Remake/remodel: The old songs are the best...
... but that doesn't mean you have to keep on re-recording them. Gillian Orr wonders if there's ever any point in a rock'n'roll do-over
There's a new Bryan Ferry record out on Monday. But before fans of the Roxy Music frontman rush to the iTunes store, they should be aware that The Jazz Age consists of re-recordings of his own songs, performed by The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, in a 1920s-jazz style. And he doesn't even sing on them. "After 40 years of making records, both in and out of Roxy Music, I thought now might be an interesting moment to revisit some of these songs, and approach them as instrumentals in the style of that magical period, bringing a new and different life to these songs," Ferry has said.
It has caused some critics (and even devoted fans) to wonder what the point is in such an exercise. It suggests a creative wasteland; an old great lazily revisiting past glories. Ferry released an album of new material, Olympia, in 2010, so he can't be accused too much of resting on his laurels but it should also be noted that, despite decent reviews, the album also marked Ferry's worst chart performance for more than 25 years, suggesting it is his back catalogue that remains of most interest.
At least Ferry has transformed his compositions into something very different, at times even hypnotic, because there are a number of artists around simply rehashing their old hits and churning them out again.
Last month, Kylie Minogue released The Abbey Road Sessions, which features reworked versions of some of her back catalogue, including "Slow" and "Can't Get You Out Of My Head". She might have thrown in an orchestra for it, but surely her time would be more worthwhile spent towards working on new material?
While fans lapped it up (it debuted at No 2 in the UK charts), one reviewer simply called it "frankly a little daft". Others have been tweaking old hits following disagreements with their record labels over royalties. Def Leppard have re-recorded tracks such as "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and "Rock of Ages", which frontman Joe Elliott has referred to as "forgeries" in interviews.
Squeeze did the same thing for similar reasons two years ago with the album Spot the Difference.
Sometimes a reworked track can be something of quiet beauty. You just have to listen to Joni Mitchell's re-recording of "A Case Of You" on 2000's Both Sides Now, her voice craggier, deeper, sadder than it was 30 years ago when she first recorded the song. And at least these artists are either reworking their songs or fighting against record companies and not just releasing yet another "Best of..." compilation. The Rolling Stones, we're looking at you.
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