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David Bowie

The Thin White Puke

Introduction
Early On (1964-1966)
David Bowie 
Space Oddity
The Man Who Sold The World
Hunky Dory
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
Aladdin Sane
Pin Ups
Soundtrack From The Film Ziggy Stardust
Diamond Dogs
David Live
Young Americans
Station To Station
Low
'Heroes'
Stage
Lodger
Scary Monsters (And Super Freaks)
Let's Dance
Tonight
Soundtrack from the Film 'Labyrinth'
Never Let Me Down
Tin Machine
Tin Machine II
Black Tie White Noise
Buddha of Suburbia
Outside
Earthling
...hours
Heathen
Reality
 

Whatever he is, he isn't human.  David Bowie, as much as I like listening to him (and I really, really do, almost as much as my beloved Stones and Grateful Dead, in fact) there's a plasticene quality to the man and his career that seems a little odd, a little inhuman, and a whole lot like sometime ol' Dave Jones is just going to up and tear his latex facemask off and show the world, to great shock and much gnashing of mandibular teeth, that he's actually Neil Diamond, in the fucking flesh!

No, no, hear me out...Neil always really wanted to be a rocker, what with his leather catsuit stage outfits and his 'Kentucky Woman' and horrific yet skillful feats of cannibalistic violence against stagehands, and the David Bowie persona was just his chance to prove to everyone that he's actually not a short, slightly pudgy Jewish schlock-crooner with a penchant for big horns and making otherwise perfectly calm middle-aged spinster librarians rip off their size 24X cotton bloomer panties and launch them at the stage, but is actually a sexually ambiguous, theatrical avante-garde-type rock 'n' roller with a penchant for short, bald keyboard players and burnt-out Sixties punk idols.  But since Neil isn't, you know, all that inventive, he's had to steal most of his best ideas from others...he ripped the whole 'space cadet' down-home hippie idealist acousto-rocker from Donovan and Syd Barrett, the ambiguously metallic Alien/Demon Gay Rapist from Alice Cooper (and Iggy Pop, and ? and the Mysterians, and Mick Jagger, and Marc Bolan, and the 13th Floor Elevators...), the Fascist Uber-European Cannon from Bryan Ferry and Peter Hammill, and the modern Industro-Klanger from, oh I dunno, John Tesh and his Pierced Labia Orchestra, or sumbuddy. See, but at heart, Neil was a schlockmeister, a popularizer, and though he tried with varying success to repress his cheesier impulses, his David Bowie came bubbling over with pop hooks that had served ol' Diamond so well back when he was writing TV hits for the Monkees (who, now that I think about it, also had a 'David Jones' involved.  Now, I hope I'm not alone on this, but it doesn't take a Stephen "Fucking Badass" Hawking and his Amazing Goddamn Talking Chair to connect the dots with a straight line on this one!), and garnered some unwanted attention when he scored a hit with 'Space Oddity', for which he simply wasn't ready. Sheeit, he hadn't even begun dying his hair orange yet! And that goddamn Dick Cavett kept asking him to come on as Neil Diamond over and over again to sing 'Sweet Caroline' for the zillionth fucking time. As if trying to remember the words to 'The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud' when he got back to England wasn't hard enough already!

Now this kind of success didn't come overnight...Neil actually formulated ol' Dave back in the mid-60's, back when he himself was a star on the rise.  He wisely made ol' Dave a snazzily-dressed Brit, to help defray suspicions of his true identity (plus, faking Brit accents is easy.  Just ask Madonna.), and spent years tirelessly studying a high-yet-guttural London accent, then applying a bit of acting-school polish to it so it sounds both snooty and mad as a lead boxer-short salesman, leaving behind the trademark Diamond baritone grit for a tenor sheen, but keeping all of that overdramatic vomit-froth that made so many girls in beehive haircuts couldn't get enough of. The results of this transformation can be heard on 'David Jones' many mid-60's folk-rock singles right on up through his late-60's breakthough debut, after which Diamond realized it was wiser to record with a band, both further defraying interest in why all of his solo works sound like 'Cherry Cherry' without the go-go beat, and because, well, he likes how everyone claimed David wanted to be Anthony Newley for five years instead of pointing the finger at the source. 

It wasn't long until the act took on a life of its own, though...as the 70's wore on and the rock-doppleganger experiment continued its success, Diamond became Bowie became Ziggy the Chubby Round Loser Cartoon Character became, well, a whole bunch of other crap that kept the money rolling in while Diamond's own career was rusting in its own sweat and chest hair.  Diamond collaborated with Iggy Pop (actually Englebert Humperdink in a cheap Halloween mask he bought at a drugstore in 1967 for $1.99), Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople (Lobo) and Lou Reed (who is, inexplicably, actually Lou Reed). He also began to lose a sense as to who...or what...he actually was. He began to fantasize that he was actually a white black man who was sent to preach the gospel on Soul Train and, in a particularly wicked turn of events, convince old rival John Lennon, completely unawares of Bowie's true identity, that no one wanted to hear his bullshit solo career anymore and that he should just go home and try to finish the New York Times Crossword each and every day. Things in Neil Diamond's world had gotten scary...he embodied birds on Jonathan Livingston Seagull, embodied a gay man who actually wasn't in David Bowie, and played a straight man who was actually gayer than a feather boa in Neil Diamond. For a while in the late 70's, Neil disappeared altogether and 'Bowie' moved to Germany, where many rumors had it that Diamond actually became a Kraftwerk stunt double and keyboard-sweat-wiper for 18 months. Things came to an explosive head around 1980, when Diamond was so whacked out on gorilla tranquilizers that he actually thought he was Debbie Harry in the video to David's 'Fashion'.  Neil took a few years off to work on his tan and come back reformed, once again, this time as a more sensitive and less fashion-conscious David, who, finally, has forged a remarkably consistent and artistically rewarding career since that point.

ricco      Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: cant believe some of the sh*t ive heard here like to see you do any better at a song career if you wrote different material every single time you would have nothing else later and run out of ideas faster

(Capn's Response: I can guarantee I'd use more punctuation and write complete thoughts, Ricco. And I sure as fuck wouldn't half-a**edly apologize for my use of words like 'shit', either.)


Early On (1964-6) - Rhino 1991

High-laryus Mod I-don't-have-a-fucking-clue-what-to-do-with-a-guitar-and-a-microphone kidstuff singles collection from one David Jones, Londoner and certifiable Mod, not to mention one shameless Mick Jagger/Eric Burdon/Roger Daltrey/Keith Relf wannabe.  This one gathers together all of ol' Davey's A and B sides from his innumerable mid-Sixties bands, leaving only one question - how the hell did this guy keep coming up with the dough to record failed single after failed single? These cost a shitload of green to keep coming out at a rate of 3 or so a year, especially when they drop like Apache helicopters once they hit the market.  Not one of these songs would be even remotely familiar to anyone who knows the rest of Bowie's catalogue (no, 'The Laughing Gnome', that novelty stalwart of Dr. Demento's late-night fat-kid-with-zits-and-braces-loved radio show, isn't here either), though he's listed as a writer on darn near all of the songs.  Bowie just isn't Bowie yet (right, because he's Jones, you dipshits!) and he's too busy honing his Xeroxing skills that would come to such good use in his later years to define himself as anything other than Just Another British Blues Rock Singer.  Sure, one with teeth so crooked they remind one of the Dresden skyline after the firebombing raids, and one that politely honks a saxophone from time to time, but who's keeping score here?  These songs are mostly half-efforts at pop-chart success in the vein of whomever was big at the time, from the Beatles ('I Want My Baby Back', which does have some genuinely nice overdubbed vocal harmonies) to Donovan ('Bars of the County Jail') to the Rolling Stones ('I Pity The Fool', to which Mr. T would call Bowie a 'sucka'), and on into the Who and Kinks (the laughably derivative 'You've Got A Habit Of Leaving Me' and 'Baby Loves It That Way', respectively), some of which was actually produced by the Kink-manager Shel Talmy, who no doubt thought David was a nice piece of ass compared to nasty ol' buck-toothed Ray Davies.  Anyway, pretty much all these songs suck it in one way or another - the vocal inflections are often put-on to more closely resemble their 'supposed-to-be's, the songs are repetitive, simplistically arranged, badly recorded (or mastered for CD directly from some scratchy old 45 rpm records, which is sorta like taking a photograph of an Etch-a-Sketch drawing in a snowstorm in terms of realistically portraying what it originally sounded like), and just generally of low quality.  Sometimes our boy pops a freak base hit (the monstrous guitar feedback orgy in 'You've Got A Habit of Leaving'), but most of these 17 songs are simply not very good.  A small hint of the Bowie we all know and are creeped out by makes an appearance on 'Can Help Thinking 'Bout Me', also one of the only tracks where Bowie's voice is completely recognizable, but that's not signaling anything particularly revolutionary - the album limps to the end with five more jive-turkey swingin'-Mod failures.

Listening to this man's ever-so-gory pubescent growing pains blow-by-blow is definitely interesting for fans...once. But the truth is that Bowie mad his career on knocking off other people's ideas well, and when you hear him fail over and over and over to come up with a song that even sounds somewhat convincing, it's not hard to begin wondering just what kind of fucking poseur this fool is.  You have to give him credit for writing original material when so many other people were still covering the Vast and Vaired Works of Chuck Berry, and recognize that he was out there surrounded by bands populated by no-talent-never-will-be's instead of good Sixties 'proving ground' band like the Graham Bond Organisation or John Mayall's Bluesbreakers to help him hone his skills, and hell, not everyone's warts-and-all training-wheels days are archived by Rhino quite like this, but still...three years of trying and not one winner. Simply nothing that tells you this is anything but a guy with a smidge of talent and a massive set of brass balls for copying other people's sounds. Hell, it'd be 1970 before people gave a crap at all! Where did all this bread come from, anyway? Mimes just don't make that much money!

Capn's Final Word: David learned to 'reinvent' himself here...that's the only way recording studio people kept letting him make shitty singles over and over. I bet he wore disguises, too.  

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David Bowie - Deram 1967

Jesus, this guy bought into the whole 1967 Swingin' Pot Smokin' Paisley-Wearin' Mod-Hippie Faggot Mime Fashion Maven fad with both checkbooks and a wallet of cash, didn't he? Probably was considered a 'face' at the time due to his impeccable fashion sense, and was invited to all the parties and lusted after by all the homosexual middle-aged English men in suits that always flocked around this idiotic scene. And his sexual, ummm, 'agreeability' was probably the main reason they granted him yet another opportunity to break into pop music stardom after chucking his last half-dozen tries straight into the crapper. His debut album (or is it? Is this really another singles collection? God, who knows with this fucking Decca company) is another chance not simply missed, but spat upon, chewed up, passed through the lower intestine, tossed in a blender, pureed into a milkshake, fed to a dyspeptic hog, and thrown at the face of Good Taste. David's album is frighteningly Early 1967 in both sound and intent, part of one of the least artistically resilient periods in rock history, that of the hash-influenced pre-Pepper's British 'dancehall' craze kicked off by the Beatles' Penny Lane' and represented at its best by the Kinks' Something Else and the Stones' Flowers and Between the Buttons albums. But wait....those names I just mentioned? Forget I ever said 'em. They have nothing to do with this phlegm-puddle other than a shared accent and maybe a record label. Bowie may have tried his best to make an LP that would stack up to those near-classics (which, I might add, aren't those band's best work by any stretch of the labia), but instead he made an embarrassing chunk of dated horse-pucky that says more about the man's ability to huckster an image than it does about his ability to make music. The David Bowie album is loaded with march tempos, unironic, unswinging horn charts, infantile baby-la-la-nursery school fairy-tale lyrics, and a fierce case of meaningless lyrical diarrhea that makes Jon Anderson look like Henry Rollins. The song titles should tip you off that this is not just another blues-rock album waiting for a guitar solo - 'Little Bombardier', 'There Is A Happy Land', 'Come and Buy My Toys', 'Sell Me A Coat' - sweet giggling Ginsbergs, is this what Bob Dylan labored for five long years for? For some coattailing British fop to write lines like 'Jack Frost took her hand and left me, Jack Frost ain't so cool'? Gawd. And all of these songs are the same! The same, you hear me! It's not even weird (it's early 1967, not late 1967)! It's just, just SICKENING!

Okay, now some clarifications. This is not a rock and roll record. It's a psychedelic dancehall record, full of carnival noises so British they'll and there's absolutely nothing resembling the relatively listenable Early Years material here, and hell, even the 'immature' Space Oddity sounds like Astral Weeks in comparison. Anyway, it's not just that I'm knocking this record because I hate the style (which I essentially do...for me, listening to this hipster bullshit is akin to drinking battery acid out of a Dirty Dancing commemorative cup), it's also the man's most incompetent album ever. Bowie's voice is the worst I've heard it up to his darkest mid-80's days, pitchier than Roger Clemens and twice as likely to clobber a 'climax' high note. And he sings in this put-on cock-nay accent like he's got Big Ben stuck halfway up his ass, making it all the more enjoyable for yours truly. Tempos are sacrificed at the altar of croon, and the backing tracks are an incoherent swill of soupy orchestras and clanging pianos. There isn't an electric guitar or audible rhythm section in earshot, all underpinning my original statement: This. Is Not. A Rock. And. Roll. Album. Not in intent, attitude, composition, delivery, or production. That's all well and good. I like albums that aren't rock albums. Country, for instance! A selection of jazz! Gospel music, even. But this is just indescribable. The fact that Bowie was still able to keep getting opportunities to record more songs after this album fell off the face of the planet shows the man knew how to wear a suit, if not how to sing a song.

Capn's Final Word: A pretty face can only get you so far. Music to smoke polyester to.

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Space Oddity - RCA 1969

 Bowie had his blues hipster phase, his mod hipster phase, and his pansy dancehall hipster phase, and now he's gone into his counterculture hipster phase, strangely his most palatable yet.  Oddity (actually the US title upon this record's eventual release in 1972, which was the same as the British Man of Whores Man of Crabs album released in 1969, though the 'Space Oddity' single was first recorded in 1968, which in turn was knocked off of a Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd performance circa 1967) presents Bowie as the kind of guy you might see hanging out at the park on a Saturday afternoon, his ever-so-cool Beaker haircut marking him as a Deep Thinker and conspicuous acoustic guitar marking him as a Guy Out To Score With Hippie Chicks. You know, the sort of dude who probably ate trays of hash brownies daily and threw the I Ching before leaving the house to check the mail.  He's a fraud, really (hell, Bowie was always kind of a fraud, but at this time he still hadn't learned how to fake it good yet), but compared with the fashion-maven slimeball featured on the David Bowie album, he's a fraud that I don't mind too bad.  Bowie's cast himself as a sort of acoustic space cadet, a folksy psychadelicist who tries to hard for weird chords and lets-scream-this-all-together humanist anthems.  His songs here range from subtle, spacey anthems ('Space Oddity', the cute 'tell my wife I love her very much...I think my spaceship knows which way to go' NASA fantasy which Bowie would later famously say was about becoming a junkie) to ridiculous attempts at emotional gravity ('The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud', 'Cygnet Committee') to, ultimately, air-headed flower-power atrocities ('An Occasional Dream').  He's generally 'sensitive' throughout, still not gaining the foothold on any emotions other than gentle irony and treacly hippie communalism, and his songs are nearly all lightweight acoustic strumalongs fleshed out with a Moody Blues-patented orchestra here and there, especially the barren second side, all of which makes for a mighty samey listen before its all said and done.  It's not one that's completely bereft of decent moments, though. 'God Knows I'm Good' is a good song lost beneath its singlemindedly folky exterior, and the rocking (and electric!) Man Who Sold the World preview 'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed' is good cock-rocking fun. Still, when you attempt to cross Dylan and Pink Floyd and end up crossing Barry McGwire and the Strawberry Alarm Clock, there's just not very far a genial persona and some ugly chords can take you.

Capn's Final Word: This album's known as 'The One with Major Tom on it', and that's about as much as is healthy to know.

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Alan Brooks  kerry_prez@yahoo.com   Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: Until now I unconsciously thought this album was recorded 1972 since the title track was played very frequently here in America all through 1973, the same year as the Elton John hit single 'Rocket Man' was also being endlessly played (back then I thought the two singer/songwriters were trying to start an astronaut song genre, or something) But as Capn revealed to me here 'Space Oddity' was recorded in 1968, during the psychedelic era. Still, it sounds very early '70s. A clever marketing ploy.

 


The Man Who Sold The World - RCA 1970

I was about ready to say 'Bowie got it right', but I don't know if that's quite accurate...did he ever 'get it right'? Not even my favoritest Bowie platters are close to being flawless, but, like this one, are interesting enough to keep me saying 'hell yeah, that's a record!'. On Sold, our boy discovers hard rock, darkness, sexuality, and Mick Ronson, all of which were good enough for Mr. Bowie to cash into the bank a couple of years later and are good enough to lay out one of his most interesting albums right now. The transformation in sound and approach between Oddity and this one is a gulf like the one between Sandra Bernhardt's two front chompers...the guy singing this album is not a spacey hippie whatsoever - he's a doped-up Satanist metalhead sex fiend who talks about gay fucking and killing Gooks.  He may be doing it in the spirit of irony, but with Bowie, who the fuck knows?  If there's ever been a fascist rock star, it's Roger Waters, but if there's ever been a fascist rock star who was photographed wearing a housedress for an album cover, it's David Bowie.  And you know what? I dig the Nazi grooves of this album in all its sludgy, shades-of-grey-and-brown glory, and not just because the mood is cantankerous and the guitars loud, though I have to admit that has something to do with it.  I also like that Bowie's stopped his idealism cold, leaving himself with only his close friends - nutballs, military murderers, misguided scientists, and, of course, gay dudes who fuck a lot.  It's a veritable funhouse of weirdness ala Alice Cooper, though David's ice-king Yurrupian weirdo delivery trumps ol' Alice's late-show hootin' and hollerin' in terms of not giving the ghost away too early.  And all of these hard-luck tales of everyday Joes (as long as your Joe is Joe Stalin) are played over loose, funky hard rock grooves that are the brainchild of Mr. Ronson, sorta a proto-punk guitar hero that combines the thick riffing of a Tony Iommi with the boy-racer rootsiness of a Keith Richards in a catchy, flashy, but not chokingly daunting flurry of good ol' hard-rockin' notes. Bowie goes all Iggy Pop over the top and the rhythm section just tries to stick with it (sometimes, they don't.)

