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David Bowie

+ {Tin Machine}

Character-driven chameleon or charming charlatan, the enigmatic and dexterous DAVID BOWIE has been at the core of global rock and pop music, re-modelling himself on numerous occasions to suit the fads and trends of the day. His followers of fashion idolised this strange “man who fell the earth”, from his post-psychedelic “Major Tom” creation by way of Top 5 hit `Space Oddity’ at the tail-end of the 60s, to his alter-ego “Ziggy Stardust” (an androgynous/bi-sexual glam-pop superstar from Mars) in the early 70s, his mid-70s “plastic Philly” era, his subsequent ENO/Euro-infused concept sets in ’77 and his move into dance-pop in 1983: all had a weird and wonderful sense of futuristic romanticism.
Born David Robert Jones, 8th January 1947 in Brixton, London, his early life was shaped through his interest in music, and one thing that stands out is when he learned to play the saxophone after he joined Bromley Tech; a significant happening at the time was when his left eye/pupil was somewhat slightly dazed and discoloured after a playground fight; an event that would in part soon become synonymous with his glamorous visage.
In 1964, while he worked as a commercial artist, the young sax player formed The King Bees with schoolmate George Underwood, although after one 45, `Liza Jane’, the group split when Davie Jones (as he was then billed) joined R&B act The Manish Boys. Named after a MUDDY WATERS track, their tenure was also short-lived, delivering one soulful Shel Talmy-produced platter in BOBBY BLAND’s `I Pity The Fool’. The Lower Third (originally from Margate) had been around for a few years before they moved to the capital and enlisted the singing talent that was Davy Jones; the mod group backed the man on his solo debut, `You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving’, while they received equal billing on a Pye Records follow-up 45 `Can’t Help Thinking About Me’. With success across the ocean for another Brit-born Davy Jones (with The MONKEES), it was spring ‘66 when the Londoner became DAVID BOWIE, releasing two further flops `Do Anything You Say’ and `I Dig Everything’ to little impact or attention.
With the mod scene making way for a new psychedelic era, BOWIE quickly jumped ship to Deram Records, although commercial success for his barra-boy/Anthony Newley-styled platters continued to elude him.
While all three subsequent 45s – namely `Rubber Band’, his novelty non-LP `The Laughing Gnome’ and `Love You Till Tuesday’ – all failed to make the grade, his eponymous album DAVID BOWIE (1967) {*5} stiffed too, its campy stage musical/theatrical approach in some quarters just a tad out of step with his psychedelic counterparts such as The BEATLES or The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, etc. On reflection, whimsical ditties such as `Little Bombardier’, `There Is A Happy Land’ and `Uncle Arthur’ were certainly period pieces in tune with PINK FLOYD’s `Arnold Layne’ or Anthony Newley’s earlier UK hit `Strawberry Fair’. For fanatic fans and BOWIE buffs, there have been countless collections of exploitation albums, while the subsequent deluxe double-CD version in 2010 comprises everything of his early era.
1968 was indeed a transitional year for David as between July and the following February, he formed the Feathers with girlfriend Hermione Farthingale and bassist John Hutchinson.
Now signed to Philips Records (Mercury in the States) and after over three years in the wilderness of pop (his rival MARC BOLAN was already on the scene with TYRANNOSAURUS REX), BOWIE finally charted In July 1969 with the Gus Dudgeon-produced Top 5 hit `Space Oddity’, a classic that coincided with the moon landings; that year also saw the death of his father and introduction to future wife Angie.
With a stellar cast of session people (himself on vocals, acoustic guitar and an array of instrumentation) that included Tim Renwick, KEITH CHRISTMAS, Herbie Flowers, Mick Wayne, John Cambridge, Terry Cox, RICK WAKEMAN, Paul Buckmaster and mixer/arranger/producer/sessioner Tony Visconti, BOWIE surfaced from the recording studio follow-up LP, DAVID BOWIE (1969) {*8}; the title a tad misleading but re-named MAN OF WORDS / MAN OF MUSIC Stateside and of course SPACE ODDITY when duly re-issued when in his prime Top 20 time in 1972. Of the trippy folk album itself (which opened with his “Major Tom” smash), singer-songwriter BOWIE embraced a dreamy and detached pose on lengthier pieces like the near-prog 9-minute `Cygnet Committee’, the 7-minute `Memory Of A Free Festival’ and `Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed’, while there was beauty and tranquillity in `Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ and `An Occasional Dream’; others `God Knows I’m Good’ and `Janine’ were overshadowed by the multi-flexed songs on board here, only his ode to his old girlfriend via `Letter To Hermione’ let the set down.
