Bete Noire- C’est Quoi?

Here at Underground, we are celebrating thirty years since the release of our first original collection, which looked to contribute to our founding philosophy of unorthodox, renegade and subversive style. In homage to the year that started it all, we have started a series that will look back on the aura of 1987; exploring the sound, sights and feel of a year that is vital to our history.

Bryan Ferry is a suave gentleman that has ceaselessly contributed to the class of cool of the seventies and eighties. Considered the glam-rock contemporary of Bowie, Bryan was the debonair idol and lead-singer of cult rock band Roxy Music, which lead him to simultaneously launch his own solo career.

Born in County Durham, Bryan was the son of a farmer who used to look after ponies. Wellington boots and thick knits became his costume, and country-life inhibited the star’s artistic flair. He began to refine his artistic sensibilities when he became an art student at the University of Newcastle, where Mark Lancaster told him ‘it was much cooler to be an artist than a rock star. I’m not really sure why I didn’t take his advice.’ Retrospect is a fine thing, but instead, Bryan ignored the words of his artistic comrade, dropped his paint-brush, disassembled his easel and taught himself the piano. Amongst his career moves as a supply teacher, Bryan was also a van driver and an antique restorer. What a talented guy.

He then noticed that there was a ‘gap’ in the music industry, claiming it was a ‘dull time in 1969’. Although we beg to differ, it was this lacklustre that he recognised, and began casting for fellow band mates later in the year. Towards the end of 1970, Roxy Music had taken its shape as it became-known-to-be: Brian Eno, Andy Mackay, David O’List, Graham Simpson and Paul Thompson.

Bryan was the dashing dandy, the fancy front-man who swooned his way into many of the hearts of his listeners; tall in stature, deep in lyricism, and wide in style, Bryan underwent many transformations and manifestations in his appearance. From the Valentino-esque gaucho, to the military moody, to the charming suited cavalier, he almost seemed like the elegant version of Bowie. Whilst he launched his solo career alongside Roxy Music in 1973, we move our attention to his 1987 release: Bête Noire.

Hailed as the Boys and Girls 2.0, the album is a more articulate piece. Rather than it being concerned with churning out some pop classics like ‘Slave to Love’ and ‘Don’t Stop the Dance’, Bête presents itself instead, as an sullen art piece. The well-polished, digital album highlights and exemplifies the soundscape, ‘Zamba’ being the prime example. ‘Zamba’ acts like a three minute interlude, and rather than concentrating on the hushed intonations of Bryan, the music drones on, epitomizing the mysteriously moody atmosphere of the album, which is all seasoned with a sprinkling of dance.

The album produced three singles: ‘The Right Stuff’, ‘Kiss and Tell’, and ‘Limbo’. The former, was a marvellous adaptation of the Smith’s B-Side song, ‘Money Changes Everything’. Bryan had to enlist the help of Johnny Marr, due to the fact that his own guitarist Chester could play, but not play the introductory guitar. Whilst in 1987, Rolling Stone magazine suggested that Bryan had just ‘rope[d] in some dickhead indie guitarist’ in order to increase sales, the song has a catchy hook, fit with Annie Lennox style ad-lib, doo whops and wails in the background. ‘Kiss and Tell’ was rumoured to be written about Bryan’s tumultuous break-up with the epochal model, Jerry Hall. The typewriter that taps away at the beginning of the song seems to draw allusions to Jerry’s book that she wrote on the break-up, but the defiant, sultry single has an overall toe tapping tendency; the sort of song you’d dance to in an underground club in front of your ex.

The rest of the album is dark, and depressing yet slick and sophisticated and somewhat experimental. Songs like ‘Limbo’ and ‘New Town’, have a sort of exoticism to them with their twanging Tango-style guitars. All of the non-single songs on the album follow suit of the singles in their ability to simulatenously be dance numbers as well as drenched, dark and ominous pieces. The whole album makes you want to imagine you’re in a music video, spotlight over your head, casting melodramatic chiascuro, smoke crawling in from the sides of the screen and eventually engulfing you as as you mime along to a lovelorn classic.