Songwise, we somehow start with a Paranoid-influenced 8-minute ode to being young, gay, and horny called 'Width Of A Circle', which might as well be renamed 'How Round My Arsehole' after hearing the middle section, a blow-by-blow of a sexual encounter that's so uncomfortably homoerotic I heard it made Jerry Fallwell have to change his trousers.  The riffing, however, is addictive, and the twisting and turning of this slimy epic is never dull.  'All The Madmen' is also Sabbath-ing its way through a slow, grindy rocker with Bowie doing a Thorazined-out asylum resident's-eye view of the world wherein he proclaims he'd 'rather play here with all the madmen that perish with all the sad men going free', but 'Black Country Rock' is funky and upbeat, like, I dunno, early Doobie Brothers or something, though God knows why everyone says it sounds like T. Rex. Christ, what the fuck ever! The T. Rex album, the one where Bolan finally started his own glam movement at last, came out the same year as this one...do we really think that Bowie had time to hear that album, write a ripoff tune, and record it in less than a few months? If they're ripping from anybody, they're both stealing the Stones blind, anyway, so the point's fucking moot.  Bowie also does some weird wavery things with his voice, later ripped off by Bryan Ferry on the first Roxy Music album, and the constant tempo changes had to make an impression on Phil Manzanera, who generally cops his entire game from Ronson, anyway.

The chanting 'After All', one of the weirder tracks here, does nothing more than sustain the off-putting child's asylum feeling of this record, but 'Running Gun Blues' takes the cake for obscenity, as Bowie takes the place of a bloodthirsty soldier who kills 'Gooks' (and 'a few civilians') and feels quite happy the protesters haven't been successful in stopping the war yet, thank you. The Southern-rock/prog hybrid backing music is fucking wicked sludgy, but infests your head nonetheless, and though it might make your skin crawl, who's to say David hasn't struck upon an original point of view on the whole anti-war song? I mean, until Slayer came along, there weren't too many people who could convincingly embody themselves as a person who thrives on war and not sound preachy like Joan Baez or something...cartoonish, yeah, but maybe this guy's head is cartoonish, after all.

Anyway, the rest of the album pretty much keeps on the same track, and mostly we have a case of how hard you want your song to be.  'Savior Machine' sure sounds like it wants to be Yes (though, again, I'll remind you that Yes was pretty fucking young when this album came out), 'She Shook Me Cold' sounds like Bowie's been slipped a Roofie, and 'The Supermen' is an interesting variation on Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', though not as immediately catchy or hilarious. The title track, however, is a light revisitation of the astral-folk Oddity sound (though with a conspicuous lead guitar, admittedly), though the lyrics, a very disturbing look at the end of the world from the eyes of a non-survivor, fit in with the fucked/downer feel of this record perfectly.  And who can forget that lead line that Kurt Cobain so famously (and, well, somehow wonderfully) screwed up at his Unplugged performance? A marvelous song, and part of a pretty marvelous record, if you can stand it.

Man Who Sold The World allowed Bowie to break clean free of any residual dependence on hopefulness and optimism that had sustained his career so far, and neither of which would serve him too well in the next several years.  The Seventies were defined by Bowie as a time when image and impenetrable psychic defense ruled over any quest for meaning, and in fact became the meaning. The difference between Bowie before and after this album is that before, you could listen to him and scoff that he didn't have any clue what he was singing about...now he's making his own legends and daring you to figure out if they're really true or not, painting the slums with his distortion and giving all the hoods free razor blades, and though it's not a pretty picture, it's one I can't help get suckered into every time.

Capn's Final Word: See the sludge, be the sludge. Bowie grows teeth and says 'fuck it'.

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Hunky Dory - RCA 1971.

Okay, so Bowie armed himself with The Man Who Shaved His Wang, but before taking his dystopian notions to some sort of fantastic extreme with his Ziggy phase, he takes a little step back to thank his elders and warn us of what is about to come with Hunky Dory, probably the major anomaly in the Bowie catalog. I mean, you can see his progression from his debut to Oddity, and even follow how Oddity could become Sold, but for Sold not to transition straight into a motherfucking Ziggy Stardust glam meltdown, but rather to detour on into this mostly melodic, mostly poppy, mostly sincere little record is flat out biz-arre. A comparison, for you Neil Young fans out there, is if ol' Neil would've put out Harvest in between On The Beach and Tonight's The Night...it's jarring to say the least. And while Hunky Dory is lovable (much more loveable for the average listener than Man or Ziggy, for sure), its also spotty and waaaaaaay overrated by people who want Bowie to be John Lennon instead of, you know, whoever Bowie wants to be this week.  But Bowie, for the last time for quite awhile, actually makes a clear, unambiguous statement about his own art, warning in the defining 'Changes' that things are about to get 'strange', and letting us know that whatever happens, it's just the 'phase I'm going through'. This apparently tried to head off anyone dumb enough to get angry when, say, Bowie traded a leisure suit and white leather loafers for a spaceman outfit and sequined platform boots in 1974 - that no matter how much success ol' David has in one phase or another, you just can't put Baby in a corner. 'Changes' is a lounge song apparently based on the sound of some British crooner named Anthony Newly, but it's also catchy as syphilis and that singalong chorus of 'Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!' is undeniably great.  This album's a bit short on hooks, but the title track sure ain't one of the have-nots.

The rest of the album is split into two parts - the melodic and often playful show-tune section and the more pretentious and lumbering 'homage' section.  There's also a stupid piece of Oddity-outtake crap called the 'Belway Brothers' at the end, but since they say I should stop spending so damn much time inside in front of a computer screen and get my ass out to mow the lawn and wash the cars, I guess I'll let this review continue without pausing on it.  Sucks. There.

Anyway, from the chorus-line fun of the almost unironic 'Oh! You Pretty Things' and 'Kooks', which was written for his young (thirty five years ago) son Zowie Bowie (and, no, I didn't make that name up.  Zowie. Bowie.  Not only does it rhyme with the last name, it's also a sound that Jughead would make in the old Archie comics.  Your name...a cartoonish expression of surprise...might as well just call yourself '!"). 'Eight Line Poem' is a torchy piano ding-dong that seems ripped from the likes of Elton John's first couple of albums and mostly sucks, but the similarly piano-ridden 'Life On Mars' is just frigging wonderful.  Melodies, melodies, melodies...and Bowie sings like he means it, which is one of those things you just don't get every day. Melodies can also cover up some pretty ugly lyrics, like those in the anti-religious tirade 'Quicksand' (namedropping famous Nazis ain't gonna get you anywhere anyhow), and not even Bowie sounds like he believes in the idiotic doowop 'Fill Your Heart', where the man's voice sounds pinchy and fey, just like we don't like it.

Anyway, starting with the electronic blurpy noises that begin 'Andy Warhol' through the glam headbang of 'Queen Bitch', we enter a three-song PG-13 zone that tips a wig to Bowie's three big influences: Larry, Moe, and Curly. No, really...'Andy Warhol' sings touchingly about the art of sticking your fingers into someone's eyesockets, and 'Song For Bob Dylan' mentions Shemp not less than four times, but Robert Zimmerman not once....

Okay, sorry, I accidentally loaded my copy of C+C Music Factory's Remix album into my Winamp instead of David Bowie's dumb second half of Hunny Dorky. 'Andy Warhol' sounds very much like a Sold outtake, dark acoustic chords and all that, 'Song For Dylan' sounds a lot like Lynyrd Skynyd with a bisexual British knob singing instead of Ronnie Van Zandt. and God only knows why because Bowie keeps referring to a 'she' instead of 'Bob' or 'Hey you Kermit-voice!', and. well, 'Queen Bitch' is glam-rockin' good fun like we'd hoped for, and though it sounds as much like the Velvet Underground as it does Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, I suppose the lead singers of both band are gayer than a Ford Focus, so at least we're in the ballpark.  Love that guitar tone...sounds like Mick's changed out his speaker for an empty can of Folger's coffee or sumthin'.

Anyway, this album's awright, but in the grand ol' scheme I like it better when Bowie's looking forward rather than up his arsehole, and if his band and energy hadn't been at a sort of young-dude peak around this time, I bet we could've easily come out with another Oddity-style folky flakeout. Otherwise, if you feel a lot of David's 70's work is overly cold and contrived, and you wish to have a better taste of the man himself (eeew! why?), then probably Harem Scarem is the answer.  Me, I don't quite trust it...I think ol' Bow's actually less sincere when he's like this than when he's at his most mechanical, because hell, he's a mechanical kind of guy.  Alien, you know.

Capn's Final Word: Cuetsy, crunchy, crass 'n' crappy navel gazing by Sir Nose D'voidoffunk. Melodic, but I won't hold that against him.

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Nathan Harper  nator9999@comcast.net   Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: I concur (I hate that word)! For some bizarre reason lots of people think this is his best, but it comes nowhere close to Ziggy, Station, Low, or Heroes. There are four REALLY REALLY good songs, and the rest range from OK to crap. 'Changes,' 'Pretty Things,' 'Life on Mars,' and 'Queen Bitch' blow my mind. 'Andy Warhol,' 'Quicksand,' and 'Song for Bob Dylan' are pretty good, but obviously nothing to write home about. The rest blows. Still, if you haven't heard those first four songs yet, you should definitely check it out.

Mike    Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: You know, I've never actually heard this album, but I had to say that Zowie Bowie's real name isn't Zowie, but Duncan. I think the whole Zowie thing was one of David's publicity stunts.

 


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - RCA 1972

Okay, probably this one's lost a lot since all the 13-year old British kids who worshipped it like the second coming of Naked Lunch all grew up to become loyal Tories and decry Tony Blair for being 'too radical', and it sure the hell doesn't fit very well into the round peg of 'Glam Rock' like it's supposed to, but there's still something to this whacked-out and not entirely cohesive concept album about An Alien Rock Star At The End Of The World.  I guess this is finally where Bowie's theatrical training comes into full use as he transforms himself from an asexual, hard rocking, loungey half-folkie crossdresser into an asexual, hard-rocking loungey half-folkie crossdresser with an orange, poofy 'do that would later influence the hair stylings of many generations of Indigo Girls fans. I still say this's got it all over Hunky Dory both for unity of feel and quality of performance, plus having two of Bowie's greatest ever songs done in a balls-out style he'd have trouble repeating ever again. Other than that, don't be surprised if stretches of Ziggy seem to be coasting on fumes 'til we get to the pyrotechnic fourth quarter, when all the marbles come a-spillin' and the album suddenly doesn't seem like such a horrible waste of time and money.

Ziggy starts off with the oddly touching 'Five Years' announcing that the end of the world is just that far away, which is awfully funny since it's never mentioned ever again.  Still, it sets a morbid mood (much like the gloomy, rainy album cover that's somehow still rock 'n' roll as a motherfucker.  I happen to own a t-shirt of it that's still in regular rotation even after 5 years and a trip to Russia) that somehow gets maintained through the entire running time, on through otherwise musically upbeat songs like 'Soul Love' or 'Starman' and finally ending up in the crash-and-burn decadent end. Everything's rendered a bit creepy, a bit dark, just by this setup song and the arc it creates...neat stuff.  After a couple of more or less conceptually useless songs, Ziggy makes himself known to the world, becomes a rock star, gets fucked up on fame (as if you didn't know this was the best part of the album), and ends up killing himself in a very drama-queen sorta way.  Now, let's not get things wrong here - Bowie's essentially retelling the last third of the Who's Tommy with ol' Tom as a Martian Rock Star Messiah instead of a Pinball Player Messiah (except Ziggy doesn't ever get his 'revelation' at the end), and there's a similar amount of 'Sally Simpson'-y Ziggy Devotional filler stuff like 'Lady Stardust' (that talks of a trip to a Ziggy concert where 'he really was outta sight'...originally it was written for Marc Bolan of T. Rex fame, which I guess is pretty nice of Bowie, who probably just wanted Bolan not to sue him for stealing his act) and 'Rock and Roll Star', which pretty much has ol' Zig exclaiming 'I know! I'll start a rock band!' for three minutes.  As a concept, it's spottier than a motherfucker....all of the important narrative is crammed into the title track, and all of the raw emotion crammed into 'Suffragette City', leaving the rest as a decent, if oddly unremarkable bunch of Bowiesongs that run the gamut from disgusting ('Rock 'n' Roll Suicide') to ecstatic ('Hang On To Yourself') and all the more boring points in between.  I mean, hell, they're not bad melodically, and lyrically they're not any worse than we've heard from the man before, but what the motherfucking Edwin Newman is up with all these torchy piano ballads like 'Lady Stardust' (Elton John on the rag) and 'Starman' (David Bowie crossed with Abbey Road)? Call it filler if you like, I divide this album into 'good stuff' and 'stuff I wait patiently through to get to the good stuff', and if you didn't know already, I pretty much define 'good stuff' as 'shit that rocks', at least in terms of this album.  The rest, as I said, coasts by on this hazy conceptual thread, and just isn't all that exciting.  Crap, maybe in another life I'll be able to recognize the good melodies for what they are, but for now I want to be able to TURN IT THE FUCK UP, just like it SAYS ON THE FUCKING ALBUM JACKET, right next to PLEASE DON'T MAKE BOOTLEG COPIES OF THIS ALBUM AND SELL THEM OUT OF YOUR TRUNK TO RAISE MONEY TO BUY DRUGS WITH.

Anyway, it all comes together starting with the speedy Judy Punk 'Hang On To Yourself' (cautionary tale...rock 'n' roll might just reach up and bite you in the ass) which breaks into the epic monster title track featuring a bystander (assumedly a Spider) telling of Ziggy's descent into egoism and dickheadedness, barely masking the teeth-gritting anger of the narrator at ol' Zig and his wicked, wicked ways. If things are already falling apart between Ziggy and his pals on 'Ziggy Stardust', 'Suffragette City' is Zig blowing himself to bits on the inside, set to a manic, monstrous rocking riff that prefigures punk and a hysterical vernacular that somehow injects the feeling of a meth jag right there into a three-minute rock tune - the lack on concentration, the paranoia, the elation....awww yeah, man, crunch up some Sudafeds and scrape me some matchheads, because it's speedfreak time again, baby.

Unfortunately every drug marathon has an inevitable crash, and this album has its 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide', which could've easily been a bare-nerve saltshake like what Lou Reed would perfect on his wormy-underbelly Berlin album, Bowie takes a relatively easy way out by having ol' Zig go out in a highly overdramatized Greta Garbo way, pulling on his finger, then another finger, then a cigarette and pleading for forgiveness and understanding like Liza Minnelli after puking on Grace Jones at Studio 54 (the yelps of 'Oh no love! You're NOT ALONE!!' that finish it off, both literally and figuratively, are like 13-year-old self-absorptive messiah complexes come to life and rampaging down Main Street on the way to level the Empire State Building) .  No, it makes a damn goose egg worth of sense and is one of the more disappointing conclusions to a concept album I can think of, but what the hell...while Ziggy Stardust takes a while to finally get moving, the peak is high, and the concluding dropoff precarious. It's simply not a smooth ride, and while this might be one of the reasons people find it interesting (it's one of those albums that some people just don't get, therefore leaving some of the people to feel like they're in some exclusive club, like Radiohead fans who claim to 'get' Amnesiac and therefore feel that they're on some list to have ol' Thom Yorke come and give them a pat on the head for being so clever or something), it's also quite alright to think that Bowie could've done a better job than he did.  Still, a handful of classics reside here, and you should probably schedule to hear it at least once, at least for historical perspective of what it felt like to be a 13 year old who 'just didn't fit in' back in '72.

Capn's Final Word: Image triumphs despite taking its own sweet time about it.  Glam? Uh uh. Glammy? Awww, yeah.

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Nathan Harper  nator9999@comcast.net   Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I used to like it more than I do now. 'It Ain't Easy,' 'Lady Stardust,' and a few others are kinda boring, but once again the highlights are all really great. My favorite is the title track...probably created legions of these goth bands like Bauhaus and the like. His falsetto is so ridiculous too, I absolutely love it. 'Sufragette City' just kicks ass (WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA'AM!), and 'Rock N Roll Suicide' is gorgeously campy and overblown. I like it.

 

LaughingGnome     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Greatest rock album ever made. You should listen to this album several dozen times before calling yourself a "rock fan". Not a bad song, they all come together and flow so well. The SACD version is an awesome experience.

(Capn's Response: Okay, so I took Keith Richards, knocked him over the head, tied him up and dragged him to my basement. I then made him listen to this album 10 times sequentially. He had not previously heard it more than half a time (during which he called it 'fooking geezer trollop') previously. Can I now call Keith Richards a rock fan?)

Noreen     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Since I first bought this in 7th grade it has been one of my top five albums of all time!

(Capn's Response: So, have you graduated to 8th grade yet?)

TC  tcalla7256@aol.com   Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: There is nothing original on this record.  Bowie is rehashing Alice Cooper from 1969-71 (ask his band, they'll tell you...), with the Beatles and the Velvets thrown in for good measure.

Sure it's a good record.  However, there's not an original thought in any of Bowie's recorded work.  He's as good as the guitar player who he has hooked-up with. Which is why he gets a B- on this one.

 

Akis Katsman  watta502@yahoo.gr   Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: This album is in my top 20 albums ever made, if I make such a list. All the songs are excellent, especially "Five Years" and "Starman" which have breathtaking choruses. If you ask me, the best thing about that album is how it alternates between mean rockers and piano ballads. David Bowie never made again such a great album although some others like 'Low' are excellent as well.

 


Aladdin Sane - RCA 1973.

The first Bowie album that fails to grow appreciably over its predecessor, if not in quality than at least in diversity, and one that finds Bowie oddly unsure of himself.  This is essentially Ziggy's comeback sans concept or attempts at meaning, a rather simplistic set of 10 sci-fi fever dreams and excuses to posture shamelessly. Of course, nobody quite postured shamelessly like ol' David here, and his band was still one of the better fast-rock outfits of the early 70's, so maybe marking time was better than shooting the whole Glam wad into the bin and starting over in 1973 as David Bowie the One-Legged Jazz-Fusion Prog-Folk Saxophonist or something (though *hey!* Philly soul inflections still show up on one or two tracks! That thar's a foreshadowing, ladies and rapers, all of you who didn't spend 12th grade English class snorting meth off the lunch ladies' ample bosoms in the custodian's closet!). A quick listen gives up the classic nonsensical stomp-rocker 'Jean Genie', the savage 'Cracked Actor' and 'Panic In Detroit', and the ecstatic 'Watch That Man', very good Spiders rockers each one. Good, that is, probably thanks more to the band than Bowie's writing skills, which never much advance beyond the 'hook with words that sound cool together' level into something special like 'Ziggy Stardust' from last time.  'Cracked Actor' is pretty acidic, I suppose, with Bowie cajoling his subject to 'crack baby crack, show me you're real', which I guess is what just about everybody wanted Bowie to do at the same time (along with wanting him to 'suck baby suck', but that's another story for another bottle of Robitussin), but the rest of these are 'Suffragette City' re-spins only.  That's not bad considering most bands reconfigure and rerelease their best songs much more than Bowie did, and 'Suffragette City's a kickass song, so, you know...cool. And stuff.