Not a chart entry first time around but Top 30 late ‘72, the almost forgotten set was followed by David’s first attempt at out-and-out hard or glam-rock in THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD (1970) {*9}. Augmented by Hype (aka guitarist MICK RONSON, bassist Tony Visconti and drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansey; the latter replacing John Cambridge), this marked the birth of BOWIE’s most creative period, raucous songs such as `The Width Of A Circle’ (and for that matter `Saviour Machine’) followed by the schizoid `All The Madmen’ and `After All’, equally sonic and cerebral, while the title track (later a hit for LULU), `Running Gun Blues’ and the tongue-twisting `Black Country Rock’ were prime DB, who also wears a dress on the LP sleeve.
A side-project to his solo career, the mainman and his Arnold Corns crew (Ronno, Woody, Mark Carr-Pritchard and Freddi Buretti) were behind a rare and low-key 45 in the embryonic versions of `Moonage Daydream’ and `Hang Onto Yourself’, an in-between labels diversion that was quickly surpassed by David’s first album for RCA Records, HUNKY DORY (1971) {*9}, and his first with his “Spiders From Mars” backing band of RONSON, Woody and newcomer bassist Trevor Bolder.
A near precious and literate album from start to finish, it was at first discarded by the British buying public, although some young Americans (probably unaware of its connection to the glitter ’n’ glam-rock scene) took it to their hearts enthused by a minor US hit 45, `Changes’, the opening number and a UK entry some three years later. Subsequent exploitation smash `Life On Mars?’ was another delayed-reaction of sorts, hitting UK No.3 in the summer of ’73, while there was room for a profound take of Peter Noone (ex-Herman’s Hermits) Top 20 hit purchase of his `Oh! You Pretty Thing(s)’. But for the weakest track `Eight Line Poem’ (and at a push, `The Bewlay Brothers’ finale piece), the exquisite record was tempered by two gems on either side of the rock scale, the raucous `Queen Bitch’ and the forlorn `Quicksand’. From the kooky `Fill Your Heart’ and er `Kooks’, his strange ode to `Andy Warhol’ and his folk-legend tribute `Song For Bob Dylan’, it was clear the times were indeed changing for David. The album would finally make it to No.3 in Britain in the autumn of ’72, by which time he’d had a couple of major hit 45s in `Starman’ (from his next ground-breaking set) and the non-album `John, I’m Only Dancing’, squeezed either side of MOTT THE HOOPLE’s comeback procurement of another one of BOWIE’s songwriting achievements `All The Young Dudes’.
Stirring the media with his aforementioned “Ziggy Stardust” persona and taking his theatrical effeminate mantle from his old mucker Marc, the colourful BOWIE hitched his high-heels and dress on the growing glam-rock bandwagon for the treat that was Top 5 album THE RISE & FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1972) {*10}. Futuristic and fractured in its decadent and apocalyptic outlook, his almost conceptual and paranoid lyrics were freaked out on a `Moonage Daydream’, emancipated on `Suffragette City’ and directive on `Hang On To Yourself’. With not a weak track on board this enterprising set, other high spots stemmed from opener `Five Years’, `Lady Stardust’, `Soul Love’, the little-known Ron Davies’ `It Ain’t Easy’, the title track and another soon-to-be exploited hit `Rock’n’Roll Suicide’. If one was looking for a live document of this halcyon period, then one could search out the concert movie of the same name that eventually spawned a double-CD set.
Complete with pioneering “feather-cut” mop-top, androgynous make-up and stage-mime (the latter learned from actor Lindsay Kemp), BOWIE had created his own monster, played out on stage all around the world; America had re-issued and made Top 20 DB’s planetary smash `Space Oddity’ early in ’73. Meanwhile, between quality time spent producing newfound Yankee mates LOU REED (on `Transformer’) and IGGY & THE STOOGES (on `Raw Power’), BOWIE was back with Ziggy on another concept piece, the UK chart-topping ALADDIN SANE(1973) {*9}.
