo Ferry has three main threads. Mamouna is one of a number that refine the Avalon template, featuring his ex band mates more often than you think. However, he does tend to make sure Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera are not in the studio at the same time. He also enjoys recording covers, especially Dylan, sometimes dedicating whole albums to them. Finally, perhaps ill-advisedly, he likes to reconceive old Roxy Music glories, often by removing their spirit. Mother Of Pearl, all nine minutes of it, is an example on Horoscope, matching perfectly the mood of surpressed anguish. After all, they are his songs and he can do with them as he pleases.