The slow songs and the points at which Bowie decides to get his fingers all up in the mix with his wacky, waxy artistry is where this album begins to feel like it's a hefty two hours long when it's really only 40 minutes. Bowie is into big band, lotsa piano, lotsa saxophone overstatement this time around, so a song like 'Time', which on Hunky Dory would've been small and cute, begins to weigh a bazillion pounds and have this crazy Nazi cabaret section that sounds like a reject from Springtime for Hitler. and 'Aladdin Sane' sees its impact blunted by a 'moody' bit of atonal piano banging so ineffective that would make Ornette Coleman laugh until he dropped his plastic saxophone in the mud. There's a core of goodness in these songs that's lost in this thick, mucky 'decadence' that seems, well, more acting that reality. 'Drive In Saturday' is a doo-wop send-up about kids in the future sent to a class where they are taught how to fuck in the backseat of a car by watching old movies. It's a 'crash course for the rapers', as Bowie calls it, so wittingly unromantic it makes me want to puke on the poison horn parts that ruin this song, and without the lyric sheet in my hand I never have enjoyed this flat song. 'The Prettiest Star' is also doo-wop, but it doesn't even have a decent little story to relate to you readers, which means it's damn near useless to me. And tell me - what's with Brits always reducing music to blues, doowop, and dancehall when they want to be ironic and silly? Whatever the answer is, Bowie could take a lesson from Ray Davies, a guy who always did the 'reductionist' thing better than anyone else anyhow....

Oh, and Bowie and the Spiders deconstruct the Stones 'Let's Spend The Night Together' by combining 'Drive In Saturday's whingy synths, 'Aladdin Sane's piano molestation, 'Panic In Detroit's metallic guitars, 'Jean Genie's' vocals, and some of the loudest fucking cymbals ever put on tape in a monstrous pile of unlistenable shit that would soon be extended into an entire album of covers called Pin Ups, which was supposed to somehow 'honor' Bowie's favorite rock songs of six years before by making people think they somehow sound as inept and vomit-worthy as this.  Fa! I say! Fa on you, Bowie! Copy, my man, do NOT interpret.  No one wants to hear perfectly good songs run through the Bowiefilter, but again...that's a discussion for another day.

Aladdin Sane isn't a bad record, and probably in the context of 'an album a year' that used to predominate in the record industry, it was a pretty darned good followup that kept the kids wanting more guitar crunch and Bowie crotch shots.  But our boy was already getting bored with just teaching old Spiders new tricks, and was busily looking for the next world to conquer.  In short, good rockers nearly derailed by some wiggy excuses for art songs.

Capn's Final Word: Bowie marks time by getting deeper into the decadence.

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Pinups - RCA 1973..

Crappy ideas are crappy ideas no matter who you have playing your riffs, and I'd like to hereby nominate Sir Boo-ie's covers album Pin Ups as one of the worse ideas he's ever had, right up there with marrying Yoko Ono and taking the free seat in the airplane while Waylon Jennings stayed behind to do some laundry. This essentially takes 'Let's Spend The Night Together' from Aladdin Sane and spins it out into an album-length collection of similar mid-60's mod/Merseybeat covers torn up by the Spiders from Mars and spit out by David's decidedly disrespectable vocal treatment.  Now, I have no problem at all with the songs chosen for inclusion - there's a nice mix of the famous and familiar (the Kinks' 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?', the Who's 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' and 'I Can't Explain') second-tier gems (Them's 'Here Comes The Night', the Yardbirds' 'Shapes of Things'), and stuff by people only fanatics and participants would remember (the Merseys, the Mojos).  But the songs generally all rate at least decently (except for the idiotic doowop 'Sorrow', which would, in some obscene twist, influence Bowie's next phase far more than these other tracks), it's just that Bowie and his band display little to no care in how they decide to cover the songs.  They obliterate some with overburdened arrangements and contrived vocals that sound like the Late Late Show with that guy in the pancake makeup and black satin cape who says 'booo!' all the time ('Here Comes The Night'), and bore other songs into comatose submission ('I Can't Explain').  I guess Spider fanatics will want to get their semi-annual fix of "Sick" Mick Ronson's extra-chunky guitar riffage, but I prefer the live album to this, which amounts to hearing some decent songs trampled on by a guy who could no longer separate his good ideas from his bad ones.  I guess you could blame it on cocaine, but that'd be giving credit that Bowie knew what he was doing at some point....he never did, he just hit upon the right formula once or twice after innumerable tries

 If there were a sense of goofy fun involved in these deconstructions, or any sense that Bowie has any connection whatsoever to this material, it'd be different.  I don't doubt that these songs were a great influence on the man considering he stole every last bit of them on his concurrent singles, collected on Early Years, but Bowie sounds like he's doing these songs a favor more than he is paying them a thank you.  There's not even a glimmer that Bowie even likes this stuff. How can you like a song like 'Shapes of Things' when you sing it like the Monty Python Upperclass Twit of the Year and make a mockery of the chorus by muddling up all the forceful chords and coating everything in a slathering of cheap backwards echo, or ham-handedly mock Ray Davies' accent on 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone'? And when he plays it straight ('Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere'), the results are as lifeless as Elizabeth Taylor's Botox-encrusted forehead. C'mon guys...you've got a good band, now punch it out like we know you can!

Anyway, this was it for the ol' Spiders, as Bowie fired 'em all after the completion of this stop-gap record.  Like the Beatles, they'd attempted to reunite themselves by 'getting back' to their roots, except they found that they really don't have any.  And that, as they say, will get you every time.

Capn's Final Word: Covers album that inadvertently makes you hate Bowie's idols. Or was it intentional? Culling the competition?

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Tra McPeak tramcpeak@mac.com     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: The Pin Ups tape got stuck in my car's player and I was forced to listen to it or nothing for a whole summer.  By fall the whole town was singing every song. And loving it. I think it's brilliant.

 


Ziggy Stardust Soundtrack - Ryko 1992

Crunnnnch! The one and only Bowie live album that you really need is actually the soundtrack to the oddly mesmerizing concert film from his Aladdin Sane tour, Ziggy Stardust, which pretty much consists of Bowie, Mick Ronson, and the crowd wearing goofy glam spaceman/Elvis in Honolulu/aerobicizer outfits and tons of makeup, a bunch of red spotlights, and some of the most gratuitous on-stage simulated sex since Lambada: The Forbidden Dance. Soundtrack, as is not always the case, does a great job of playing the video of the movie and pressing 'record' on a tape machine, saving you the trouble of hooking your tape deck into the stereo for you.  There's no alternate version silliness or any of that jazz - what you hear on the video is what you get on the CD, which is refreshing after buying the soundtrack to Behind the Green Door and getting a thinly disguised copy of Brian Eno's Another Green World instead.

Anyway, Ziggy and the Spiders were on fire this night, as David apparently knew ahead of time that this was the last time he was ever going to climb atop his platform shoes and go onstage in his butt-pirate incarnation.  After this show he 'retired' from touring until 1974, when he returned as a cross between Robert Goulet and a Montgomery Ward department store mannequin fronting a band full of slick guys named Slick, pissing all of his Ziggy fans off but good. I'm not even sure the Spiders knew what was going to happen, and the sound of the crowd sobbing after Bowie announces that 'not only is this the last show on the tour, this is the last show we'll ever do' shows that the 13 year old transvestites didn't have a clue.  Was he returning to Mars? Was he retiring to the country to herd goats and read Tolstoy? Was he gonna kill himself like in 'Rock and Roll Suicide' that he so appropriately used as his finale? Well, shit, man, it's Bowie, and he spent two years with the same poofy orange mullet! You expect him to continue like this forever? He's a trend-setter with oodles of hubris and a limited amount of talent who has to keep ahead of the envelope so people don't have time to figure out that he actually isn't that miraculous, a Madonna of the 1970's...what do you think he's gonna do? Anyway, all the hubbub is premature - Ziggy would still be available on record album covers until at least mid-1974, at which time Bowie dropped his hair-dye act until the mid-1990's when he didn't have a clue what he was doing with himself.

Anyway, whether it's because of the film crews or the retirement, Bowie gives it his all throughout, commanding his stage with a cross between 'animal grace' and pure, unadulterated punk energy, singing all of his tunes with full voice and personality, something you'll never be able to get with either the distracted, coked out David Live or the perfunctory Stage.  On Live his voice started cracking like that cyborg at the end of Terminator 2 once he reached the third or fourth song, but here he keeps it pounding on through the big ol' howls of 'Moonage Daydream' and on through the sprinting 'Suffragette City' and cover of 'White Light/White Heat' that close us out before the encore, and he puts everything he can into keeping the energy level at the breaking point.. Of course, it may also be that he still felt some respect for his rock 'n' roll material while on Live he sounded like he'd just as soon sing Ashford and Simpson covers for two hours as revisit his metal years. Whatever happens, this is a punk record three years ahead of its time (with the exception of, say, 'Time' and 'Space Oddity' and a few other slow songs that fit in like Boy George at a Daughters of the American Revolution convention), and for the stretches in which they are in full flight on his Ziggy/Aladdin material are positively hammering. As if I need to tell you, Mick Ronson plays his massive Les Paul guitar like a man barely controlling a fire hose (as long as we're on the subject, Bowie plays his microphone like a man barely able to control his fire hose), and the Spider rhythm section pounds and doo-wops its background vocals like true champs, leaving us with a show that, as long as the tempos remain fast and the guitar loud, may have a few mistakes but sure sounds flawless.

For all this justifiable Bowie worship going on in this review (it is, as they say, impossible to look away, or...ermm...plug your earholes. Or something.), this show puts into great relief how lame some of Bowie's more pretentious early work really is, as 'Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud' puts the opening bit of the show to a screeching halt and the poison acoustic duo of 'Space Oddity' and 'My Death' threaten to derail the motherfucker altogether.  But as Ronson reattaches his axe to his power outlet with a resounding 'SKKKREEAAAAWWWW!!!' at the beginning of 'Cracked Actor', it's all washed away again and we're home free through classic versions of a finally believable 'Time' when Bowie wills his song over the crowd, a wonderfully fucked version of 'Width of a Circle', and the breathless closing sequence until finally pulling into 'Rock and Roll Suicide', which sounds not only perfectly fitting, but also perfectly sincere when compared to the false Ziggy studio version.

Like the Grateful Dead and Rush, hearing the Spiders-era Bowie albums just doesn't have the creative and energetic charge of hearing them live, making Soundtrack from Ziggy Stardust (or the supposedly superior former bootleg Santa Monica 1972) essential for people disappointed by Ziggy or Aladdin, and absolutely required listening for fans of Bowie or glam (and how can they be mutually exclusive, huh?) at all.  And hell, fans of good ol dirty-ass rock 'n' roll might just dig the crust out of it too.

Capn's Final Word: Just goes to show there was something to watch and listen to. Sound and vision indeed.

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Diamond Dogs - RCA 1974

Transitional album, or just an unholy mating of cocaine paranoia and middlebrow literary obsessions? I say it's just David Bowie pretty much being David Bowie, meaning a man with not much of a firm grasp on his art or his quality producing product that nonetheless somehow pulls itself off because of hubris and atmosphere and the fact that no one has exactly played music like this before.  Ostensibly, Diamond Dogs is the third (even though I just now wrote 'tird' not once but three times) album in the Ziggy trilogy, though that's not to be taken literally, of course. Ziggy himself supposedly died at the end of the first album, but this is still hard-chargin' sci-fi glam rock.  To be honest, though, it has quite a bit less to do with the other two from either a musical or attitude standpoint. Musically, Bowie is deconstructing the Spiders big crunch into simpler riffs while screwing in more atmospheric orchestras, background vocalists, horns, and keyboards, which end up coming across, well...as R&B music. His singing voice is also changing into more of a measured, stilted croon. These two factors point to his upcoming redefinition as the first White Anorexic in the Gamble and Huff soul empire, but the themes of this record - a numbing excursion into fascism, thought-control, and apocalyptica, all run through a fairly rudimentary Orwell interpretation - are like Ziggy Stardust after a bad plate of curry chicken. You'd think the two sides, the soul rumblings and the boot stomping a person's face for eternity, would mix like cattlemen and vegans, but it turns out that Bowie actually makes a lot of this album work. The truth is, it's uglier than Paris Hilton in good light, but it's also strangely compelling in a pulpy, pre-goth sort of way.  One theory exists (because I just made it up) that Bowie was intentionally trying to lower the audience's Ziggy/glam rock expectations by creating an album that most people would be hard-pressed to truly love, but he was too commercially savvy not to throw on at least one bone that his fanbase would scarf up like manna from Himmel, 'Rebel Rebel'.  This has one of Bowie's last true classic riffs and lyrics that describe his teenage daydream fans and their image-obsessed self-destructiveness to a tee ('hey babe you're hair's alright, hey babe, let's go out tonight').  And, umm...that's all! The riff is the music, other than some well-placed pauses and a four-bar lead-in to the chorus, anyway, and the lyrics are nothing more than a revisitation of 'All The Young Dudes' (which Bowie wrote for Mott the Hoople like Paul McCartney wrote 'Come and Get It' for Badfinger) but are still affecting in that perfect time-and-place setting. I feel glam when I hear this song, and that's no mean trick.

The rest of the album is alternately oppressive and yucky ('We Are the Dead'), sweeping and bizarre (the Isaac Hayes tribute '1984', which everyone talks about like it’s not a complete ripoff.  Other reviewers are complete blathering idiots, all of them, because not a damn one of them listens to soul music.  I do, I just don't review it.), or just completely random ('Sweet Thing', a two-part soul ballad that I guess refers to Winston's girlfriend, or maybe just to a really top-notch gram of coke that Bowie bought once.  I'm sure I'm supposed to be following some sort of a story here, but I really can't be arsed to spare the brain cells currently trying breathlessly to come up with another snappy euphemism for excrement).  Still, as repulsive as some of this music is ('Candidate' is simply gross, and God give me strength to make it through 'Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family' without throwing up a little bit into my mouth), it's also consistently interesting and no one can question the quality of Bowie's performance.  His voice is used better and with wider variation that we've heard it before, and his guitar and sax playing comes to the fore now that Ronson's not there to melt faces anymore.  Sheeit, I know Bowie people who readily embrace all his bullshit are money with this album, since I'm a Bowie person who acknowledges all his bullshit and likes a lot of this album anyway.  If you're a more casual fan you might find it a bit too gross and confusing as I did for a long time.  If you're not sure which group you fall into, try this little test - if you can look at the album cover and not feel all queasy inside like you just walked in on your mother putting on pantyhose, you've got yourself a purchase.  Now, if you look at the cover of Aladdin Sane and feel all gooky inside, you're probably either a homophobe or a Republican or both and don't need to be listening to David Bowie in the first place, and if you don't like the cover of Ziggy Stardust you need to remove the dogshit from your brain casing.

 Capn's Final Word:  David at his most psychically fucked up makes mediocre art that's still mighty listenable.  Then again, he did that when he was perfectly healthy, too.

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David Live - RCA 1974

So David Bowie is a guy I find infinitely easy to criticize and make fun of, but if you were to walk up to me on the street, corner me with a mean dog and ask me if I liked him, really liked him, I'd say 'sure!' without a lot of struggle, which I probably wouldn't be able to do with, say, Queen even. I really really enjoy his best work, and find most of his crappy work at least halfway enjoyable and not a stultifying chore to listen to like all those Seventies Beach Boys albums I just reviewed. But David Live is a low point, and it's completely indefensible.  I have an awful time listening to it, and probably have made it through both albums only under some hazy rationalization that I 'had' to so I would write a decent, balanced review.  Well, fuck that right in the nostril, because this is one unbalanced album...Bowie's tipped the scales so badly in his disfavor that when you list out the facts regarding this album you can't help but create the impression that the man was actually trying to sabotage his own career at the time, sort of a half-assed live Self Portrait or something. Let's investigate in a biased and childish way, shall we?

-  This tour was originally intended to be one final blowout of the Ziggy/Dogs character, but the personnel, sets, and concept were changed completely at the last second after his split with the Spiders.

-  David's replacement band was a large outfit with prominent horns and backup singers, laiiiiid back drumming, and timid guitar playing that is obviously built for soul music.

-  The cover proudly proclaims that the concert was recorded in Philadelphia, attempting to ally the man with the whole Gamble/Huff Philly sound phenomenon that had captured Bowie's imagination. 

This was obviously intended as a soul album, yet

-  The only soul song he sings is the old track 'Knock On Wood', later covered by Amii Stewart as a famous latter-days of disco song. The rest of the songs are from the 1970-1974 era, which is comprised of songs that are decidedly not soul material.  But they're played like that regardless. 'Width of a Circle'. 'Suffragette City'. 'Rebel Rebel'. All rock songs played by a soul band who has no idea how to play rock songs so they end up like soul songs.

This would be weird, but potentially acceptable, even intriguing, (see Dylan's Live at Budokan) except that:

-  This was a double live album recorded on Bowie's Diamond Dogs tour, but only contains five songs (out of a total of twenty) from that album, and he's completely, obviously disinterested in those.  

-  The Diamond Dogs material is the best stuff on here

Yikes! But that's as bad as it gets, right? I mean, come on, you have to say something positive!

No. To wit:

-  Sax player David Sanborn sounds like he's trying out for the Saturday Night Live Band with his neverending showboat wailing.

-  The guitars are distorted enough to negate the soul sound, yet not loud enough to dominate. 

-  Whenever Earl Slick solos, which is a lot of the time, he sounds just like the guy from Big Brother and the Holding Company.

-  Bowie seems to think that singing soulfully is to whine and caterwaul tunelessly as long as it's done with emotional intensity.

-  Bowie's voice begins to falter during 'Sweet Thing' and begins to fail completely during 'Changes'.  These are the fourth and fifth songs of the concert. It continues to degenerate from there, meaning he can't even whine and caterwaul tunelessly like he wants to. The background singers get louder as Bowie gets quieter.

-  He closes with 'Time'.

And anyway, who wants an album that features

 Bowie wearing an ill-fitting white leisure suit and an Arthur Fonzarelli hairdo on the cover?

 Capn's Final Word:  You go right ahead.  I'll be waiting for you back here with these rubber waders on.