Preceded by hits `The Jean Genie’ and `Drive-In Saturday’ (both numbers on the set), the buoyant album was a strange mixture of rock’n’roll cuts like `Watch That Man’, `Panic In Detroit’, `Cracked Actor’ and a jazzed-up re-vamp of The ROLLING STONES’ `Let’s Spend The Night Together’, the latter like the avant-lounge `Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’ title track and `Lady Grinning Soul’ showcasing the sprawling piano pizzicatos of Mike Garson. Not exactly one to buy for mumsy’s birthday (although `The Prettiest Star’ could be described as teen-bop doo-wop), the lyrical piece de resistance comes through the crescendo and chant-friendly of `Time’. Woody was subsequently replaced by Aynsley Dunbar.
Retro was indeed in-vogue for BOWIE as a Top 10 re-issue of `The Laughing Gnome’ and a cover of The Merseys’ mid-60s ballad `Sorrow’ crashed the charts, as did the latter’s parent covers set PIN UPS (1973) {*6}, complete with both iconic model Twiggy and himself on the sleeve. Disappointing to many of his dysfunctional disciples (although it topped the charts), it featured material once the property of Brit Invasion bands such as The PRETTY THINGS (`Rosalyn’ and `Don’t Bring Me Down’), The YARDBIRDS (`I Wish You Would’ and `Shapes Of Things’), The WHO (`I Can’t Explain’ and `Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’), The KINKS (`Where Have All The Good Times Gone’), THEM (`Here Comes The Night’), The MOJOS (`Everything’s Alright’), The EASYBEATS (`Friday On My Mind’) and PINK FLOYD (`See Emily Play’).
Blocked by the estate of George Orwell to adapt a stage musical concept of his classic 1984 novel, BOWIE modified and mutated his own particular paranoid version by way of futurist set DIAMOND DOGS (1974) {*7}, the record that would finally lay to rest the legend that was “Ziggy Stardust”. Without RONSON at the helm (a solo star in his own right on the BOWIE produced `Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’), the guitars sounded a little tinny and untuned from the get-go, while the rhythm of newcomers Herbie Flowers and Tony Newman were at least adequate accompaniment. Underrated by the some critics, it nevertheless spawned a couple of UK hits through `Rebel Rebel’ and the title track. The crooning excellence of `Sweet Thing’ (a medley of sorts) wasn’t exactly typical BOWIE, but there was examples of his newfound avant-disco sound in `1984’, while the curtain fell down on segued tracks `Big Brother’ and the mantra-fusion of `Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family’.
The death of glam and more so Ziggy led to mainman BOWIE reinventing himself for a sleek and sophisticated new “Thin White Duke” look on follow-up concert double-album DAVID LIVE (1974) {*5}, a record documenting nights (July 12th/15th) at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. Earl Slick’s guitar work and David Sanborn’s sax more or less saved the day here, but there was little to light up the distance that the singer had created between himself and his ever-decreasing audience who had to search within themselves to think that this live soul-less “best of” (including his Top 10 version of Eddie Floyd’s `Knock On Wood’) would suffice.
With YOUNG AMERICANS (1975) {*6}, coming only a matter of months later, BOWIE’s took his love of soul and R&B to new extremes, but at least it had sex appeal – no matter of what kaleidoscopic spectrum one looked into. Nevertheless, the album (and its groovy hit title track) still reached the heights of both UK and US charts; his backing band now seeing Slick alongside Carlos Alomar, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark and a guest slot for star pal JOHN LENNON on the funky/JAMES BROWN-esque Stateside chart-topper `Fame’. At best robotic disco or synthetic soul, the set did have its moments in smoocher `Win’, the Luther Vandross co-penned `Fascination’, `Somebody Up There Likes Me’ and a LENNON-McCARTNEY cover `Across The Universe’. As if in protest of his Philly philandering, the British public duly reached into their pockets to buy a maxi-single re-issue of `Space Oddity’, making it No.1 in the process.
