Pining for the Past at the Close of the Century

Bryan Ferry - As Time Goes By
(Virgin Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

George Michael - Songs From The Last Century
(Virgin Records)
1 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

As the year and century quickly winds down to a close, thoughts of a bright, unknown future bittersweetly mix with nostalgic reflections of the past.
Two rock artists Bryan Ferry and George Michael, whom musically have absolutely nothing in common with one another, have both released collections of standard numbers from the wellspring of great American composers. With both retro-swing music and traditional jazz back in vogue, and just in time for the big millennium blow-out, both performers give jazzy, laid-back treatments to some of the greatest compositions from an era that seem an eternity away.
Once the leader of the outrageous '70s glam-rock band Roxy Music to his later solo career where he turned into rock's suave modern crooner, Bryan Ferry has released As Time Goes By, a tantalizing album of '30s standards and torch songs that reeks of steamy passion, nicotine-stained red velvet and Brandy Manhattans.
Instead of placing his smooth, warbling vocal phrasings in front of the talented jazz musicians he has chosen for this album, Ferry instead makes his delivery very cool and nonchalant, giving way to the sophisticated, yet often understated arrangements.
The album opens with the title track (from the film Casablanca) as Ferry swoons over a cocktail-hour piano and snare brushings. The authenticity of the period instrumentations is uncanny on the snappy "The Way You Look Tonight", "Where Or When" with its lush strings, "Lover Come Back To Me" with a jazzy banjo and high-steppin' piano, and "Love Me Or Leave Me" with Ferry sensually deadpanning alongside some devilish woodwinds. On a cover of Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets" Ferry's simple delivery of a woman's remorse over a broken lunch engagement due to an angry lynching after killing her ex-lover becomes even more poignant, while on "You Do Something To Me" a french accordion and violin serenades Ferry as he coolly sings, "Do do that voodoo that you do so well" sounding as if he's waltzing onto the stage of The Cotton Club.
Although not his first attempt at such material - as with his 1973 remake / remodel of the '30s number "These Foolish Things" - Ferry has foregone the camp of previous efforts and delivered the real deal on As Time Goes By.
Like Ferry, one-time Wham poster-boy George Michael also felt the time was right to release his own jazzy reflections on the past on his new album Songs From The Last Century. But unlike Ferry, Michael unsuccessfully revisits songs from some of the great American composers such as Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You", with an annoying harp plinking around Michael's boring falsetto voice, and a nauseating plastic-jazz version of Rodgers and Hart's "Where Or When", as well as giving uninspired, jazzy treatments to more modern rock numbers.
Michael's sterile prefabricated vocals slapped on top of lackluster arrangements do a major injustice to The Police's "Roxanne", Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" as well a miraculous cure for the insomniac on "Wild Is The Wind", a 1957 composition by Dimitri Tiomkine which David Bowie successfully turned into his own on his 1976 album Station To Station.
So if nostalgia hits you on this momentous of New Year's Eves (one that comes along...oh, every 33 generations), uncork Bryan Ferry's wonderfully authentic As Time Goes By, which sparkles like a glass of Veuve Cliqout at 11:59 PM on December 31st, and leave behind Michael's dismal collection, which is as flat and empty as what's left in that same glass the next morning.

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