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Young Americans - RCA 1975

You know? I actually listen to this album more often than I do probably any Bowie record other than Low or Station to Station, though for the life of me I can't explain from a critical standpoint why that is.  Perhaps it's because despite being crammed full of tasteless, insubstantial 'plastic soul' it's still more of a cohesive statement than Bowie's made in years and has as many all-time classic Bowie tracks (two) as any of the last three albums, or perhaps its just because I like to shake my pale white booty to the Eminem of the Philly Sound and am a closet sucker for proto-disco. Whatever it is, I'll admit that this album is truly, undeniably ''throwaway', meant to be played in the background at a couple of mid-70's swing parties and then tossed aside and replaced by the next season's model.  That's what a lot of soul (and, incidentally, rap and dance) music is...it's not meant to be trundled out thirty years later and looked at under a microscope to decide it's meaningless and dated.  Just like you can't watch Bergman and Tarkovsky films all the time without taking a break to see a Zoolander or a Naked Gun every once in awhile, you can't listen to 'serious' rock music without every once in awhile just listening to something stupid, pandering, and formulaic that still manages to kill as background music.  And just like you can't listen to a rap album from 1992 without hearing a bunch of anachronistic Rodney King references, you can't listen to a soul album from 1975 and not hear sappy romanticism and 'romantic' saxophone solos, especially one by a cokehead white English dude who was a year or two removed from fellating his guitar player right up onstage!  And anyway, how much worse of a treatment of mid-70's smooth soul is Young Americans than, say, the Young Rascals were doing to mid-60's hard soul seven years before?  What about the Kinks and their mediocre series of blues albums in the mid-60'sThey were both slavishly copying a trendy movement in black music for their own ends, when they were probably better suited sticking to music they were more familiar with. There aren't too many people who had the guts to even try this stuff, and fewer got it even close to being right.  I say Bowie didn't do a bad job of it, which leads to the question of whether he even should've done it at all - light, jazzy proto-disco isn't necessarily in possession of a great excess of artistic substance, you know. And neither is Young Americans...this is an album that gets by on snappy beats and (sometimes) Bowie's singing, and when those two factors don't mutt the custard, you've got a ten ton bore sitting on your chest. And that's exactly what happens whenever the tempos get slow on this album - the opening title track is snappy and bittersweet, a revisitation of the Rebel Rebel we met on his last album, now out of place from ripping stars off her face. The feel is rollicking and positive, and Bowie exudes enough charisma to make Don Cornelius consider him for a spot on Soul Train, which is exactly what happened...and if you've ever seen a man look MORE like a cokehead than Bowie did up there lipsyncing on that stage, you're probably David Crosby's butler or something. Anyway, that's the last of that fresh, sunny feeling...the rest of this album is languid and smoky (as languid and smoky as, well...David Crosby...the jerk!), finally becoming downright obscene and decadent with the closing funk hit 'Fame'.  Now, I mostly associate 'Fame' with the music that Tommy danced along to in the 'Mystery Stripper' episode of Eight Is Enough, but suffice it to say that this is poison dancefloor...funky as you ever wanna be, and with these paranoiac background vocals that sound like the echoes of a schizophrenic mind.  A monster hit, and as dark, elusive, and persuasive as the disco era ever got. Those are John Lennon, by the way, though I have a hard time identifying that it's actually his drunk ass and not just some random dude (kind of like how Bowie's supposed to sing backup on the Stones' 'It's Only Rock and Roll'...I'll have to take your word for it).  Now on the cover of 'Across The Universe', it's clear ol' John Boy's back there, and I'm sure he wholeheartedly embraced the fact that Bowie was rerecording his Let It Be song in a throwaway, trendy arrangement with some of the most distasteful vocal acrobatics of Bowie's career, since the guy was just as reverent towards his own back catalogue as Bowie was.  They were two peas in a pod, John and Dave, since neither one of them had any clue what they were doing with their careers at the time and were spending most of their time partying until their eyes bled.  All you needed was Nilsson and you've got the Tanqueray Triumverate on your hands.

The rest of the album is wholly forgettable, with the only marginal exception being 'Fascination', which is a fairly decent dance track.  The rest all run on way too long (they are meant for dancing, you know), feature waaaaay too much of David Sanborn's banal sax twiddling, and are pretty thinly written tracks.  'Right' takes Marvin Gaye's I Want You sound and drains out the blood, 'Somebody Up There Likes Me' sounds like fucking Billy Joel, and 'Can You Hear Me' is a ballad with nowhere to go and no gas to get there with.  But none of the tracks are wretched, just none of them are too substantial, and of course there's all that ever-present 'insincerity' that pretty much saturates anything David Bowie gets within half a mile of. This is all disposable music, and you don't get much of a chance to forget it outside of the two hits.

I suppose most people will hate this record, and you'd be justified in doing so, but I still have a soft spot for it because it's so out of character for Bowie to make a Smooooooth Jazzzz classic like this and still manage to put a couple of winners on it, one of which is as bizarre and off-putting as anything he's put his name to.

 Capn's Final Word: Just about as good as the throwaway mid-70's soul album it desperately wants to be.

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Station to Station - RCA 1976

The beginning of David's highly respectable avant-garde era begins on Station to Station, the first of Bowies 70's albums to truly lean more towards pursuing some artistic goal rather than trying to get a maximum number of butts in the seats.  This one was originally intended to be the soundtrack to Bowie's freaky-cool  double-plus-decadent sci-fi flick The Man Who Fell to Earth (from which the cover photos of both Station to Station and Low are taken), but since that idea was scrapped, all we've got are some ultra-modern sounding tracks combining electronics and dancey soul music, standing on the verge of the full-blown experimentation of the soon-to-follow Eno trilogy but with one tendril still on solid ground, making Station to Station more immediately accessible to the average non-electronic listener.  That's true in theory anyway, and the last time I paid any serious attention to a theory I ended up naked and covered in Vaseline, running headlong through St. Petersburg's Ploschad Vosstanyia in the middle of February in an ice storm. S2S is not made of of 'hit material' that your average drooling droogie would want to hear on the ol' AM Top 40 countdown, not like Young Americans did, anyway, and although there are serious disco tinges on a couple of these tracks, I'd say it's one weird sonofawhore who gets the ol' boogie stick whipping along to 'Station to Station'.  Nope, this is essentially music to rock to, and that's where the strengths lie - Bowie hasn't rocked as consistently as he does on the title track or 'TVC15' or 'Stay' or 'Golden Years' since the Aladdin Sane times, and this album is unemcumbered by too much slimy 'decadence'...it's straight up ultramodern rock music with soul inflections, and it's some of Bowie's best material ever.

The title track announces Bowie's new self-coronation, that of the Thin White Duke.  Considering how much cocaine he was cramming into his sinuses around this time, it's no wonder he was thin and white...the man looked like a cross between GQ and Nazi Death Camp Weekly, and there's some high-lar-yus documentary footage of him shot around this time showing him freaking out in the back of a limousine thinking he's being followed.  Hours of good fun, I tells ya, much like the super-depraved Man Who Fell to Earth, directed by the same sicko that did Mick Jagger's Performance, both of which are 'fictional' but borrow what seem like huge cartoonish chunks of the daily realities of their respective stars. Anyway, 'Station to Station' supposedly relates the story of a three-day marathon journey by Bowie from L.A. to London (or something like that), and indeed we first hear the sounds of rushing trains (synthesized, of course) blasting back and forth across our brain topographies, followed by an ominous blast of feedback and rudimentary piano banging that slowly morphs into an oppressive bit of robotic rock/dance music, which only much later changes once again to a legitimately danceable groove to take us on through the glorious coda to the end.  The entire song, all ten minutes of it, is a pure rush, and never feels overlong.  Hell, if I could groove like this, I'd play 10 minute songs, too. Bowie claims 'It's not a side effect of the cocaine, I think it must be love', and hell, I don't believe him, but I'll thank him for the ride nonetheless. 'Golden Years', too...this oddly happy bit of doowop is as repetitive as 'Rebel Rebel' and groovy as 'Fame', but simply a little drop of pure, funky enjoyment. 'TVC15' is harder rocking than either of these two, and funnier - it's about Iggy Pop's hallucination that his television ate his girlfriend, except Bowie's lyrics express more envy for the girl's fate than remorse. It's a pleasure machine, baby, much like this song....hearing the modulation to the first chorus, as the music changes from a shuffle to a headbanging charge, is enough to make me forget anything Roxy Music ever told me.  Is that what was supposed to happen? The funk-rocker 'Stay' was sprung forth from the forehead of the dancefloor, though, giving Roxy's Siren its own run for the money. This is probably the least impressive track on the record, and the closest thing to a Young Americans-style groove, but there's an impolite noisiness to set it apart from those audial Sominexes.

The last two songs are ballads of a sort, and though I'm generally not as well-disposed towards the pussier songs in the world, I have to admit that these are pretty good considering Bowie's last been able to write a decent ballad...ummm....never. 'Word On A Wing' is more of a light rocker anyway, something about reconciling faith in God or a new girlfriend, or something like that.  With Bowie, who cares anyway? He's a robot! All of his feelings are installed via emotion-module downloads from www.microsoft.com/englishpopsinger/pretentious ! The intertwining vocals are impressive, though, and he does a mighty fine job of simulating interest in his work, as he does on the obscure cover 'Wild Is The Wind', though his howling at the end is kinda out of the realm of good taste.

This album isn't, though! Before he got too deep into his brain and his Brian, Bowie had this nice transitional phase in which he created pop music that was, if anything, more influential than the deeper work to come.  Station to Station is firmly grounded enough to give all of us folks something to love, from the uncompromising rock to the rubbery funk to the strong ballads...any more album like this and I might've had to take back some of the things I said about Bowie being an incompetent hack.

 Capn's Final Word:  David transitions again, and makes some of his most convincing music sitting on the fence.

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Nathan Harper nator9999@comcast.net   Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I used to think Ziggy was Bowie's best album, until I realized I had much more fun listening to this and Low (well, the first half of Low anyway). Title track is amazing, incredibly repetive but it never gets old. I love how it does a complete 180 in the middle too! The best song by a slim margin though would have to be TVC15. You took the words right from my mouth, that initial transition in the beginning is awesome. What a weird song. Golden Years and Stay are both fun, and Wild is the Wind is great too, in a silly, campy sort of way. This isn't quite A+ material though because I find Word on a Wing to be extremely cheesey, and I just kind of wish there were more songs.

 


Low - RCA 1977

Sometime in 1976, Bowie relocated his skinny crackheaded ass to West Berlin to further 'artify' himself among the weird, gloomy nihilists that populated that peculiar island of discontent in a sea of Communism, holing himself up with synthesizer pioneer and all-around short bald dude Brian Eno to create a trio of albums that are generally accepted to be among Bowie's best, most heavyweighted artistic statements of all time.  Most critic-types approach Bowie with a sort of 'yadda yadda Ziggy Stardust yadda yadda Eno Trilogy yadda yadda', which not only completely dashes over some pretty major successes in the Bowie catalogue (Tonight! Outside! Not these!) but also oversimplifies the Trilogy as a distinct thing.  The truth of the matter is that Bowie began screwing with the formula back on Station to Station and didn't completely get off the electro-weirdness bus until after Scary Monsters was finished in 1980 (and I'd go so far as to say the Queen-collaboration 'Under Pressure' was his final 'farethewell' to his Kraut period).  Anyway, if you wish, you can view Low as the 'start' of a period of time in which Bowie consciously low-ered his profile (check the cover again) and concentrated on creating introspective, electronically-charged music that had a lot less to do with the pop charts and a lot more to do with what folks like Kraftwerk and Amon Duul II (not to mention Eno and the Eno-version Roxy Music) had been working on for years already...repetition, spacey synth and guitar textures, and 'psycho', depressive lyrics.  Of course, Bowie wasn't really weird or ballsy enough to let himself dive into the volcano of avant gardism with both feet, making Bowie's take on this stuff a lot more commercial and, well, Bowie-like than it might otherwise be.  Side A of Low, bookmarked with instrumentals, is largely made up of songs that wouldn't have been considered weird if they'd been on Station to Station - faintly disco-ey hard rockers with lots of loud guitar and rhythm section, much more familiarly structured than even the vamp of 'Golden Years' was last time.  Hell, riffs, choruses, bridges...these are just rock songs, not the keys to the MX missile silos.  The only things at all that would cause someone to look sideways are the textures, because Eno isn't much of a chordin', orchestratin' kinda guy, at least not with his magical synthesizers...and would you be? Why make a $5000 analog synth try to sound like a violin when you can get a violin player to do that (unless you hate string players to death, which pretty bloody well describes me...frigging pretentious, no-tuning bats...except for that one cellist I used to date, of course. She was finer than margaritas by the pool, I tells ya.)? Synthesizers ought to burble like overfed grizzly bears ('What In The World') and sound like water being splattered on a hot frying pan ('Sound and Vision'), or just add layer upon layer of virtual shag carpet over the foundation of the track to make it interesting. Deep. And Eno does precisely what he needs to with his contributions...when a normal distorted guitar just isn’t enough to make the nut bust, he wraps it in flanges and filters and makes it sting. There won't be any surprises for people who've heard the first two Roxy Music albums, or Eno's first three solo records (all of which feature tones and changes which are much more chaotic and risky than the ones he made with Bowie), but if you're graduating from Ziggyland, this album might just blow your fuse...the shift in Bowie's attitude (from decadent and fantastic to expressionist and cynical) would be enough to make a man doubt he's even listening to the same guy.

Without good songs, though, this album would sink faster than you can say 'Phil Manzanera Solo Album', and Bowie and Eno rip off a side of winners, each one memorable and full of energy.  The opening instrumental 'Speed of Life', is nothing more than a riff rocker with synthesizers playing a major role (both the musical and otherwise), but it also pounds just as well as 'TVC 15' did, alternating between out-and-out rocking sections and dancey, pensive parts that recall 'Station to Station'.  In fact, if you were to distill 'S2S' down to three minutes and remove the vocals, you'd get 'Speed of Life'.  'Breaking Glass' is what I call a 'hop', danceable the poppin' basslbut a bit too pounding to be any good for you, like disco run through a Marshall stack on 11. 'What in the World' is more self-consciously 'boinky', as Bowie stumbles over his own tongue and the rhythms shift near-constantly. This is the first time I feel more of Eno's influence than Bowie's, from the nagging lead guitar line to the carnival synth...parts of this feel a bit too familiar.  It's common knowledge that Eno liked to work from a 'vocabulary' of chords and tones when creating his songs, even going so far as to write them up on a chalkboard and point to the next desired chord as the band improved in the studio.  (For some reason I remember he particularly loved B-flat major, in case that knowledge is useful to you.) Anyway, this approach tends to make these songs sound Eno-like in more ways than just the synth/guitar effect orgy...there's a certain sameness to chord structure, too. Anyway, I'm also completely in love with the romantic 'Golden Years-y' mid-tempo rocker 'Sound and Vision' (aka 'The Coffee Is Boiling Over Song'), and 'Be My Wife', with it's fleet lead guitars soaring over like rockets, is quite possibly the best of the bunch. The closing instrumental 'A New Career In a New Town' intends to ease us into Side B with some ambient passages, but is itself very conventional as well, some harmonica, a 2/4 beat, what else could you want out of a post-punk pop track? Some vocals? Well, ta hells witch ya!

The only place Low lets all the entrails hang out, as it were, is on the second side, made up of four synthestic instrumentals that fall somewhere north of Eno's own 'audial furniture', but yet not forceful enough to qualify as, say, Tangerine Dream.  The only singing here is either wordless or in an unidentifiable, Eastern bit of Bowiebabbling, meaning despite having titles like 'Warzawa' and 'Weeping Wall', you're on your own to fill in the blanks of what these 'compositions' are really about.  They're all somewhat dark and barren, though are so completely ambiguous in emotional effect that it's entirely up to the listener to figure out what they feel.  I personally am sort of a sucker for this early Eno ambient stuff (pre-1982, anyway), and can really enjoy a juicy set of shifting tones or randomly accented percussion, but I'm afraid what we have here is a group of tracks that show diminishing returns as the side wears on.  'Warzawa' is gorgeous, by far the most moving and evocative of the four (for me), but 'Art Decade' sounds too familiar (it's quite a bit like a certain part of Eno's Another Green World I cant remember the name of, except less), and 'Subterraneans' is way too long and formless to produce much of an effect - call me a sellout, but Bowie's loungey saxophone is the best part.  As a whole, I'd say they're just about as effective as the passage on 'Heroes', except that one feels much shorter and more widely varied, and has less of a diluted effect.  Still, when presented with the second side of Low or the entire collected works of Vangelis, I'd pick Low every time.

 Capn's Final Word:  Half brilliant oddball pop and half decent conventional ambient.  Bowie makes his big move.

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Nathan Harper nator9999@comcast.net      Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: It's a tough call...sometimes I like Low more, sometimes Heroes.
Usually, this one comes out on top. There's nothing as great as 'Heroes' on the first side, but the pop songs on Low are much more consistent. And 'Always Crashing' and 'Be My Wife' are almost as good anyway. Now I kind of disagree and think that the instrumentals on Heroes are more interesting, but they are kind of gimmicky, which I think was a very good point. So I'll give this one the A+.

 

Alan Brooks kerry_prez@yahoo.com    Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: I like 'Speed Of Life' most of all. But after all it IS probably the most accessible track. On 'Low' Bowie wasn't being a chameleon, he was being Bowie.


 


Heroes - RCA 1978

Low with Robert Fripp and a near-robotic level of self-confidence, more or less, 'Heroes' is the second in the Star Wars Missle Defense System Trilogy, and marks little departure from the previous record.  I'd say I prefer the first side of Low by a tiny smidge, just because I think the quirky 'Beauty and the Beast' isn't much of an opener when compared to the kick in the throat of 'Speed of Life', and 'Blackout's kinda gross. Hell, otherwise we've got a genuine guitar-Titan man-on-the-silver-mountain intro to the breathless 'Joe the Lion', Bowie doing a very schizoid half tired-businessman half pleading spurned lover delivery on the highly intense, yet restrained 'Sons of the Silent Age', which has some of the most memorable lines of this entire group of albums ('Oh baby baby baby I won't even let you go, all I see is all I know, let's take another way down (sons of sound, oh sons of sound)'. The word here is arrangement - while many of the treatments on Low sounded a little tacked on in places (hey lookit me! I'm using a Moog and a bunch of delays to make this guitar sound like an angry hornet with a headache!), the production here is just as dense but twice as transparent. Part of that might be Robert Fripp's influence, since he'd already worked with Eno on a couple of records and knew all the tricks, therefore feeling less inclined to make the effects stick out quite as strongly (not to mention bringing his own sped-up soloing technique and bag of stompboxes to the table).  Instead, more effort is spent making the songs more layered and the changes more severe, often muddling each other up until the 'song' is born out of the resulting mess. The classic example is, of course, the massive title track, probably one of David Bowie's most easily recognizable and artistically resilient songs.  Musically, it's a combination of swooshing synths, a pounding piano, an untreated distorted guitar, and a very characteristic, infinitely-sustained guitar that sounds more synthesizer than six-string.  It's an Ebow, I tell ya...and the best use of one I've ever heard. Anyway, the real star isn't any particular whoosh, it's David's vocals.  As the story goes, this was David's kiss-off to his early-Seventies' excesses, where he disavowed his bisexuality ('I, I will be king, and you, you will be queen') and stood up as a 'real' person, as opposed to the 'plastic' people he'd made himself up as while dressed in the Ziggy or Philly Soul personalities. His hair was a normal human color, for one thing, and he sang 'Little Drummer Bow' on television with Bing Crosby, for another. The song tells a very charged tale of two lovers split apart by the Berlin wall, though it's hard to tell whether it's in life or death ('as the guards...shot over our heads/ we kissed, like nothing could fall'), and it's probably one of the most sincere things Bowie's ever done.  It's hard to hear his voice ringing through all those gates and reverbs, hacking through the singing guitars and not feel he really means what he's doing. 

