Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bowie's back

Surprisingly, at the moment Bowie can't feature in TIMR, because he isn't in any special way. I have some CDs, some downloads (and a couple of eBooks) and DVDs that together add up to his recorded output plus a couple of bootleg concerts and compilations (Toy, Scary Monsters outtakes) with only the Serious Moonlight DVD to get. But none of them are THINGS in the personal definition of this series. (That will be changed soon when the catalogue for David Bowie Is arrives from Amazon - interestingly Amazon is the vendor for the V&A exhibition, but the book is more expensive if you buy it via the V&A rather than Amazon directly [which is subtly referenced in the title of this post])

That all said, the music is more important than any physical things (though I hope their stories are interesting) and Bowie has been part of my musical life since he started. I remember Chris Kendricks playing me what is really the first Bowie album, selftitled or Space Oddity in his room, taping it (of course) and following him on and off since then. Low we know about, saw the Stages tour at Randwick racecourse with terrible echo from the stands, bought Lust for life and The idiot on the back of Bowie (love them both), enjoyed the peaks and troughs to varying levels (Let's dance wasn't that bad), was pleased to see the resurgence through Buddha, Outside (not sure about it - I think he was trying too hard), Earthling and on.

And thought that when he seemed to go into retirement that a fabulous career had wound up leaving a fantastic legacy of his own music and that which he had influenced.

So I shared the excitement and concern when I woke up and heard there was a new single. I was sure he had managed things since getting his rights back that this wouldn't be a 'do it for the money return', and it was a new album not a 'let's do a hit album live thing' (I love Cockney Rebel and have collected them and Steve Harley, but the Psychomodo tour worries me - I saw Adam Ant on a recent TV appearance here and it was terribly sad; and Thick as a brick II is enjoyable but..., and you can't really blame people from reusing  and developing their successes).

I prebought the album, got the single and was amazed. A beautiful haunting memory of his time in Germany, melancholy nostalgic voice of experience. Watched the video once on You-tube and enjoyed the distancing vision. And the cover art is a clever combination of feigned humility: remove my image but you all know what it is & who I am. But I hope it didn't cost mush.

Anyway the album was delivered electronically (I didn't listen to the streaming: our bandwidth is limited and work watches like a hawk). And away I went (with some precognition based on the initial reviews).

I won't try a track by track consideration, it is too well known, but rather some random comments.

The title is a nice tweak on 'today is the first day of the rest of your life' - it is what he did on the next day. It could also be a biblical reference to Genesis, first day, second day etc.

The next day is a strong opening track, but strangely disappointing: it too clearly echoes the sound and feel of Lodger, particularly Repetition I think. So bitter sweet - is this going to be a retrospective? And while the album does recall many of Bowie's periods, I think though that it is fresh enough (and his career has always, not surprisingly, reflected its past). The Lodgerlikeness continues through the next three songs, all with great hooks: Bowie can write a great melody - perhaps I have identified the key to his longevity! (Interesting while 'researching' this piece I found a look back at Lodger that identified it as a lost album in terms of significance to the canon - maybe this album will resurrect it).

Sadly, Where are we now is not representative of the album, even slightly, which is a shame because it is a beautiful song beautifully sung (and Bowie uses the full range of his vocal styles on the album) produced with restraint (overall), and 'the moment you know you know you know' is a wonderful lyric.

I think Valentine's day is a great song, but it disturbs me. It is commented on as a song about gun violence and school shootings. But it is facile, as that is what you really can expect from a 3 minute 'pop' song; it could be ambiguous as to whether Valentine is in the speakers head or a character,  but the assumption is the first, and thus it merely posits mental disturbance as the cause.I suppose it is a hommage to the 50s & 60s Teen tragedy song a bit like 10cc Johnny don't do it but from a different perspective; but not a comment on current events.

I love the 60s psychedelia of I'd rather be high, which is more of a character study, though 'be pleading for some teenage sex' even from a character sounds odd from a person of Bowie's age! Dancing out in space is another hooky song (I am not sure if this another in the line of outerspace songs, or the dancing is in space on the dancefloor).

You feel so lonely you could die has had some good reviews as a teen angst song along the lines of Rock and roll suicide, and it is one of his big buildy ballads, climaxing, and again harks back to the 60s songs again - backing vocals and the build. the die-ie-ie-ie. But the true album closer Heat is a fascinating glimpse of where Bowie could have gone (could go?). the comparisons to Scott Walker are apt - both the lyric obscurity ('the peacock in the father ran the prison..I can only love you by hating him more' - it sounds like it is referencing something) and the fractured music. The main difference is this is one track and not a whole album, which makes it much more revisitable. And is less relatable to previous songs - some of the Brel stuff perhaps.

The instrumentation, mix, orchestrations on the album are outstanding. Again, if this is the last album it will be a great ending - but what he has done here is also again think that there could be another Bowie album. We don't need it, his reputation is set so he doeasn't need it, but if another as good as this made its way out we would be very pleased.

And bonus tracks? They are on the download and the CD. Outtakes perhaps, but in what way really bonus?

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