Licking his wounds and somewhat slightly dazed from this zero phase of his career, but not entirely abandoning his dalliance with dance music (example Top 10 cross-Atlantic hit `Golden Years’ or the funky `Stay’), BOWIE then made yet another about face, taking the themes of fascism and dictatorship through the stark STATION TO STATION (1976) {*8} album. Opening with his “return of the Thin White Duke” 10-minute title track salvo, the album was introspective and cynical, ranging from the pop-fuelled `TVC 15’ to romantic piece `Wild Is The Wind’.
The man’s transition into movie star was fulfilled when he duly starred in Nic Roeg’s `The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (1976), his portrayal of a discomfiting human alien adrift on planet Earth served notice of a significant if predictably quirky screen talent. The film’s downbeat, detached atmosphere (with minimalist music supplied by former MAMAS & THE PAPAS supremo John Phillips) was amplified through BOWIE’s late 70s studio trilogy with ambient accomplice BRIAN ENO, darkly compelling experimental albums which fed off his fondness for West Berlin and abandoned any residual theatrics.
Featuring guitarist Ricky Gardiner and not Slick, the first of these LOW (1977) {*10}, found the critics at odds by his uncompromising decision to move into yet another rock field. Divided into two completely diverse sides, side one took an avant-pop approach, exploring a synthetic ENO-angled delivery on best examples such as `Speed Of Life’, `Breaking Glass’, `Be My Wife’ and UK Top 3 smash `Sound And Vision’. Not everyone’s cup of char, side two was taken up by four longer pieces of musak – from the noble `Warszawa’ to the sombre and serene `Subterraneans’ – that would be a “Tangerine Dream” for many or an “Amon Duul” to others.
On the back of the tragic death of MARC BOLAN (Elvis, too, had also eaten his last burger), the similarly-structured and equally innovative “HEROES” (1977) {*9} boasted more than just sonic improvisations, but ENO’s collaborative musical partner: KING CRIMSON guitarist ROBERT FRIPP. Why the classic title track wasn’t a bigger hit than its lowly No.24 (and a flop in the US) was probably down to the harder-edged punk scene at the time, but there were others to swoon over in `Beauty And The Beast’, `Joe The Lion’ and `V-2 Schneider’. All roads were leading to another brooding and ethereal side two marked by opener `Sense Of Doubt’, the picturesque Banzai-infused `Moss Garden’, the desert landscape of `Neuklon’ and the upbeat finale song `The Secret Life Of Arabia’.
1977 had been a busy year for the Duke and all who sailed with him, producing/augmenting/co-creating two IGGY POP albums in `The Idiot’ and `Lust For Life’, acting in a second film `Just A Gigolo’ (alongside Kim Novak and Marlene Dietrich) and narrating Eugene Ormandy’s record version of Peter And The Wolf. To catch one of BOWIE’s concerts around this time had something of “golden ticket” appeal, although like `David Live’ before it, to transform STAGE (1978) {*5} proved foreboding. Capped by a take of Brecht-Weill’s `Alabama Song’, the majority of the tracks were spawned from his previous two sets and a handful of crooning “Ziggy” re-treads. Incidentally, his band for this era was Adrian Belew (guitar), from HAWKWIND man Simon House (violin), Sean Mayes (piano) and Carlos Alomar.
The most musically accommodating of his Berlin-period trilogy, LODGER (1979) {*6} was certainly his most brittle and eerie, bar of course David’s return to Top 10 territory in `Boys Keep Swinging’. The quirky `Yassassin (Turkish For: Long Live)’ was pitted against further delights such as the TALKING HEADS-like Top 30 breaker `D.J.’, `Fantastic Voyage’, `Look Back In Anger’ and `Repetition’, but for many fans it was his weakest studio set since Pin Ups; the same fans that would merit buying a revived 1975 version of `John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’ (flipped with the original) and Top 30 entry `Alabama Song’.
Having already scored obscure German movie `Jane Bleibt Jane’ in 1978, his preoccupation with the then divided city extended to the next chapter in his film career, as he starred in David Hemming’s 1980 movie vehicle `Just A Gigolo’ and appeared in concert as himself in CHRISTIANE F. (1981) {*6}, the grim tale of a Berlin-based teenage junkie with a soundtrack which raided the aforementioned ENO trilogy. Similarly queasy subject matter informed his role as John Merrick, the horribly deformed Elephant Man in the successful Broadway show of the same name.