The second half is more Fun With Transistors, more 'song-oriented' and overall much less long-winded than on Low, though I hazard to say less emotionally intense, as well.  The opening 'V-2 Schneider' (recalling the self-propelled Nazi 'buzzbomb' rocket of the latter stages of the war) is a 'song' like 'New Career in a New Town' was a 'song'...there are very firm footholds to hang yourself on, a very normal 4/4 beat, some chanted 'V-2 Schneider's, and some odd, doo-wop saxophone lines.  That doesn't much prepare you for when the bottom drops out, though, and it does with a mighty yawn. The opening set of whoosh noises, 'Sense of Doubt' is as abstract and 'ambient' as anything on the Low album (some distant synth pads and four repetitive piano notes known better as 'didn't I leave the killer's body right here?' in your average cheesy slasher film) though it's much more 'minimalist' and, to me, shallow.  'Moss Garden' is essentially just 'Sense of Doubt' with less oppressive pads but adding a ploinking Japanese koto, all signifying nearly nothing.  What am I supposed to feel? 'I want sushi?' These tracks are all too obviously gimmicked and contrived for me. While the tracks on Low told you to 'feel emotion', the songs here seem to implore you to 'feel sensation'. 'Moss Garden' is dreamy and relaxing, 'Neukoln' is headachey and frayed, 'Sense of Doubt' is foreboding. Otherwise I feel like these three are too musically inert - there's too many things that are 'supposed' to make you feel a certain way, yet not enough musicians playing to leave a little room open for interpretation  While I bet Fripp plays some 'Flippertronics' ('How many times do I have to tell you to not get the fucking tape recorders wet, you goddamn fishbait!'), he's a nonentity on side B.

Luckily, the second side ends with a marvelous disco song that brushes away the preceding three bits of pretentious nonsense into a cloud of rump-bumping dust. 'Secret Life Of Arabia' sounds like Bowie attempting to figure out what he'd be doing right then if he'd kept on with his Young Americans persona for a few more years than he did.  It's silly and dated, but it's also pretty funny if you take it as a tongue-in-cheek (and how could it not be, with the hand-claps and 'Secret! Secret!) poke at his own self-importance.  You know, 'Heores' is great, but it's a bit too pretentious, lacking some of the 'well hell, let's give it a try' vibe of Low.  It'd be easy to blame it on Robert 'Philosopher-King of All Jerks' Fripp's involvement, but I also think that Bowie was also beginning to believe his own artiness a tad too deeply this time around. He doesn't show it on, say, 'Joe the Lion' (he's too busy ripping the microphone to shreds), but the more perfunctory bit of ambient stuff and tendency towards ugly for ugly's sake ('Blackout', 'Neukoln') show that he's trying to make himself more in-line with the Can's of the world. It's not enough to make me doubt the validity of this record (far from it), but if pressed, I'd definitely take Low every time over 'Heroes'.  Whatever...anyone who cares needs both of them today right now anyhow.

Capn's Final Word:  A bit mechanical, and the ambient part is a bit of a letdown, but still has an iron grip on fascination.

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Nathan Harper nator9999@comcast.net  Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: The pop songs are less consistent than on Low, but this does have a lot of things going for it. Sure, the instrumentals don't pack the emotional punch of the stuff on Low, but I find them much easier to sit through, because they all sound different. 'Sense of Doubt' really captures the atmosphere it's title suggests, and 'Neukoln' is my favorite Bowie/Eno ambient thing out of these two albums...I heard it was orchestrated by Phillip Glass or something too, but I'm not sure about that. And of course we've also got the title track, one of Bowie's best songs, as well as 'Beauty and the Beast,' and 'Sons of the Silent Age.'  A solid A.


Matthew Byrd Matthewbyrd@Homail.com   Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: I'm a bit suprised by the mixed reviews "Heroes" gets.  I haven't really listened to much of David's catalogue but I have given this one a Low frequent listens and my conclusion, thus far, is that they are anomalies in his catalogue, a step above the rest.  The title track is an almost unmatched ballad and the album itself is always interesting.  Joe The Lion, Blackout and Beauty And The Beast are all screams, if not furious rockers.  'V-2 Schnieder' is the standout instrumental that almost but doesn't quite stand up to it's cousin 'Speed Of Life'.  Overall, I say if you only get a few Bowie albums make it Low, Station To Station or "Heroes", I recommend "Heroes" a bit above the others.


Mike     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Great album. The Schneider on V-2 Schneider is a reference to Florian from Kraftwerk.

 


Stage - RCA 1978
Incomplete

This'll have to wait until I have an hour or two to cuddle up with my turntable and dig on these dull live versions of Low tunes.  It's awfully hard to find on CD, and not even my Russian contacts have it for download.  Stay tuned.

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Lodger - RCA 1979

The last of the Fritzrockers marks a distinct change from the first two, the most obvious one being that Lodger has no whoosh section on Side B...that's right, nothing fills up ol' Lodger but songz songz songz. Boinky, semi-gay, semi-worldbeat electro-wave pop songs. For those of you out there that weren't big fans of those pesky instrumental sides in the first place, or else felt that they'd gotten staler than year old pork rinds on 'Whores' (me! me! me!), you might feel you could automatically mark up Lodger a few extra points, but I say hold right there, Alan Thicke. This album continues some of the positive aspects of the first two albums (interesting arrangements, tasty lead guitar), but not all of them.  The atmosphere's been plumb drained outta this mother like pus from a septic boil, and that's not just the fault of not having those ambiguous little bugbears on side B.  See, if you remove atmosphere from the equation, you have to replace it with melody or else you leave a vacuums.  And vacuums, as they say, suck. Lodger brings on the melody only when its done exploring its life in the bush of ghosts and playing with its league of gentlemanly crafts and bastardized Arabian music and whatnot.  Eno particularly was on a very strong world-beat kick around the time of this album's release, but on Lodger he didn't know his djembe from his Djibouti.  'African Night Flight' and 'Yassassin' are ruined by Eno's boredom with Western rhythms and spacey, Kraut-y synthtones, replacing them with ugly 'furrin-sounding' noises that sound more like mockery than experimentation (check out Bowie's godawful half-tone singing on 'Yassassin'). Otherwise, the vision is similarly narrowed to much more terrestrial landscapes than on the last two - there's not much that can be said about 'Repetition' except it sounds suspiciously like a certain New York band that Eno was also producing albums for at the same time (that's right, I'm talkin' about Twisted Sister, you smartass!).  See, both Eno and Bowie are capable of cannibalizing themselves if it fills a vacant spot in the barrenness of Side B...isn't that heartening? The lyrics of 'Repetition' are kinda disturbing, though...it's about a woman who gets the crap beat out of her because she 'can't damn cook'.  Bowie frustratingly keeps his usual emotional distance even here (as he does on the entire album, Lodger being one of his most 'disconnected' albums ever), which might be the most disturbing thing of all.

There are, however, enough decent tracks on this album to make it a worthwhile spin, but I'd most definitely say that Lodger is the last immediately satisfying of the Three Enos.  There's just not the emotional gravity to tracks like 'Red Money', 'Fantastic Voyage', or 'Move On' as the average Low or Heroes vocal track, and nowhere are the peaks of those two even closely matched.  'Look Back In Anger' is a recognized classic nonetheless, a sort of warp-speed opera/heavy metal track that features some of the most frenetic drumming I've heard outside of a Bill Bruford performance.  After close listening, I'm willing to bet my farm on the fact that it's actually two drumtracks mixed together, but you know those late 70's prog-type guys and their maniac drummers - it could actually be just that fast. Who knows? But there's not a hook more resilient as the 'Waiting so long I've been waiting so, waiting so' chant of the chorus on this album. Shame the rest of these songs don't pack this much adrenaline, but 'D.J.' is snide and catchy (sounds like Bowie doing ELO, it does), and 'Boys Keep Swinging' makes a completely hilarious, blathering mess of 'Heroes' with lines like 'When you're a boy...other boys just check you out....life's just a pop of the cherry...they'll never clone ya...one just kissed you hello!'. Allright there Truman Capote! I'll just leave you and Tom Wolfe to your Studio 54, mint juleps, and Indonesian-made teen boy porn magazines, alright?

Lodger just isn't all that satisfying, perhaps because Bowie was already trying to scale his next fence, which was regaining some of the commercial heft he tossed out the window back in 1976.  Instead of formulating a nice 'Heroes'-y fusion of his techno experiments and his pop tendencies into something that works for all of us, he tightens his grip and loosens his focus and makes a lot of highly quirky and not immediately pleasurable pop-like music.  Oddly, this one is much closer in tone and structure to Scary Monsters than it is to either Low or Heroes, except on Monsters he quits kidding himself and gets down to writing good, accessible songs instead of tailing along behind Brian Eno on all of his safaris. 

 Capn's Final Word:  Eno gets bored with the West Berlin Two Step and tries to mix it up.  With muddled results.

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Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) - RCA 1980

The last of Bowie's 'serious' albums for quite awhile, you might also qualify this as the last time for a long time the man, well, sounded like himself instead of someone either desperately trying to sound like anyone but himself, or like someone desperately trying to remember how he once sounded.  It's generally pretty good, and much closer to Lodger than most people give it credit for, giving up plenty of interesting guitar lines (some by good ol' boy twanger picker Bob Fripp once again) and unusual song structures that won't find themselves populating the public address at your local frozen custard establishment anytime soon.  The line on Scary Monsters (one that I've heard so many times I think I'll stand up, pick up my Dell desktop here at work, and gut-honk my 3-hour old Whopper lunch right into the cooling fan grille the next time I hear it mentioned) is that Bowie 'sums up' his 70's work here, revisiting Major Tom on 'Ashes to Ashes', reminding us that he used to be a teen idol for disenfranchised little brats with dyed hair and ripped skirts by cleverly using the song title 'Teenage Wildlife', and, umm...well, filling up the rest of the album with music that sounds not one good goddamn like Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Pinups, Diamond Dogs, David Live, or Young Americans.  If you claim he 'revisits' himself here, you're simply stumped trying to review a competent but ultimately uninspiring mid-period David Bowie record and can't think of anything else interesting enough to 'tag' the record with.  All the other Bowie albums were so easy to pigeonhole! Young Americans was 'plastic soul'! The last three were the 'Berlin Trilogy'! Sold was 'decadent metal'!  Oh, why couldn't Bowie have just skipped Scary Monsters and gone right onto Top 40 Big Beat pop? Scary Monsters isn't even a half-decent transition album, ferchrissakes!

Nope.  If it were better, you might be able to make a Station to Station case with Scary Monsters, that this is transition-stuff, pop music with Berlin touches, but that's really not at all correct considering this isn't particularly commercial music.  Well, maybe compared to 'Moss Garden', it is, but not when compared with Let's Dance or any of Bowie's other 80's stuff. Nope - this is more of that quirky New Wave business, heavily drawing on what was happening with the rest of the whole Peter Gabriel/Roxy Music/King Crimson/John Cale axis around the same time, because, hey - they all shared musicians with each other, so why wouldn't this sound like all those other guys, eh? There's that same mother popcorn disco basswork, big, washy synths, gee-whiz whammy-pedal guitar leads (Carlos Alomar did tour with Adrian Belew, didn't he?), and vocals that frequently cross the line from 'delightfully original' to 'gratingly bizarre' (witness the cord shredding Bowie subjects himself to on the opening 'It's No Game Part 1', which is either disgusting, if you're a James Taylor fan, or oddly soothing, if you're a Napalm Death fan). Okay, a formulaic sound, even if it's quite unlike anything you'd hear nowadays outside of a Blur album.  You know what? Those fucking Blur guys really were shameless, you know?  I bet Damon Albairn lobbied to get a sped-up track of him screeching something Japanese into a microphone placed over the top of 'Boys and Girls', but was vetoed at the last minute by the Warner Group legal affairs department.  Scary Monsters is less complicated than Lodger was, with more decidedly straight ahead tracks and no Middle Eastern-sounding hoo-haw.  Not much, anyway.  Sheeit, compared to the last three albums, some of the songs here are positively dull - 'Up The Hill Backwards' is catchy enough, but shifting from a Bo Diddley section to a slowed-down chant section or back again once every dozen or so bars sure doesn't rival the change-a-second good times of tracks like ol' 'Sons of the Silent Age', and 'Scream Like A Baby' is just a marginally modernized plod.  'Scary Monsters' has some cool guitar work but Bowie sounds unengaged and the track never bursts out of its Jockeys like, say, 'Look Back In Anger' did on Lodger. 'Teenage Wildlife' tries to recreate the sound of 'Heroes' again , but Bowie sounds more Sid Sings than Voice of God, and the track sounds like a feeble whine from the former Queen Bitch.  He wants us to stop looking to him as a messiah of teen angst? Okay, how about a poofy-haired pop singer in a stupid yellow suit? How does that one fit, Dave?

Only when Bowie really lends his personality to the material does it become special . The electrofunk 'Ashes to Ashes' is rightfully praised, as Bowie sounds half-autobiographical and half simply tired of himself as he lays it down that Major Tom was 'a junkie' and wishes us happiness. As disengaged and pensive as he sound there, he sounds equally acidic and puckish on the disco classic 'Fashion', skewering faddishness and superficiality by making a song that is neither one.  Imagine 80's-era King Crimson covering a Bootsy Collins Band song, and you'll come close. And, of course, 'It's No Game' is more of a hoot and a holler than a bucket of Towering Inferno Wings (though I sure wouldn't call it a good song). Unfortunately, that's pretty much all I've got for songs that I would classify as 'good', though more of this album is decent than otherwise.  Still, the overwhelming sense on Scary Monsters is Bowie running out of things to say, obviously wishing he were somewhere else than this arty corner he's painted himself into. I'm still giving it a B+, though I'd classify it as noticeably more perfunctory than anything he's put out since Young Americans - the quality of the musicianship and performance is just too good to call it equal to, say, Diamond Dogs or something,  That album dripped with nastiness, while at least this album feels like there might be a good outcome here somewhere.

  Capn's Final Word: The cutting edge needs a bit of a sharpening, but there's still some nice tunes here.

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Let's Dance - Virgin 1983

The transformation from which he was never quite able to reverse himself, Bowie once and for all sold his soul to Casey Kasem for three strong chart successes (four if you count 'Blue Jean' from Tonight), a wildly successful world tour, and enough godawful pictures of him looking like Satan's Own Wedding Singer in his poofy Anthony Michael Hall haircut and lemon-yellow suit to last a lifetime.  But the thing is - he actually made three pretty decent big chart hits for 1983. Stuff no one in their right mind would hate, hooky, big-beat, easily digestible tunes that are loaded with personality.  Not David Bowie's personality, but definitely someone's.  Maybe, I dunno, the guy who ran the hair dryer.  Or maybe the personality of Bowie's new boss, Virgin Records honcho Richard Branson, who must've been giggling like a pedophile at Chuck E. Cheese's that he'd snatched Bowie just in time for his long-awaited commercial wake-up call. Maybe not, because I don't much think that guy has a personality, but you never know.

Anyway, unlike Scary Monsters, which was messy, complicated, and not at all easily summed up in a sound bite, Let's Dance is EZ Reviewin' Time! The hits - 'Modern Love', 'China Girl', and 'Let's Dance', are all great pop songs, especially when you consider that Bowie's main competition in 1983 (other than Michael Jackson, of course), was bullshit like Pat Benatar and Hall and Oates

While on one hand, it's hard to take the new Bowie seriously, and he's lost a good bit of his old whacked-out panache (can you imagine '83 Bowie singing 'I'm your space invader, I'm a rock 'n' rollin' bitch for you!'?  It's about as natural as a reverse bowel movement.), but for awhile, at least, I can forget about all that.  The album opens with the upbeat beatrock of 'Modern Love', almost hopelessly catchy and featuring a happy-snappy chorus that is almost as mindlessly cheery as a Katrina and the Waves single.  The lyrics seem confused at best ('Modern love gets me to the church on time.......puts my trust in God and Man...don't believe in modern love'...uhhh...heh heh.  You used to put men's peenies in your mouth, David.), but purely acceptable in that string-of-mouth-noises way that Zappa liked to talk about.  Who cares what a song says as long as the syllables sound right?  Truth is that Bowie could've been reciting the Windows source code over this beat and it would've worked.  The faintly offensive 'China Girl' (that chopsticks intro lick kinda rubs my pussy the wrong way, if you 'hack up' my 'hairball', and I think you do) comes by way of Iggy Pop's cover of a David Bowie song that was probably nearing 8 years old by this time, though there's little or no connection between this song and the Station to Station/Low era Bowie that wrote it.  This is a note-perfect little 'atmospheric' (it's got synthesizers, and Bowie says 'shhhhhhh!') rocker that benefits greatly from the shot of credibility that hired-gun guitarist and all-around Hendrix wannabe Stevie Ray Vaughn is able to give it with just a couple of well-placed notes. I suppose this song is romantic, but romantic in a Richard Gere/Hallmark card sort of way, not in a tragic, depressing 'Heroes' way.  'Let's Dance' is a pretty cool disco tune (the interplay between the horn section and the echoey guitar on the main riff is addictive), but its overlong in it's album-length 7 minute version (the single is much more effective), and Bowie's lyrics sound like a man who's trying to be ironic but is really just cluelessly following trends he himself initiated.  SRV's guitar is also completely miscast here, sounding tacked on and tacky. Ah well, I still pretty much chant 'Let's dance!' and 'Let's sway!' along with the background singers every time it comes along, so what does that say other than this song is also quite irresistible.

That for damn sure can't be said of any of the rest of these songs, none of which come even close to the hooky effectiveness of the first side.  'Without You' is a shameless ripoff of Avalon-era Roxy Music, one of the worst and most bald-faced robberies of Bowie's entire career.  Except where Ferry was subtle and vulnerable, Bowie is manipulative and arch, and God knows how he decided these lyrics were good enough. 'Ricochet' is a messy, half-reggae tune, with what seems to be a completely bungled political theme, and 'Cat People' (hilarious way to stump your more musically-inclined friends! Ask them to name the fourth single off this album! Hell, give 'em a copy, and let them think about it for themselves. (As a little hint, let's just say it was a bad case of Bowie plugging himself...'Cat People', which is the most nothing song on a second side filled with nothings).  Anyhow, Side B is a massive bummer and speaks to just how good Bowie really was in his new popmeister clothes. Answer - he sold himself up the river.

