* * * BRYAN FERRY. "Bete Noire." Reprise. The quintessential melancholy dandy, Bryan Ferry began warning against the dangers of worshiping at the alter of wealth and beauty 15 years ago, and it's a theme that continues to engage him. At this point it's safe to say he's something of an authority on fatal attractions, and in these nine new songs he examines the various emotions associated with romantic obsession: guilt, greed, lust, jealousy, despair--in other words, "Bete Noire" is your basic boy-meets-girl saga.
Awash in a world-weary ennui that should go down like mother's milk with the "Less Than Zero" crowd, "Bete Noire" takes a decadent, fin de siecle view of erotic love, interpreting romance as a sickness for narcissists fated to be tormented by the fact that there exists a face they adore more than their own.
A lush, shimmering oasis of sound, this isn't exactly an album of songs; rather, the music descends like a mood or a spell of strange weather. A glittering tapestry of rich textures, it's an impeccably orchestrated record that employs Ferry's voice as but one instrument among many. Occasionally sounding like Bela Lugosi after one too many glasses of champagne, Ferry is undeniably an extremely mannered singer, and yes, there is something lugubrious about his voice. At the same time, his is a distinctive and original voice, graceful, emotional and ideally suited to the things he writes about.
Not as immediately enchanting as Roxy Music's lovely 1982 LP, "Avalon," "Bete Noire" takes on a burnished glow with repeated listenings. This music does, however, seem touchingly fragile compared with the meat-and-potatoes heartland rock currently popular. Measured against the arena-rock storm troopers, Ferry has the evanescent charm of Marcel Proust--and, like Proust, Ferry has been dismissed as a sentimental fool hung up on appearances. Ferry is, of course, pure style, but that in itself is a predicament of considerable pathos.