With the video age upon us, BOWIE was back to form (and “Major Tom”) in 1980 by way of No.1 single `Ashes To Ashes’, one of several visionary post-glam genre-busters on SCARY MONSTERS {*8}. Bookended by two takes of `It’s No Game’ (part one featured a Japanese accompaniment), the set consisted of another three UK hits in `Fashion’, `Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’ and Top 5 `Fashion’, together with a credit to TOM VERLAINE (`Kingdom Come’) and another minor gem `Because You’re Young’. To coincide with an update compilation, CHANGESTWOBOWIE (1981) {*7} – CHANGESONEBOWIE {*9} was a near chart-topper five years earlier – the singer combined with QUEEN to have another British No.1 via `Under Pressure’; its first time in single format, a re-recorded `Wild Is The Wind’ also peaked into the Top 30. Not so commercial was the TV adaptation and accompanying 5-track EP of Bertolt Brecht’s `Baal’, a surprise Top 30 entry in 1982 for the musical play’s mainman star. A collaborative hit theme with Giorgio Moroder for Paul Schrader’s `Cat People’ re-make (subtitled “Putting Out Fire”) duly followed that spring, while an earlier recording (`Peace On Earth – Little Drummer Boy’) of BOWIE on a Bing Crosby show peaked at No.3 just in time for Xmas.
After a near three-year hiatus on the album front, BOWIE returned on E.M.I. Records with the Nile Rodgers-produced LET’S DANCE (1983) {*6} album. A typically polished, 80s-sounding dance record, it featured top-selling singles `Let’s Dance’ (a No.1), `China Girl’ (a one-time Iggy collaboration re-vamp from ’77 completed this time with fresh and controversial VT) and `Modern Girl’. Synthetic and stylish, its blue-eyed plastic soul was post-new romantic, turning the genre’s head around full circle on other robo-dance dirges such as Metro’s (DUNCAN BROWNE’s) `Criminal World’ and the aforementioned Moroder film tune.
In fact, 1983 proved to be the most cinematically active year of his career and, in contrast with an inevitable move towards moribund MOR. BOWIE was co-credited as composer in German-made road movie, Hero, while also turning in a hypnotic performance as a prematurely ageing vampire in Tony Scott’s gothic horror, The Hunger (alongside Catherine Deneuve), and, most famously, and perhaps most disappointingly, a top role as a POW in Nagisa Oshima’s wartime drama Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. Later that year saw the belated release (and a Top 20 spot) of D.A. Pennebaker’s rockumentary ZIGGY STARDUST – THE MOTION PICTURE {*5}, made up largely of concert footage (including a minor hit version of The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `White Light, White Heat’) from a show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon a decade earlier. Following on from another dance-driven low-point in DB’s career via TONIGHT (1984) {*5} – named after one of many BOWIE-POP dirges from the past re-vamped and contained within (including `Neighbourhood Threat’) – the man showed he at least had the resolve to continue despite some critical backlash. Of other non-collaborative tracks on the set, `Blue Jean’ and fellow Top 20 hit `Loving The Alien’ came off best, while his reason to re-croon the BEACH BOYS’ `God Only Knows’ and Leiber-Stoller’s `I Keep Forgetting’ baffled even his most loyal disciple.
While film collaborations had always played a major part in BOWIE’s musical make-up, probably one of his most memorable high spots in a glittering career was when he sang a rousing rendition of MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS’ `Dancing In The Street’ with MICK JAGGER on the Live Aid concert, while the 45 itself hit No.1 (Top 10 in the States). Of these many mid-80s movie moments, DB provided the Top 20 hit theme `This Is Not America’ (with The PAT METHENY GROUP) to The Falcon And The Snowman, starred in and provided the title track theme and UK No.2 hit to Absolute Beginners, ditto for shared OST – including the Top 30 hit `Underground’ – to children’s fantasy flick Labyrinth and another minor hit theme title to When The Wind Blows.