Capn's Final Word: Bowie puts on a slick suit and pumps up the ear candy.  Half of it works.

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Tonight - Virgin 1984

Ick.  Simply ick.  If Let's Dance took Bowie three years to cough up and had three good songs on it, Tonight took him a year and barely has one.  This is a synthetic polymer pop record in the Let's Dance mode, but while that last one was at least fresh, benefited from three strong singles (one of them being several years old) and the contributions of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Tonight is rushed and flat. The single here was 'Blue Jean', a subpar simulation of 'Modern Love' minus the hooks, but let's not kid ourselves - this album killed Bowie's comeback dead.  Sometimes us critic-types don't give the public enough credit for recognizing the shit that's thrown at them (and the enduring success of bullshit crap like Puddle of Mudd and Train just reinforces my idea that most people in the general public wouldn't mind it if record companies just cut out the middleman and simply poured baby diarrhea into their ear canals), but in the case of Tonight, the good guys scored a run.  Tonight is one of the most forgettable releases (I prefer 'secretions' in this case) of Bowie's entire career, lacking even the Peter Frampton guest spot of Never Let Me Down

There's really no reason to dig into this record for lost gems 'cos there ain't a single damned one.  The faintly reggae title track was done with a zillion times more personality and intrigue by Iggy Pop on his Lust for Life album. Iggy again?!? Do we see that Bowie is quickly mining his old pals for material because his own well is dryer than Angela Lansbury's nappy dugout? What is he going for next time, a Zombie Birdhouse track, fer Chrissakes? Tina Turner, who'd started her own career packed with additive and preservative-packed career by this point, does nearly inaudible co-vocals. That's it for notables.  Would you rather hear seven straight minutes more of Avalon-derivative synthpop of 'Loving the Alien'? Or would you maybe prefer I spend 500 words describing the tooth-rotting 'hard rock skullduggery of 'Neighborhood Threat', a song so afraid of itself that Bowie actually stoops to using the line 'kiss your trash' instead of 'kiss your ass' on several occasions? Or, quite possibly the worst offense of all, even worse than the singularly unlistenable last three songs, if Bowie's careless cover of the Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows', which Bowie sings like a half-drunk Robert Goulet attempting karaoke at 2 AM, all tidal-wave vibrato and fire-pole-up-the-ass lockstep rhythms.  Holy crap! Should this guy stay as far fucking away as he can from other people's songs, or what?  An entire goddamn career and his only decent cover is fucking 'Wild Is The Wind', from some old Western?

Dude, I just notice that quite a few of these songs are by 'Bowie, Pop', and 'Don't Look Down' is by 'Pop, Williamson'.  Jesus Christ! I'm gonna have to dig out my copy of Kill City just to see if Bowie actually copied some old mid-70's post-Stooges Iggy song, or what.  Gawd.  Whatever it is, both of these guys were stuck in some sort of a freakish Bizarro-alternate universe where you put the two of them together and instead of Raw Power you get Raw Poop.  Except it's not raw at all, and that's problem A.  This dead end was Bowie's lowest, and despite my misgivings over his next two solo albums, I say this half-Dean Martin, half-Buster Poindexter Frankensein I see before me is the worst the man ever stooped.

Capn's Final Word: You know how Chuck D called himself the Media Assassin? Well, with Tonight,  David Bowie's become the Turntable Terrorist.

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Soundtrack from Labyrinth - Virgin 1986

Highly stupid soundtrack to a highly stupid kids movie starring David himself as some sort of Tina Turner drag queen villain-type who lords over the 'Labyrinth' and all of the Muppets residing therein. This was one of David's only forays into 'normal', big studio film, and kids everywhere learned to revile his Westchester Canine Club hairdo and big, pointy bad-guy outfits stolen from a 1975 Earth, Wind, and Fire concert, but also cringe at his pathetically 'modern' soundtrack music to this heap of a film (which I was forced to watch in Gifted Ed class in fourth grade by my 'cool' former women's-libber uber-leftist teacher along with most episodes of Alf, which, unbeknownst by her, was being written by a self-confessed heroin junkie on some of his deeper jags.  All I wanted to do was to somehow sneak away and go play frigging Wizardry on the computer, under the auspices of 'role playing learning'...aaaahhh, gotta love those heady days of the mid-80's, before accountability and testing choked the very life out of the elementary school education.) Anyhow, I can't remember a goddamn thing about this film other than one puppet that looked like a talking piece of dog poop, and all I have is this suspicious-looking six-song soundtrack of Bowiesongs I should probably review, though I wish I hadn't already. This album is terrible, more 'lighthearted' than his Tonight album, maybe, but if anything, less musically valid.  Throughout the five vocal songs (the first one is an instrumental, and it's soundtrack-y, but I guess we could've guessed that already), Bowie intones his self-important croon-of-the-Gods over some treacly little baby lyrics ('I believe in you!') as if they're the return of 'Heroes', showing us just how puffed-up and insincere he can be when he puts his mind to it.  I mean, nobody with a shred of self-respect would sing these lyrics in this way without even a hint of irony, soundtrack or not. I mean, didn't David look in the mirror around this time? It'd be one thing if he were singing something funny, having fun with his stiff personality...kids might even dig hearing this old British bat singing silly nonsense like Monty Python-lite or something, but instead he's all deadly serious, and deadly is the word...these songs are stillborn.

Now, again, I can't speak to the 'artistic content' of this movie (though, let's be honest, in terms of Jim Henson's films, we aren't exactly talking about the Muppet Movie here), I don't know who would tolerate listening to this trash without the accompanying visuals other than an unreformed Bowie fanatic or an independent reviewer who probably has better things to do with his time. Though, sadly, I'm almost convinced that some of these songs were used as musical backing to lame-ass MTV-inspired 'montage' sequences when all of the pieces of dogshit with strings attached to them wriggle around en masse and Bowie sings his stupid song like he doesn't wish he were back in Berlin taking it in the ass from Iggy Pop after half an ounce of China White between them. Considering that most kids have an attention span somewhere between a fruitfly and a premature tree shrew, expecting them to enjoy sitting through six minutes of 'Underground' or five minutes of 'Magic Dance' sitting in front of a record player sounds pretty fantastic itself. 'Magic Dance' is all mid-80's Jimmy Jam ear-candy and 'orchestra hit' synths over the drumbeat from 'Let's Dance' while David oversings horribly, and 'Underground' sounds like someone finshed the job and chopped the rest of Simple Minds' nuts off before inexplicably morphing into one of the most unconvincing gospel tunes since Burzum recorded 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' on their They Drove Big, Dull Metal Spikes Through the Bones of This Guy's Wrists and Hung Him by Them from a Big Stick for Weeks to Starve to Death in the Scorching Sun for Your Sins album. Anyway, the other three tracks are equally as unmentionable (and call me John Ashcroft, but a soundtrack to a children's film where the heroine is a teenage girl should not have a song entitled 'Within You' on it), other than I must say that Bowie has this really weird Prince imitation thing going on here (in more than one place, but 'Chilly Down' is the most dreadfully obvious) that proves to me one again how far Bowie'd gone up the river in the mid-1980's.  No one needs this stuff.

 Capn's Final Word: Sounds to me like there may be more than one talking piece of shit in this movie.

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Elmo     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: The music is awesome, it may not be deep and meaningful, but its fun and light. 

(Capn's Response: Ladies 'n' gentlemen...Elmo! Boy El, I sure loved you in Monsters Learn to Count...By Hunting Down and Devouring Preschoolers Raw)


Never Let Me Down - Virgin 1987

It's hard to let you down, David, when you've already done such a great job of doing it to yourself. Bowie's last solo album of the Eighties is a slight improvement over his last one, a bit less flippantly offensive, and actually containing some decent playing in places, but it still ranks as his second worst album of his worst-ever decade (well, upon second thought, the 1960's weren't too spiffy for ol' 'Mister Jones and me', either, but we'll forget that for now) and a styleless exercise in plastic 80's pop-rock that, like Labyrinth, would have a hard time appealing to anyone. We've dropped the faux-soul junk of Tonight, replacing it with that usual miconcoction that rock dinosaurs but again we're left with a vacuum that Bowie has no clue how to fill.  He's half willing to become pretentious and 'arty' again (the oddly politicized lyrics and the hideously Spinal Tap-y 'Glass Spider'), but clings to his big-beat dance sound as a sort of hedge against anyone finding this stuff too 'difficult' for easy-sleazy radioplay.  Whatever. The take home message here (other than Buy More Roxy Music) is that this record is Eighties to a definite fault: there's not a human drummer to be found, there's enough echo to choke the Grand Canyon, and everything is mixed all tinny and shrill so it sounds great coming out of your sludgy 1987 car cassette deck that makes everything that comes out of it sound like Master of Reality.

God, I guess you want me to describe some songs. Bowie continues to mine his old friend's catalogue by covering Iggy's 'Bang Bang', yet another song done ten times better on the original, but on this shitty album it's a definite highlight, along with maybe the 'Connie' Wang Chung-y fetish-rocker 'Beat of Your Drum' and the Milk and Honey-era Lennon-y title track. None of these songs are anything more than fair, however, and are much too melodically barren to be truly memorable, but they overcome their plastic parentage to sound pleasant, if nothing else. I can't be so kind to 'Zeroes', which shamefully dredges up both 'Heroes' and 'Ziggy Stardust' in its title, shamefully rips off from 'Diamond Dogs' in it's shireking-audience intro (that really turns out to be just a bunch of shrieking synthesizers, if you listen closely.  Like Kiss paying some Styx fans to hold up a hand-painted Kiss poster at a Styx concert, it sounds like Bowie had to use a keyboard to simulate people being excited about his music because he could no longer find anyone who still was.), but quickly degenerates into a dance song of complete nothingness, as does 'Glass Spider', rivaling only the Moody Blues for brain-dead poetic introductions (something about a glass spider and it's lost little babies...godawful, sure, but sure to bring up joyous visions of a dwarf skipping around an 18-inch high Stonehenge) and forgettable grooves.  The rest of the album is shockingly similar-sounding, all over-processed 'heavenly' guitar leads straight out of the Book of Hair Metal (some by Mr. Peter 'I'm In You' Frampton, who was showing off a bit of his own advanced slumming technique at the time) and miscast Yuppie dancebeats that remind us that what does not kill us, only breeds more white people with no taste in music.

Don't Let Me Down is simply forgettable, another in a long line of 1985-1988 albums by rock dinosaurs who should've known better than to attempt to compete with the flavors of the week, no matter how much their new synthesizer made their inner Thomas Dolby stand at attention. The truth is that everybody was this bad in 1987, unless you belonged to some sort of 'lunatic fringe' populated by the Pixies and Husker Du. And though I don't really blame Bowie for following the styles like Suzanne Sommers after a Hostess delivery truck (though I blame him more than most...since when does Bowie follow anybody?), I can blame him for failing to come up with even one decent melody or hook in two-plus years.  And anyway, isn't all this synth-pop just Bowie's late-70's work watered down, glossed up, and told to act like a Top 40 hit? I bet not even Bowie knew how cutting edge he'd been way back in 1977.

Capn's Final Word: Bowie ought not be flatter than Clare Danes lying face down. Bowie tries to hit arty pop and ends up in the Eighties ether.

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Craig     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: I find the first four songs and the last two are listenable enough. They would have made a great EP. The middle, however, is like a black hole. Songs like "Zeroes" and "New York's In Love" are awful, with no melodies whatsoever and a complete lack of anything remotely catchy. Despite its flaws, it still is an improvement over "Tonight", which was a muddled album at best. I enjoy his cover of Iggy's "Bang Bang"... it is, perhaps, even a slight improvement over the original. This album is somewhat similar to "Lets Dance" - 2 or 3 songs are just awful and should have been left on the cutting room floor.
 


Tin Machine - Virgin 1989

Tin Machine is a perfect name for this outfit, Bowie's 'just another dude in a rock band' career detour that brought him somewhat back to respectability after his suicidal streak of mid-80's albums.  Tin Machine is mechanical, modern, and pathologically cold, European guitar riff rock without the cock, as it were. They're also a bit flimsy and limited (it's not a 'titanium machine', you know), and their bile-spewing social commentary is pretty crass, but for those of us for which much of Bowie's then-recent obsession with sales was like crossing the Gobi without water on a three-legged mule, it's like a short trip to heaven, just to remind us that it's there.  Bowie apparently had also temporarily had enough of his Big Stupid persona (temporarily, because he'd top even himself for shameless trend-whoring with his next solo album) and took a step back to consciously lower his visibility by claiming himself to be 'just a rhythm guitar player' in this foursome, though it's hard not to view Bowie as the driving force in this band when you consider he sings and co-writes most of the songs. This, have no mistake, is a Bowie move, and just because he's not standing up there making an ass out of himself singing 'Glass Spider' doesn't mean it isn't who he was in 1989. Let it also not be said that this band fails to rock...lead guitarist Reeves Gabrels, often idiotically dubbed as a 'stunt' guitarist, and later to become terribly annoying on Bowie's 90's albums, pulls off some pretty effective post-Belew leads when combined with Bowie's muscular riffing, and the rhythm section (made up of the two sons of old TV not-funny dude Soupy Sales) is, well, as professional and competent as you'd expect a bunch of guy in suits to be. But Tin Machine is what it is, and ain't what it ain't, as it were. They're about as diverse as a bowl of Cream of Wheat, and if it ain't cold, excited, distorted rock music, they simply can't do it (listen to the lame Brit Invasion-y 'Bus Stop' for one attempt at breaking out that never quite happens).  Even more damningly, for all their prodigious muscle, they lack heart - Bowie howls angrily and spits on God and Society and the Man and all that usual crap, but he sounds as if he's doing it out of some sort of obligation rather than his true convictions. For an example of this, listen to Tin Machine's cover of John Lennon's archetypal class-warfare anthem 'Working Class Hero' next to the original.  Bowie does everything short of reaching in and tearing his vocal cords straight out of his neck to make it sound as if he really feels disgust at the ways of the world, but Lennon actually does it. Bowie strikes a pose and Lennon strikes a blow, if you'll pardon my cuteness.

Now that we know what Tin Machine isn't, it's time to define more of what they are, and that's the prototypical Nineties everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink technoid alt-rock band, taking everything from loud, chaotic garage rock ('Crack City', which also features a cute little nod to Sabbath's 'Iron Man') to suburban speed punk ('Pretty Thing', yet another in Bowie's endless series of 'Pretty Thing' album titles. He must've really liked that band, you know?) to Cure-y proto-psychedelicism ('Prisoner of Love') and run them all effortlessly through their mechanisms to create a hybrid rock style that would probably appeal to just about anyone who likes rock music made after 1977. Unlike, say, Bowie's forced attempts at keeping up with the arcane side-roads of 90's techno, this music feels like it comes to him and his band effortlessly.  And they pull it off on sing after song after song (a bit too many, it turns out...this is a 'made for CD' album that runs for nearly an hour), and if their hooks are never quite so sharp, the quality of their rock never wavers.  As headbanging background music goes, Tin Machine has sho 'nuff a lot more hip cred than, say, a Skid Row album from the same year.

A strong parallel to Tin Machine is the old Vernon Reid vehicle Loving Colour, also all chainsaw guitar solos and hack-and-slash political lyrics, except without the infectious funk influence that made Colour so engaging. You know, in final analysis, this band, and this album, is simply too one-dimensional, but it's a pretty neat dimension, lemme tell you.  Tin Machine is competent, and it's hard to really fall in love with competence.  They never really clicked with the audience the way Living Colour did, and contemporary Bowie fans were wondering why he was being so uncool as to rock again.  Whatever...buy it cheap (it's easily available for less than a buck) and wonder why he couldn't mix a bit more of this competence into his next decade.

 Capn's Final Word: Bowie strips down and rocks, which is vice versa from his Bowie days. But the band's only got one flavor.

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Tin Machine II - Virgin 1991

Tin Machine attempt to widen their appeal with some good melodies but compromise a bit of what made them distinctive with their second album, the imaginatively titled Tin Machine Eat Endangered California Condor Babies for Breakfast, but just as often shortened to II in homage to Chicago Transit Authority. I never heard a damn thing about this record when it came out, and I had enjoyed listening to a cut-out copy of Tin Machine I'd bought the previous year, so don't tell me I wasn't looking (and the live Oy Vey Baby? I'd never heard of that one until last month.)  I think I finally saw a poor, dusty, cut-out cassette version with a shattered casing hiding out in some Camelot Records sometime in mid 1995, but by that time I'd dismissed latter-day Bowie outright, stemming from my ill-advised purchase of Black Tie/White Noise the previous year.  Well, that album pretty much put me off modern Bowie until just a few years ago, and I never sought out this record, though I probably should've.  Generally, this album has better songs that the debut, but they're performed with much less zeal and often fall into a netherworld of MOR modern rock that's much inferior to the debut's crunchy rush.

Still, though, there's enough good, even great material on here to make me say that this is Bowie's best Nineties record.  I'm pleasantly surprised by the solid hook on 'Betty Wrong', the way the chorus of 'Baby Universal' explodes from the deceptively well-mannered verses, or how the slow, delicate 'Amlapura' should bore the shit outta my earhole, but never does. The percolating 'You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll' is as organic and well-planned as anything Bowie's done since the Berlin trilogy, before or since, showing great amounts of restraint and good taste.

And the album's masterstroke, if you can call it that, is the dismantling of Roxy Music's marvelous 'If There Is Something', from Roxy Music, which features one of my favorite first sides of any album ever.  Instead of the glacial-shifts in tone from cowpoke to torch song to, well...whatever it turns into at the end, Bowie plays this straight ahead like a Rolling Stones rocker, barely even paying attention to where the keys are supposed to change and flinging out the lyrics like so much dirty laundry with little regard for the dramatism that Ferry brought to the original.  When you consider that Roxy (and Bryan Ferry in general) was a major artistic competitor to ol Bowie back in the day, this is akin to the Who covering 'Yesterday' as a completely inappropriate three chord mod rocker, but what makes it inappropriate also makes it great.  Who cares that Bowie tramples this song with gleeful straight up rock 'n' roll? Certainly not the man himself, and that's what makes it entertaining, one of his most off-the-cuff moves in his entire career.

