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The Independent Culture
Bryan Ferry: Mamouna (Virgin, CD/LP/ tape, out tomorrow). An album that has arrived both surprisingly fast and painfully slowly. It's only 18 months since Ferry's last album, Taxi, a set of covers. But it's seven years since his last album of new songs, the curate's egg Bete Noire. The seven years have been itchy. An album was made, at a snail's pace, but rejected by the record company as uncommercial. Then came Taxi, a fine record, but a holding operation. When Ferry returned to the shelved album, Horoscope, he found some urgency, and here it is, remade, remodelled and released under a new name, like a supergrass. Given the studio time it took, it may be the most expensive album ever. When Ferry sings (on 'Gemini Moon') 'tick, tick, time, and time is money', he is writing from the heart.

But if you didn't know the background, you wouldn't guess it. Several of these 10 songs are as good as anything he has done, either solo or with Roxy Music. Which camp Mamouna belongs in is open to question: Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay are among the players, and Brian Eno, who fell out with Ferry in 1973, rejoined him for a week to add characteristic touches ('sonic ambience', 'sonic awareness', even 'sonic distress') to most of the album, and to co-write one track, 'Wildcat Days'. This is a first: Ferry and Eno never wrote together in the old days, wildcat or otherwise. Perhaps they were right not to. The sonic stuff is super, but the song is routine.

Elsewhere, Ferry rediscovers his ear for a tune, without losing his eye for detail. The gently pulsating title track, the yearning ballad 'Your Painted Smile', the Eno-meets- Marvin Gaye dance workout 'The 39 Steps', the loner's anthem 'The Only Face' and the tender love song 'Chain Reaction' all lodge in your mind after a couple of plays. Best of the lot is 'Which Way to Turn' - a melody that ought to be a film theme, an arrangement of gorgeous simplicity, and words (a neat touch) that are all about indecision.

The style remains the same - R'n'B de luxe - but with added warmth, especially in the vocals, which get higher and less stylised as Ferry approaches 50. There are flaws: some of the lyrics are perfunctory, and the choppy funk guitar can grate against the lyricism of the other guitars, Ferry's keyboards and Mackay's saxophone. But this is a beautiful record. Time will tell if it's as good as Avalon, the high-water mark for Ferry's mature period. So far, it is.