The ironically-titled NEVER LET ME DOWN (1987) {*4} was another critical (and this time commercial) disaster, another stab at the 80s mainstream dance market that did little to stir up support; peaking just outside the UK Top 5 it nevertheless produced three snooze-mode Top 40 hits in `Day-In Day-Out’, `Time Will Crawl’ and the title track; one also has to mention his tag-on take of Iggy’s `Bang Bang’.
If one thought things couldn’t get any worse, there was at least some solace in the fact that BOWIE took up some grit ’n’ guts theatrics on his TIN MACHINE project, although it was indeed a misguided attempt at a return to spontaneous rock’n’roll. With a three-piece back-up band consisting of guitarist Reeves Gabrels and an old TODD RUNDGREN/Runt/IGGY POP crew of brothers Hunt and Tony on rhythm, their eponymous TIN MACHINE (1989) {*6} was certainly riff-friendly. Top 3 in Britain and Top 30 in the States, a trio of 45s (led by `Under The God’) failed to breech the Top 40, while a raucous re-working of LENNON’s `Working Class Hero’ was unworthy of any tribute. Ignoring the critical barbs and content with life leading a band for once, David carried on with this set-up on two other titles, both TIN MACHINE II (1991) {*5} – including an embarrassing re-tread of ROXY MUSIC’s `If There Is Something’ – and a dying swan, last gasp live effort OY VEY, BABY (1992) {*3}, both coming unstuck against a music world into grunge. On the domestic front, love and life was hunky dory again when he married Somali girlfriend/model Iman in ’92, having split from Angie way back in the early 80s.
Resuming his solo career, BOWIE re-enlisted some old buddies from the past in MICK RONSON and CHIC man Nile Rodgers for “comeback” set BLACK TIE WHITE NOISE(1993) {*5}. Reviving more than just former associations, the No.1 record also garnered no less than four colourful covers by way of CREAM’s `I Feel Free’, SCOTT WALKER’s `Nite Flights’, MORRISSEY’s `I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday’ and The Valmont’s `Don’t Let Me Down And Down’. Although this record was only a tentative first step back into the murky waters of music, he at least explored new avenues on the Al B Sure hit title track and Top 10 smash `Jump They Say’.
Towards the end of the year, the release of his work on a TV soundtrack THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA {*6} fared better critically, while a duet title track single with soulful rocker LENNY KRAVITZ gave him an unexpected Top 40 hit; the partly instrumental timepiece also heralded the first version of future chart entry `Strangers When We Meet’.
The release of 1. OUTSIDE (1995) {*7} – a collaboration with his old mucker ENO (plus Gabrels, Garson, Sterling Campbell and Erdal Kizilcay) – saw BOWIE back in critical favour once again. As stark, menacing and quasi-industrial as any of his “Berlin” projects of nearly two decades ago, he’d certainly learned `The Hearts Filthy Lessons’ (one of the hits on show here), while other dirges that shone from the concept were `Hallo Spaceboy’, `The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)’, `I Have Not Been To Oxford Town’ and a few narrative “diary of Nathan Adler” segues from DB’s creepy alter-ego. It was no surprise when he chose Trent Reznor’s NINE INCH NAILS to partner him on a world tour.
While EARTHLING(1997) {*5} was an admirable attempt to incorporate cutting edge dance styles into his music, collaborating with drum ’n ’bass don, A Guy Called Gerald, it was still a million miles away from his halcyon days of old; `Little Wonder’, `Dead Man Walking’ and `Seven Years In Tibet’ at least kept his chart profile intact, while the ENO/NIN association struck gold on `I’m Afraid Of Americans’.
Trying desperately to get his new material noticed by an ailing public (he was still an excellent live prospect), BOWIE inked a deal with Virgin Records delivered his final set of the 90s via HOURS…(1999) {*6}. Augmented once again by songwriting partner Gabrels and complemented by another batch of straight-laced middle-table hits (namely `Thursday’s Child’, `Survive’ and `Seven’), the record was certainly on the upswing and a little self-conscious and self-imposing than his previous efforts. But it had indeed been “years…” rather than hours since his last great album.