For all of the good taste and good humor of II, there are some bits of nastiness like the electroid 'You Can't Talk' or the entirely malevolent anti-prostitution tirade 'Shopping For Girls'.  To me, many of the songs that don't work are the ones where Tin Machine shows off...shows off their chops, their social commentary, their newfound 'variety'.  Instead of just bashing down the garage door with a gleeful stomp like 'Big Hurt', which kicks the ol' boo-tay, they have to make room for a song that sounds like a marble-mouthed Keith Moon singing over a Pink Floyd song ('Sorry', which sideman Hunt Sales writes and 'sings') and one that mocks both Hendrix and Southern rock with 'Stateside' (also by Sales, who must have been begging for Chris Robinson to come kick him in the nuts).

But who am I to knock the best Bowie album of the last 20-plus years, and album that nobody bought and thus has instant snob appeal for record collectors looking for gems in an artist's trashcan? And who could hate an album with a song called 'Goodbye Mr. Ed' on it that actually says it 'makes no sense'? Dang, man, pull out the plus mark for this one!

 Capn's Final Word: Funny how the forgotten album from his 'rock' band contains some of his best 'pop' music since polyester was cool.

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Black Tie / White Noise - Virgin 1993

Allegedly the beginning of Bowie's 'comeback' from his dire late-80's days, Black Tie/White noise is actually yet another albatross hanging from the man's scrotum....he seemed to have learned nothing from his time tastefully blasting his eardrums out with Tin Machine. If Tonight and Never Let Me Down reveled in the very worst of 80's faddishness, so does Blackhead/White Pus wallow in a slimepit of early 90's Enigma hip-hop techno samplitude. There's no doubt in my mind that this album received relatively favorable reviews at the time because critics never want to bash the prevailing fad of the day, no matter how insipid and recycled it may be, for fear of alienating their readership who have wholeheartedly embraced whatever crap the 'newest in new' happens to be, from the techno-disco featured here, to electronica, to Lillith fair girl groups to Tweener talent-show actress-singers.  Well, I'm here to say that not only does Bowie once again strap himself to a trendy, here-today, horrific-ear-drainage-no-one-wants-to-remember-having-listened-to-tomorrow music style, but he makes music that no one who’s not already a major Bowie disciple will care about hearing.  Listen, this man's not Cher, and he definitely doesn’t have the dancefloor cred to assume that he can somehow Bowie-ize the discos of the world just because he knows how to operate a sequencer.  There's nothing so dated as an album made in obvious distress, as Black Tie/White Noise most certainly was - Bowie hadn't had a sizeable hit with his pop music in a decade, and people didn't want to know about his 'honest' work with Tin Machine, so he launched a 'farewell' oldies tour in about 1991 to raise some cash, then set about attempting to resurrect his career from the shitpile.  Plus, he hadn't written a memorable song since 1983, and he sure as hell doesn't come up with one here...not only that, but the 'White Noise' in the title is the most deceptive bit of titling since Bryan Adams' I'm Not Just a Pussier Rod Stewart, If That's Even Possible.  Really, I'm Not. album from 1996.  This album is like Enigma with vocals - there's not a single rough edge on here that hasn't been loaded into Pro Tools, compressed to all frig, de-clicked, de-noised, EQ'd until it succumbed, and passed through Bowie's colon and finally onto the DAT. This is quite possibly the least content-loaded album of Bowie's career.  It's barren, repetitive, and nothing happens for 10 minutes at a time.  The man plays more sax than he sings, which be even more of a clue as to how this music sounds. Hell...repetitive, shallow, and hookless...that's club music, isn't it? And at 60 minutes-plus, it makes Tonight look like a model of efficiency. I knocked this down from a 'I don't like it, but maybe I just don't understand it' grade of C- to a flat-out D+ when I heard the desecrations of Morrisey's 'I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday' and, especially, Cream's 'I Feel Fine', which Bowie treats with as much care as Hirohito showed Nanking - he strips the song of the guitars and monster drive, retaining only the chorus vocals.  Which get mighty wearing over several minutes, lemme tell ya.

Black Tie/White Noise is terrible, and not even just as a David Bowie record (hell, for this stretch this one is par for the course). This doesn't even work as dance music.  I'd rather dance to my dishwasher's rinse cycle than this 'clever' disco.  Perhaps, if you are a Bowie fan, you should listen to this, then listen to Young Americans, and maybe understand why I genuinely like that album so much.

Capn's Final Word: See Dancin' Dave the Disco Dick and His Magically Disappearing Appeal!

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Buddha of Suburbia - Virgin 1993

For Bowie's soundtrack albums, this beats the everloving Paula Poundstone out of Labyrinth, but still lies some levels below Station to Station. Is that clear enough, or must I belabor myself by having to write a passionless, vaguely encouraging review of an album none of you except the other WRC review folks have ever heard? Hell, okay,I'll review it,  but I'm a-keepin' it short, 'cos it's late in the day and I still haven't been able to figure out if I've successfully wasted enough time today to go home early or not. I don't really buy Buddha of Suburbia as some great, lost Bowie work sandwiched between one of the worst albums of his career and one of the most confusing. but rather as yet another stop on his odd Magical Mystery Tour of electronic music styles that he forced us to embark on in 1993 with his horrendous club-dance Black Tie/White Noise album. If that was club, and Outside was industrial, and Earthling drum and bass, this album takes its cue from ambient music, though not really from the ambient music of the Brian A-hole late 70's records.  More like extremely boring, old-person, early 90's ambient music like what Sting has been hoisting on the senseless elderly since 1987, stuff derived equally from the Human League and Yanni, though always with some aging fool we used to take seriously singing over the top of it. That fool here is Bowie, and once again I'm baffled as to how far he's strayed from the left-field freak that used to snort mountains of coke and make albums as frigged up as Diamond Dogs 20 years earlier. I know I should be falling-over grateful because Bowie cared enough to write a couple of melodies and make his music more pleasant than crass or cheap this time around (and it really is pretty interesting that he chose the infinitely less enjoyable White Noose, Black, Rotten Penis as his 'real' album and this one as the 'tossoff soundtrack', though I blame the fact that he unknowingly contracted infectious brain syphilis from Iggy Pop back in 1982, which, incidentally, also explains the quality of Iggy's recent output), but I always figured this was the kind of music they'll play for my generation when it's time for us to be shipped off to the nursing home 'round about 2050.  This music makes me feel old and tired (I'm still too young and cantankerous to call feeling that way 'relaxing'), especially the more 'avante garde' sections, which all sound more like incompetent bebop jazz than any sort of music that's been cutting edge in the last fifty years.  The mostly-instrumental  'Sex and the Church', 'South Horizon', and 'The Mysteries' pretty much abort any good feeling created by the pleasant title track with twelve minutes of aimless, pretentious fucking about.  Listen, I may not have loved the instrumental side of 'Heroes', but I appreciated, you know, the 'artistic integrity' of it all (oh Christ, there I go with THAT again).  Not so with this crap...I hear doodly-bopping soundtrack music that's as vacant as it is random.  To compare 'The Mysteries' with, say, 'Warzawa' is to compare Battlestar Galactica with 2001: A Space Odyssey. One is nothing more than an imitation of a derivative of the first, and with a creepy-ass half-robot dog with a face like a pressure washer nozzle thrown in for laughs. I'll admit I don't 'get' the ambient music here because it doesn't make me 'feel' anything other than sorry I didn't start reviewing the Kinks instead of David Bowie this month.

And who gets ambient music, anyway? I mean people who aren't injecting heroin into their scrotums three or four times a day? There's plenty of 'songs' here to create interest, and while I wish there wasn't that gaping dead spot in the middle of Side A to contend with, I'll show some good will and say that as long as Bowie is singing, this album is pretty okay. 'Bleed Like a Craze, Dad', which sounds like a lost Don't Let Me Down track, fake drums and loud lead guitar and all, suggests that a little bit of that album, when separated from it's brothers and given a slightly more even-handed production, may make for some fairly listenable music.  Odd. I've just begun to wonder how much of my ratings on this site are based on fatigue, anyway? I confess I pretty much curl into a little ball when I have to start making my way through a mainstream artist's 80's and 90's work, because the changes are so goddamned predictable. The sound goes to shit in the early 80's and never relents until, at the earliest, 1989, about the same time the albums start stretching on for an unconscionable 70 minutes each, whether we need it or not. Then the artist goes through a 'retro' period where they transparently and uninspiredly revisit as many of their formerly glorious style as possible, before settling into a mixture of all of them as they reach the late 90's, except one album from that period has to have techno beats and electronica squiggles, if it doesn't already.  There. That's my review for Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Robert Plant, the Allman Brothers, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young.  Thank you all very much and we'll see you next time, when I'll review the new album my gas-powered Weed Whacker recorded last week while pummeling some of the undergrowth in my backyard last weekend.

No, really, I love reviewing this shit, because I get to play games with myself like trying to figure out the places Bowie ripped off the bassline and guitar figure for 'Strangers When We Meet', the answers being, of course 'Gimme Some Lovin', by the Spencer Davis Group Starring The Guy Who Later Made A Beer Commercial', and Some 80's Top 40 Song I Can't For The Life of Me Remember the Name Of, Though It's Burning a Hole Through My Skull Like a Pound of Lava Poured On My Forehead. Goddamn it.  It took me three entire DAYS to remember who fucking sang 'Cruel Summer', and I felt so depressed I had to finally give up and Google it because I knew I'd never be able to pick it out of the Biggest Fleamarket In The South that is my psyche. 

Hey! Did you know I'm now downloading and burning onto disc the ENTIRE RECORDED LIVE CONCERT WORKS of the GRATEFUL DEAD, just because they're free amd I'm an idiot? That's like 1300 shows, ladies and fools! And this is not just another one of those Mark Prindle-esque 'I'm going to buy all of the Sesame Street records they ever made!' forgotten-next-week OCD crazes...I'm already up through 1984, and I only have like 10 more years of shows to go. Will I ever have time to listen to them all? Hell no! But I'll be able to tell everyone who doesn't care an El Camino about the Dead that I have access to EVERY SHOW THEY EVER PLAYED THAT ANYONE'S EVER TRADED, EVER.  Some people like baseball cards, some people go down to the tracks and keep notebooks of train ID numbers, some people do macrame...I burn bad acid rock concerts on CD-ROM.  Ahh, if only someday they'd find out that if you listen to enough halfhearted 1982 versions of 'New Minglewood Blues', you'll mystically gain the power to turn tin into gold, or bluegrass into sensamilla, or something cool and useful.  Right now all I do is turn my workday into playtime. Does that count?

Anyway, I don't like Buddha of Suburbia much at all, and I just realized that side 2 has fewer actual songs than I realized (the title track is repeated), making for a grand total of about five if you don't count the irritating chanting of 'Sex and the Church'.  And, well, none of 'em light me up other than the title track and the raging 'Dead Against It'.  And I think that David Bowie's sucked bad since 1984, and I've begun to doubt his earlier records as a result.  Goddamn you, 1990s!

Capn's Final Word: Some of the songs are surprising, but the ambient overload keeps reminding me this is not my Another Green World. Or Low. Or Life In The Bush of Ghosts.

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Outside - Virgin 1995

Bowie's return to an edgier, more difficult sound, not to mention working with Brain ('Is At The Drive In') Emo ('?') reminds me of a Lodger for the Nineties, a somewhat messy, confused gathering of 'normal' songs dressed up in a trendy rhythmic clothing (here it's industrial music rather than wordbeat) and frigged over with some tacky sound effects to make it seem 'arty'.

DUDE! BONER! I JUST TOTALLY FIGURED OUT WHAT THAT GUITAR THINGAMABOB ON 'STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET' IS STOLEN FROM! IT'S 'AIN'T EVEN DONE WITH THE NIGHT' BY JOHN MOTHERFUCKING COUGAR!!! I was about to plunge my Sharpie pen right into my eyesocket and twirl it around yesterday I felt so shitty I couldn't remember where that song came from.  Well lucky me, 'cause Bowie decided to throw a remix of that song on the end of Outside for no good reason other than an album just ain't an album unless it's SEVENTY FOUR MINUTES LONG...holy Christ, I'm glad I figured that out without having to listen to classic rock radio for reference.  I already feel about two steps away from chopping Tom Scholz's fingers off at the first knuckle with a meat cleaver so he can't play 'More Than A Feeling' ever again, and I don't need the frustration of having to test myself on such a hot day.

And goddamn it! Don't mention that if I were to chop Scholz's fingers off at the first knuckle with a meat cleaver it doesn't mean I wouldn't have to hear his goddamn songs on the radio. I know that! No matter how much dirty smack I pumped into Shannon Hoon's chubby-ass hippie wannabe body, I couldn't make that goddamn 'No Rain' song go away, so I know it wouldn't help in the case of Mr. Boston, either.  But if you were to come across a former Nazi death camp operator living in the jungles of Ecuador, you'd still want to hang 'im, wouldn't you? It wouldn't make the dead Jews come back, but, you know...

Anyhow, goddamn it, this album is too long.  Far too long, like at least twice longer than what it should be.  Considering that this is some of the most interesting music Bowie's put together in fifteen years, you'd think he'd refrain from covering it all up with some pretentious-ass story about some sci-fi 'art-ritual asshole tonguing' or some godforsaken thing that's been covered a bazillion times by pasty white sci-fi authors and seems original only to Bowie, who since he's stopped taking coke has been about as creative as a bowl of Cocoa Crispies.  He tells his 'non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle' (read: a bunch of stupid crap that I say makes a story, and if you don't follow it, it's just because it's 'non-linear' and you aren't smart enough to listen to my damn music, are you?) by including a bunch of between-song 'segues' that feature Bowie talking in a bunch of stupid voices like he's Trey Parker and Matt Stone all wrapped up into one old-fart British dude's wrinkly body, except without the funny jokes and snappy, oddly right-wing social commentary and plots about beating up retards. But, goddamn it and goddamn it again, there's too many goddamn good songs on this goddamn album that dammit goddammit to hell damn God damn. Damn! He fucked it up! I can't believe he finally pulled his head partially out of his ass and made a few partially-good songs, but then couldn't keep his goddamn filthy hands off of them! Without all the extraneous crap (and unnecessary inclusion of 'Strangers When We Meet'), I count 12 songs lasting not quite an hour, but throw in the rest of that stuff and we're 25% longer and ten times less gastrointestinally tolerable. Bowie, you fucking simp! Why couldn't you leave your goddamn concept in your other pants this time around, eh?

Because, hell, musically this album is a slab of spare ribs, a 40 of Schlitz, and a Monday Night Football. Bowie's gathered his 'band' together again, featuring Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabriels and, oh hell, a few other dudes who took their marching orders from the shrimpy Eno, making it all seem slightly more unified and certainly more 'alive' than the corpse Black Tie.  Sometimes Eno goes a bit off the deep end with his production (e.g., I'm not a fan of the recurring grand piano gimmick that seems like a tack-on), and I'm not entirely sure the thing wouldn't have come off better if produced by a real industrial producer like, say, that dude from Foetus or somebody, but the sound is pretty listenable and, surprisingly, hooky. The 'industrialism' is mostly limited to some loud drums (only super loud on the single 'Hallo Spaceboy', and even those wouldn't even make Trent Reznor raise his eyebrows) and a few grating sound effects, plus the requisite over-distorted guitar, which as far as I can tell, is the only kind Gabriels plays.  Still, underneath all that are some honest-to-God Eno/Bowie ideas, just like back on good ol' Loo, Hairballs, or Loogie. As such, the trendier, more treated tunes ('Heart's Filthy Lesson', 'Hallo Spaceboy') sound dated and predictable, but the others are more durable.  Take the extended 'A Small Plot of Land', based around what sounds like a drum solo that never gets off the ground...I hear the same bit of wide-eyed expansionism in there that I did on Lodger. And besides the Big Old Bootie Beat, 'I Have Not Been to Oxford Town' and 'Voyeur of Utter Destruction' sound good enough for 'Heroes' all the way, and 'We Prick You' is just as thin and paranoid and Low-y as you want. The Berlin trilogy is more organic and more immediately 'different', but some of this music has that little germ of mystery and poorly disguised emotion that drove those three albums to greatness.  It's just that so much crap has to be drug through just to get to these sections. I also hate 'The Motel' and find so little of interest in 'Hallo Spaceboy', I wonder what the big fucking deal was about it back when it came out (not that it was a hit, but still, you couldn't shut the fucking press up about it).

Anyway, Outside is, at best, maddening (and without judicious editing, boring as hell), and Bowie is only as sincere about his new 'hard electronica' move as he was about his 'dancefloor' move two years prior, and of course this whole 'story' nonsense is the biggest bunch of nothing-behind-the-bluster bullhockey since the Whitewater trial, but it's still the best we've gotten in a long time.  C'mon, aren't you happy to hear some weird-ass shit and loud, noisy guitars on a Bowie album again? Okay, everybody but Tina Turner and Peter Frampton.

Capn's Final Word: Bowie spoils it by being cute, but I'd say a sort of real comeback happens sometime on Outside.  Or maybe I just imagined it because I was bedazzled by the 'non-linear Gothic Drama Poopy Head' thingy...

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nathan     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Fascinating album from the underground!Dark, suggestive, claustrophobic...Standouts include Outside, Hearts Filthy Lesson, Motel, Im deranged, Im with Name.Segues are really fantastic and every time make me feel that im not listening to music but im getting voyage through other world.Davids vocals are stunning and trully charming,especially in title track, Motel and massive, genuine masterpiece Im Deranged.I agree that  Strangers...contain some bass sample and Wishfull Beginnings contain saample from Clean Depeche Mode but it gives no big reason to crucify David.

 


Earthling - Virgin 1997

Trendier, more accessible, less overblown, and generally easier to get a handle on than Outside, Earthling sounds like the 'Tour de Techno' Bowie is finally petering out with his never-ending quest to record albums with even shorter shelf-lives than his Eighties records did. Here we shift from 'Industrial' (i.e.: goddamn loud drums) to 'Jungle' (loud everything.  Everything too goddamn loud) and 'Drum 'n' Bass' (drums so goddamn loud and inhumanly fast that you can't goddamn hear anything else, though it's all goddamn loud too), all of which are pretty much electronic music genres that lasted a shorter time that some games of Pac Man I've had, and with worse sound effects. Heh! Goddamn techno music...I like to think the stupid record industry sank so goddamn much money in go-nowhere artists like the Crystal Method and Daft Punk that now they're having to pay for it by actually thinking twice about the volume of shitty merchandise they put out every year. Of course, that means that we'll have to put up with the 50,000 new Norah Jones clones that will release debut albums this year. Ah well, I suppose it hasn't helped that there's 10 million other pissed-off guys like me with broadband connections and zero desire to ever again pay $18 for something we'll be able to buy used in 6 months for less than a third of the price. What kind of fucking depreciation is that, eh? It's not a goddamn automobile, it's a round piece of plastic with some fucking Pink music etched on it. Which is why I refuse to pay retail for music.  Fuck 'em and their price-fixing, audience-suing tactics. 

