Bryan Ferry has published his lyrics as a book. Was it a mistake?

On Soldier of Fortune, from his most recent solo album, Avonmore, in 2014, he called himself an “ambassador of pain”. Now 76, his latest release is a hauntingly fragile cover of Bacharach and David’s classic torch song I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself. Later this year, Roxy Music will reunite to tour in celebration of the 50th anniversary of their debut, although they haven’t released any new music since 1982.

In the meantime, we have a book of Ferry’s lyrics to contemplate. A lifetime’s work, it clocks in at just over 300 pages, featuring 149 songs – an average of three songs a year. I have interviewed the great man many times, and the subject of songwriting is one that he appears to fret over, suggesting it is a source of both pleasure and pain. For such a clever, erudite writer, he once described himself to me as “a very reluctant lyricist”. He never writes the words in advance, rather creating melodies, then “wrestling” to find something that fits. “I leave it til it has to be done at knife point,” he claimed.

The collection, handsomely presented, contains an author’s note by Ferry, in which he proposes “the right words mixed together with the right music can be strong medicine, and in a good song they should feel inseparable.” Nevertheless, here they are separated, for better or verse.

Sometimes (it must be said) much worse. All I Want Is You is a fantastic Roxy song charged with head spinning desire, yet it is awkward to see a phrase like “Ooh ooh/ I’m all cracked up on you” laid out as if it warrants close contemplation.
We are forced once again to address questions about whether songs are poetry. Lyricists and publishers seem to think so, increasingly offering up lovingly bound collections of the scribblings of any pop and rock star who can string a few words together, from the amusing Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays (“you’re twisting my melon, man!”) to the surprisingly lumpen Van Morrison, whose lyrics can seem stranded on a page without his fantastic voice.

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