While 2002’s HEATHEN {*7} wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered, it was definitely getting there, a sure-footed beginning to a new decade which saw BOWIE revisiting his past in the shape of producer Tony Visconti. Although a fairly bold step for an artist of such tireless experimentation, the record was by no means a retreat into rose-tinted nostalgia. Visconti seemed to coax out the generous side to BOWIE’s muse while utilising studio technology to achieve an authentic updating of the feel – if not quite the sound – of their 70s recordings. Also placing the record in a contemporary context were fairly radical re-workings of NEIL YOUNG’s `I’ve Been Waiting For You’, early PIXIES classic `Cactus’ and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s obscurity `I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship’.
The partnership proved so successful in fact, that BOWIE and Visconti kept it going for 2003’s REALITY {*7}, another very self-assured, if slightly more angular set which again featured some choice covers (courtesy of JONATHAN RICHMAN’s `Pablo Picasso’ and GEORGE HARRISON’s `Try Some, Buy Some’) and which suggested the veteran star-man’s retirement was more far off than ever. Sadly, that has not been the case, as apart from the odd exploitative set, “Mr. Spaceboy” has been a little conspicuous by his absence – a subsequent heart attack probably didn’t help as the man understandably took stock of life and the simple day-to-day chores of bringing up a family.
Thankfully, 2013 was the year BOWIE was back in action. Buoyed up by a Top 10 download single, `Where Are We Now?’, the Tony Visconti-produced THE NEXT DAY {*9} was a masterful return. No.1 almost globally, fans of his “Berlin” period will no doubt salivate over the set’s first four choice cuts: the title track, `Dirty Boys’, `The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ and `Love Is Lost’; the cover is art – which one thought at first as an in-joke – comes via the sleeve of “Heroes” superimposed by a white square. Although David has weaved his Midas touch throughout his 6-decade-spanning career, renaissance plays a big part here; he might have to thank BILL NELSON, whose `Glow World’ gem (from 1983) is very similar to `I’d Rather Be High’. The ethereal BOWIE also channels the sounds of doo-wop (via Jerry “ya ya ya ya” Lordan) on `How Does The Grass Grow?’, and the eerie mood of SCOTT WALKER by way of closer, `Heat’.
Whetting our appetites for what was to come in the first weeks of the new year 2016, moonage BOWIE’s 10-minute title track download, `Blackstar’ (with gloriously ground-breaking video ineligible for chart-land), was just breath-taking. Depicting today’s terrorism plight or cult religion(s) full-blown (one imagines), the prog-ish magnum opus also left one thinking there might be hope at the end of the day, and then again, maybe not!
Ironically, it was 69 year-young BOWIE’s own demise that took centre stage in the week of BLACKSTAR {*8} – the set stylised as a symbol. His death of cancer in his New York abode on 10 January 2016 was indeed a shock to the system for the globe (nay, universe), coming at a time when the album, predictably, would’ve been No.1 anyway. The media poring out their condolences from all walks of life, David’s legacy was immense; his god-like genius irreplaceable. An influence and inspiration to a plethora of fans, he left each one “somewhat slightly dazed” and forever reeling in his wake. As sad and tragic as his passing was, one was still obliged to assess that the seven cuts from his new Tony Visconti-produced album could stand proud next to classics from his heyday, or at least his previous effort.
Opening with the aforementioned two-piece-suite title track, others from the set were not so grandiose as he twisted and weaved through a cobweb of contemporary and eclectic drum ‘n’ bass beats, `Girl Loves Me’ and the haunting `Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’ highlighting the percussion of James Murphy (LCD SOUNDSYSTEM). An emotive and pictorial set full of jazzman Donny McCaslin’s high-end sax, there were lyrical clues to DB’s imminent departure by way of `Lazarus’, `Dollar Days’ and parting shot `I Can’t Give Everything Away’. Radio un-friendly and controversial as Aladdin Sane’s `Time’ spurted out way back in ’73, the quavering and explicit nature of `’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ would resonate with his many disciples looking to examine each and every last word. An un-easy listen in all aspects, BOWIE once again came up trumps, leaving behind the world with his head held high and knowing he’d be a hard (nay, impossible) act to follow.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS / rev-up MCS Mar2013-Jan2016

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