Whee! Well, Bowie hasn't quite had enough of his record company, not when he can count on them to release every last squishy turd he squats out just because thirty years ago he made a couple of good glam rock albums, so he's given us 50 minutes of Earthling to consider, and you know what? I can respect this album. Not like it, not really, but if Bowie's gotta be following the coattails of fashion, he might as well be noisy and hopped up rather than trying to pack the dancefloor or illiterately rewrite Phillip K. Dick novels using a pretentious, made-up vernacular.  I accept it that Bowie got obsessed with electronica back at a time when it was one of the only widely-available 'avant garde' music styles left, and let's also recognize that Jungle and Drum 'n' Bass never were that widely accessible. It's not like he was remaking Black Tie/White Noise, which was a simpering, pandering little dance club catwalk snot of a record. These were just marginal music forms that never panned out, kinda like Pepsi Clear or the USFL.  In theory, there's nothing wrong with them other than they're limited as all fick.  I mean, how fast can you mix a drum machine before it sounds like a washing machine? And how many variations on that can you make, exactly? Five? Well, Bowie'd apparently though he'd found his new style, because this album is drenched in this crap, on everything from stuff that makes sense ('Little Wonder', 'I'm Afraid of Americans') to songs that don't ('Seven Years In Tibet'). Here's another major problem - while on Outside, Bowie's decent songs drowned under a story that made sense to no one (least of all Bowie himself, though he'll never admit it) and a bunch of spoken word baloney, here they're choked out by the arrangements.  Perhaps there's a decent song buried under the five tons of Tammy Faye Bakker makeup on 'Dead Man Walking', but I'll never know because the techno drumbeats and the Moog for Morons sound effects smother it all out.  The same thing is true of 'Tibet', but it's clearer that the song itself is better and it easily outlasts the half-assed trance-beat tacked on top of it. Not the misplaced Adrian Belew elephant guitar, though, and let's talk about that for a second, eh? Gabriels is one of David's longest-lasting sidemen, dating from the late 80's and sticking around longer than Mick Ronson or that Alomar cat did, but I'm not sure I like him.  He's a 'whammy pedal' player, meaning he thinks everything should squeal and wail like God's own teething baby when it's not chugging on these superfuzz bigmuff power chords.  This, as well, is an extremely limited style of guitar playing, showing even less variation than the well-worn hair metal licks that Frampton was using back on Never Let Me Down. Anyway, maybe the guy has better range than what I give him credit for, but here all he shows me is that he's too busy being 'industrial' to worry about his guitar tone not sucking like a Hoover ShopVac or to realize that all of his solos sound exactly alike (which maybe isn't such a bad thing considering all the drumbeats sound the same, as well).

The best songs, for sure, are the loudest and most aggressive ones, 'Little Wonder' and especially the Trent Reznor collaboration 'I'm Afraid of Americans', which is one of Bowie's better, clearer songs in a long time, are both crunchy and exhilarating exercises in the noisier side of this electronic warehouse.  'Americans', especially, is driven by a very funky, near ZZ Top-y blues riff (no doubt one of Reznor's, since it sounds just like most of his riffs do), broken up only by some idiotic bro-bro-bro-bro-ken voice bridges, kinda like an updated 'Rebel Rebel' or something. 'Wonder' isn't quite that memorable, and it's too long, but Bowie does a great vocal and the song 'introduces' the album's sound well.  'Looking For Satellites' is the best of the lighter songs, with some very pretty soundscapes courtesy of the amassed Bowievoices and army of sequencers. I also like the chorus to 'Battle of Britain' underneath all of the stupid goddamn tippity-tap Carl Palmer drums, but that's about it.  The rest of these songs are flat-out filler, and all of the mid-90's towinky Tokyo motorcycle chase-scene drumbeats aren't going to change my mind.  'Law (Earthling On Fire)'? How about 'Earthling (Career In Trouble)?' You need more than the Crown Jewels of Electronic Cliches, the quasi-scientific soundbite, to convince my ass that most of this album wasn't dashed off by a man with a seventeen-year case of writer's block. Bowie needs to try harder, and while it's nice to hear he isn't filling 50 minutes with complete shit, it's not that much of an improvement to put together 20 minutes of good material, 30 minutes of overlong shit, and cover the good 20 minutes in a layer of over-hyped gimmickry. 

Capn's Final Word: Is 'reservedly optimistic' the best he can get out of me these days? As long as he bandwagon jumps worse than the NME, I guess so.

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...hours - Virgin 1999

For so many years now, we've been begging Bowie to first not suck so hard the slurping noises embarrassed our grandparents (1984-1993), then politely requested that he graduate from his childish dependency on the flavor-of-the-minute electronic music style to use as a 'font' for his albums (1993-1997), hoping someday he'd finally dig his marginally resurrected melody-writing ability from beneath the layers of syndrums and Reeves Gabrels wanka-wanka guitar noise and lay them bare for the world and Oprah Winfrey to see.  Well, on the surface, Hours is exactly that, but something's definitely been lost in the translation from 'Boy, I wish I could hear 'Seven Years in Tibet' without all that horsesnot plugging up my eardrums' and 'God, is this how boring Bowie has become when we don't have a bunch of loud shit to obscure his deepening mediocrity?' Yup, Hours is cleanly produced to an insipid but listenable Sting/Bryan Adams 90's pop professionalism, but it's boring as shit. Just dull, loping mid-tempo technoid quasi-rocker after dull, loping mid-tempo technoid quasi-rocker, the work of a hack who no longer has his more-talented friends or followers (yes, I did just indirectly call Trent Reznor more talented than David Bowie, and if it's 1997 we're talking about, I'll stand by that statement 'til my death bed cometh) to lean on when making his next album. Ummm...then again, that's not true.  The bald, chubby Matt Pinfield lookalike Reeves Gabrels takes a more direct collaborative approach on this album, co-writing many of the songs with ol' Dave, but he's a dude who displays so little real imagination or drive while playing his 'avant garde' guitar that I couldn't imagine his songs being any good. And, really, only a few of the songs on Hours are worth a damn whatsoever...the rest are uninteresting little excuses for songs that seem almost criminally dispassionate. There's still plenty of late-90's ear-candy digital recording tricks splayed onto this record to keep up with the VH-1 'Artists' of the Month Sheryl Crows and Bon Jovis of the world, but I'll just admit it...without a 'style' to drive him onward, Bowie becomes middle-of-the-road real fast. It's almost as if he's overreacted to everyone saying he was too old to dabble in Jungle and Industrial music all the time, so he decided to put out a reactionary record that positions himself as Phil Collins' taller, better dressed older brother.

The mediocrity clings to this album like a stench.  Again, I've been screaming that Gabrels oughta turn his fucking guitar down for so long that when he does, all that comes out is a bunch of lame 101 E-Z Lead Guitar Licks that sound ripped off from Hendrix half the time and David Gilmour the other half. The 'melodies' are simply variations on the 'strum this chord four beats, strum that chord four beats, modulate and repeat' style of post-grunge MOR songwriting that's permeated our culture in the last ten years (here's a clue, folks! Lead guitar is not the enemy!), though Bowie is able to pull of a couple of pretty great little tunes, both of which are 'made of wood' (meaning, acoustically based) as the man himself would say.  The opening 'Thursday's Child' is uncertain and wistful, some might even say a bit whiny thanks to Bowie's quavery delivery, but it's also quite buoyant melodically, and 'Seven' is simply a great little tune with a great hook, like something from way back off of Hunky Dory. Unfortunately the self-pitying 'introspective' thing that makes 'Thursday's Child' a disarming opener gets repeated over and over throughout the album with rapidly deteriorating melodic support, and by the records' end Bowie sounds more like a sap than anything 'refreshingly unguarded'. And of course, dammit, he's obviously playing yet another 'role', this time just wussier than he's been in awhile, so how can we trust this dude, eh?

Whatever his real intentions, I don't like this album because it doesn't even work as decent background music. I kept repeating to myself as I attempted to keep an open mind about this thing that this is simply not fun to listen to. For all it's vulnerability, it also sounds cynical and calculated, except when it needs to be - the four rockers at the end are easily the least convincing rock music to come out of this guy since Never Let Me Down, as Gabrels returns to his usual back of card tricks and Bowie forgets to write riffs. Other than 'Child' and 'Seven', there isn't a single thing on this record that advances Bowie's catalog one bit. Personally, I wouldn't mind going back to trying to decode the melodies of Earthling compared to listening to the unsmiling failure of Hours again. 

Capn's Final Word: Bowie pulls out from under his electronic blanket to show that he's pale and meek. 

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Heathen - Columbia 2002

I've had to circle around this album like a vulture around Calista Flockhart somewhere in the desert, trying to figure out how much this album is worth it. If ...hours marked Bowie's descent into old-fartdom, then Heathen shows the rise of the cranky old fart, a guy who's willing to keep stealing bits and nuts from his back catalogue.  But the man is sneaky about it, much like he was sneaky about stealing from the influences of much of his early material (unlike, say, Jimmy Page, who was so blatant he would've awarded himself and Robert Plant a writing credit on 'Happy Birthday' if it'd served his needs). It's not as if you can catch him red-handed and say 'Thar! Die-vid! Keep yer dirty mitts off of 'TVC15', you rogue!', but you still get this vague feeling like the strings in 'Slip Away' were arranged the exact same way that they were on the first side of Ziggy Stardust, or 'Slow Burn' somehow uses some lost Station to Station-era backing track like a reverse 'Free As A Bird'.  Sheeit, the man is so interested in recapturing a bit of his ol' gravitas (gotta slip in the 'hot' word of the moment somewhere...without it I'd feel out of fashion, like someone who didn't overuse the word 'focus' in the late 90's or 'blowback' a few years ago) he goes back to using producer Tony Visconti, the guy behind the boards for albums as weird as the Man Who Sold the WorldDavid Live, and Scary Monsters, and hell, what can I say? It works.  I'll bite - it sounds exactly like a Seventies Bowie album (or rather, bits and pieces from all of his Seventies albums) with a few more electronic doo-dads, but that doesn't mean he recaptures his old spirit.  Bowie sounds quite old nowadays, if not in actual voice (which is still decent) than in his delivery, drained of all spark and deadened by years of abuse at the hands of drum machines.  When he's supposed to sound poison-tongued and abyss-teetering, like on his Pixies cover 'Cactus', he merely sounds grouchy. When he's 'wispy' he's just tired ('I Would Be Your Slave'), and everywhere else he's so goddamn ambiguous I can't tell if he gives a shit about these songs or not.  Over the course of this album, 51 minutes but seemingly a lot more, it gets grating as a motherfuck, because I can't figure out whether I give a shit or not either.  The songs, generally, are agreeable and reasonably melodic, and I can't fault Bowie for writing a bunch of pussy-ass VH-1 Sheryl Crow crapola like he did on the last album. But still, there's nothing much here to write home about, and the Neil Young cover 'I've Been Waiting For You' and the aforementioned 'Cactus' are so superior they stick out like Bootsy Collins at a tractor auction.  The songs are mostly at least acceptable...there, you've got your B grade, David...no more B-minuses for you today. But now that Bowie's reached Stage 3 in the 12-Step Rock Dinosaur Songwriting Comeback Course, he's got to have his bar raised a little.  He's not loading albums with pure crap, like he was in the Eighties, and not covering up marginal work with lots of trendy packaging like he has since then, woohoo...you've reached competence, my Man, what are you gonna do now? Go to Disneyland?

Nope. Now he has to write memorable songs that work well together.  When the songs fail, they fail in a boring I've-got-to-get-my-indistinct-electronica-song-over-with-so-I-can-work-on-my-vague-rocker matter-of-factness, and with so little conceptual connection, that they tend to drag the songs around them down with them.  For instance, 'Slow Burn' is a derivative piece of crap, a shameless Scary Monsters ripoff with a neat chorus but a hefty load of nothing much else that never fails to make the quick ELO-y rocker (it never fails...if it's fast and has a steady beat and some manner of strings on it, invoke ELO, goddamn it!) 'Afraid' and the almost-believable ballad 'Slip Away' seem much cheaper than they really are. There is pretty good material on this album ('the best in years!' I'm supposed to say, and it seems like I've been saying it way too goddamn much in these last reviews, but that just testifies as to how horribly deranged the man was from 1984-1995), and I am thankful that Boo-wad hasn't jumped the ghost completely, so maybe this excessively negative first and second paragraphs need to be tempered by a positive third.  But sadly, no.  I'm way too short on sleep (two twelve hour workdays in a row!) and way too ready to finish up my Bowie reviews not to throw some mudpies at the second side of this album.

While the first side is fairly resilient overall (only the opening 'Sunday' and 'Slow Burn' are less than pretty good), the album drops like Enron stock on Side 2. 'I Took A Ride On A Gemini Spacecraft' is simply incompetent, failing to either be a spacey electronic dance song (which he so wants it to be) or a spacey, trippy psychedelic rock song (all the guitars are buried behind all the synthesized nonsense), and is just flat-out poor. Considering how questionable his own tastes have become, if I were Bowie I'd refrain from poking fun at the banalities of us rabble as he does on 'Everyone Says Hi' ('I bought you a picture frame...something cheap', 'hope the weather's good, not too hot for you'), the first song of Bowie's I can remember actually making me despise the man himself since Black Tie/White Noise. And talking about banalities, the rest of the songs on this side are trifles hardly worth mentioning - 'A Better Future' is ironic disconnection that comes across as terribly uninteresting, '5-15 The Angels Have Gone' brings up memories of the e-z platitudes of Tonight, and the sadly pretentious 'Heathen (The Rays)' is almost Labyrinth-esque, except that was a soundtrack to a kids movie with puppets in it and this is the closing track on David's 'Best Album Since Scary Monsters'. Dammit...just a little more work (maybe another year between records), and this could've been much less disappointing than it is.  Still, if you want to call it 'The Best Album Since Scary Monsters', go ahead. You're not totally unjustified in your choice. The guitars on this album, for example, are pretty great, and feature Pete Townshend playing a bunch of cool angular stuff much like what he did on The Iron Man before evil gremlins came along and replaced it all with the sounds of an old man's career dying. I'll just happily stick with my beigest, tell-me-what-to-think hook factory Let's Dance over this blustery bit of blurry regurgitation, thanks. 3

Capn's Final Word: The Old David's big move is to run around in little circles. I'm still not sure if I got anywhere with it.

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Mark Doherty sarah.doherty@ntlworld.com    Your Rating:	B
Any Short Comments?:	The "banalities" on "Everyone Says Hi" are in fact an attempt to value humanity in all its pedestrianism and, yes, banality against the context of undeniable, inescapable death. It's a song about death, and about 
how important our dull little relationships are despite it. 


Reality - Columbia 2003

The reality is that now that Bowie's started releasing albums at a once-per-year-or-two pace, he's trumped a lot of his artistic rehabilitation, making albums that seem just as rushed and filler-packed as his similarly paced Seventies work was, except that his Seventies work had an in-with-both-feet headsnap disposability that his recent stuff can't touch.  These songs try to be so much - like last time they're Ziggy mixed with White Duke mixed with Low mixed with Monsters, except also somehow cramming in some late-90's dance mucous for good measure. It doesn't take a braniac to figure out that, like the Los Angeles Lakers, they end up being much less than the sum of the parts? The modern influence is stronger here than on Reality, making the songs sound less like shameless nostalgic simulations than on that record, but with the negative effect of making Bowie sound a whole helluva lot like he listens to too much Radiohead, U2, and Pixies.  The Tony Visconti factor has been muted, showing up now and then in cameo appearances like 'the echoey synth tweak from the first side of Low' on 'Never Get Old' (you wish, David), and the chunky guitar work that was so agreeable last time has been replaced by a bunch of weepy-faced piano and Edge-y echoplex manipulations. Hell, if I were the Edge or Thom Yorke or the Blur guys, I'd sue Bowie's ass for plagiarism.  Where in the hell else did 'The Loneliest Guy' come from than the last couple of Radiohead albums, or what about 'New Killer Star's uncanny resemblance to 'Coffee and TV' off Blur's album from a few years back?  Except 'Coffee and TV' was ten times as catchy as 'Star', and on 'Loneliest', Bowie just sounds like a simpering old fool instead of a simpering young artiste when asked to carry a nothing song with only his voice, stick jammed into 'ponderously overemote' mode.  Perhaps I've just heard this man's voice on too many disingenuous things (like Pinups! and his debut album! and Earthling!) for his newfangled supercharged emotionalism to ring true with me anymore.  He drags us through almost eight agonizing Black Tie/White Noise minutes of jazzy crooning on the closing 'Bring Me the Disco King', making 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide' feel like tripping through the tulips with Mary Lou on a Sunday afternoon in comparison, supposedly to make us appreciate his range, but if I want to appreciate Bowie's range I'll listen to 'Width of a Circle' followed by 'China Girl' followed by 'Sons of the Silent Age' instead. In fact, the only time Bowie really 'gets' me emotionally is on his cover of George Harrison's 'Try Some Buy Some', a song I probably never really noticed before because of ol' Georgie's tendency to sing every song on any of his solo albums between 1971 and 1982 like he had to be forced into the studio with a cattle prod. But hell, the melody on this song, if you've never heard it, is a true monster, and Bowie does it justice.  He also does fine work with a wacky 80's synthpop version of the Modern Lovers' minimalist classic 'Pablo Picasso' ('never got called an asshole' goes the hook line), somewhat making up for spending the first twenty years of his recording career treating cover songs like something to clean you cat's litter box with. There's some truly weird Spanish sounding guitar on this song that shant be missed.  You've been warned.

Oddly, the second most dominant sound heard on Reality behind the wimpy, weepy Coldplay thingamabob is that of boppy, bouncy pop music. We've already spoken of 'Never Get Old', but I didn't mention that it's actually Bangles boingy, or that 'She'll Drive The Big Car' is melancholy roots rock like what Neil Young tends to do when his amp isn't set on 'Immolate', or that 'Days' recalls Paul McCartney's 'Mamounia' as a sad-despite-the-upbeatness anthem.  I dig all of these songs, and find them to be a cure-all for the down-in-the-mouth material and the vagaries of Heathen. Call 'em lightweight if you want, but David hasn't been so agreeably lightweight since, God, who knows when? The first side of Hunky Dory? Throw in that the hard-rocking 'Reality' is so powerful it'll impact your vertebrae, and I come out of this record feeling unencumbered, light and easy and confident in my assessment, despite hating a good third of it to death.  At least I'm sure I hate it...Bowie should be cut-and-dried, full-on-great or completely shite, not maddeningly ambiguous like on Heathen.  Or at least that makes my job easier.

Capn's Final Word: Why is it that the less obviously emotional Bowie is, the more emotion I give him credit for? The post-post-Bowie's first steps forward.

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