Sunday, December 1, 2013

The flying lobster has been relieved of command

The Flying Lobster has been redirected to another new and improved Pierce's Press

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reality (2003)


1. New Killer Star: Irresistible static-hazed riff that bubbles and pops against those intense guitars, weird chorus and shaky background singers, this marvelous opener sets the tone early with it’s instantly recognizable classic-Bowie timbre. 7.5

2. Pablo Picasso: Electric Spanish guitar introduces this cover of the Modern Lovers song. Bowie radically reworks this Jonathan Richman gem from the mid-70s, as usual his taste in covers exceptional. Echoing trills, white-funk syncopation and the intense surrealism makes this a relatively fun inclusion here. 6.0

3. Never Get Old: Great track. An energetic and rollicking live favourite. It’s also a curious and hugely addictive piece of wry self-observation and was used in a famous and rather funny clip for Vittel water, which is worth a look. The live version on A Reality Tour rocks the house down. 8.0

4. The Loneliest Guy: Atmospheric guitar treatments, a track far more real than its name implies. There’s a bare hint of strings and stray piano chords which fade with mournful uncertainty. No easy reading of this song is possible but it’s human, bittersweet, and altogether a mournful tale of regret and loss. A beautiful pace-changer in the live setting without being a classic. 6.0

5. Looking for Water: Could be sung from the point of view of our otherworldly hero Thomas Jerome Newton from The Man Who Fell to Earth (or not). Either way it bounces along on a supremely nervous and desperate groove. 6.5

6. She’ll Drive a Big Car: New York referencing lyrics of a girl peeling along Riverside Drive before she just swings it off to the left and takes the whole lot down. “Bursting her bubbles of Ludlow and Grand, south along the Hudson”. She's turning the radio up high so she doesn't have to think anymore when she makes her decision to go over the edge (just ask DB). Seriously deep and haunting song with a vague 80s feel. Great vocal and harmonica performance. 7.0

7. Days: Quite a moving number and beautifully subtle and melodic with a gorgeous circular middle eight. This is the sound of an older man putting his affairs in order, mending bridges and significantly, restoring order to his life. An album highlight. 8.0

8. Fall Dog Bombs the Moon: Bowie dips into his Burroughsian bag of tricks on this lyrically and melodically fine number. Quite a sad tone to this and just a little bit of resignation in his voice. I would not be so bold to tell you what I think it may be about. 7.5

9. Try Some, Buy Some: Covering Ronnie Spector’s version of this mighty George Harrison penned number from the early 70s, Bowie unfortunately ends up with something that’s a bit sappy and plodding with the waltz-timed over-orchestration. The track lacks any of the self-referential poignancy found elsewhere on Reality, throwing off the album's nicely sequenced flow. Not horrible though. 6.5

10. Reality: The title track is a breakneck rocker and comes at a time when the album was screaming out for one. Unfortunately is sluggish and tuneless and is the lowest point of the album. 5.5

11. Bring Me the Disco King: Stripped down, woozy, off-kilter jazz homage, this track first surfaced around 1993's Black Tie White Noise. At nearly 8 smokey minutes, it’s an extraordinary closer, however Bowie sounds thoroughly bushed amid Garson’s, as per usual, wonderful ivory improvisations. 6.5


VERDICT: Surprisingly released hot on the heels of Heathen, this is a rock ‘n roll album written and recorded to blast out in a live setting. And boy did it blast. Like Heathen, Reality is produced by Tony Visconti and contains songs that deliberately recall a classic Bowie sound, retro in parts, and sometimes both tuneful and adventurous. It’s as an eclectic and enjoyable album Bowie made in the last 20 years. It’s also lively and convincing, without a central theme or any over-conceptualisation and it has a real freshness and accessible sound within it’s strong songwriting and authoritative delivery. Like Heathen, this album contains its fair share of quieter, more introspective moments but generally does not cut as deeply as it’s fine predecessor. It is however an acceptable and thoroughly worthwhile (and final?) addition to Bowie’s superb generation-spanning catalogue.

NEXT: Toy, anyone?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Heathen (2002)


1. Sunday: Masterpiece #32. A monster of an opening track laced with spooky synth and a sombre dreamlike production, 'Sunday' becomes a disturbing incantation that builds into a warm chorus-scape. It’s simply the best track on a Bowie album in years. The live arrangement a la 2004 with Earl Slick’s towering guitar solo is simply breathtaking. 10.0

2. Cactus: Delightful Pixies cover off their seminal Surfer Rosa album although Bowie doesn’t bring a lot to the table on this one. He does however play everything on this track except bass. 7.0

3. Slip Away: Gorgeously sad and nostalgic track, although very slow paced, Bowie plays the antique synth the Stylophone first time since ‘Space Oddity’. The fretless bass (an instrument I am not a huge fan) works well but the lyrics defy explication. The song dates back to the 60s about (and may have originally been called) Uncle Floyd and his puppet sidekick Oogie (sound familiar?). 8.0

4. Slow Burn: This song is about the slow destruction of the world and possesses quite the swagger. It’s a moody and bouncy number with a nice bass/sax pop combo that vaguely recalls the Pin Ups sound. Some nice guitar work from Pete Townshend (last heard on ‘Because You’re Young’) doing his best ‘Teenage Wildlife’, but Bowie’s emotive rumble dominates. 7.5

5. Afraid: This builds well through emotional intensity alone and a high-speed jolt of strumming and strings it’s a good new wave-ish rocker, particularly live. Like ‘Slip Away’ this was originally recorded for the unreleased Toy non-album (as it is a reworked older song) but reshaped, works well in this set especially with the addition of a cello. 7.0

6. I’ve Been Waiting for You: A jacked-up Neil Young cover. Bowie takes this unremarkable Neil track (off his unremarkable self-titled debut) to a new plateau, the earthiness of the original replaced by an other-worldly alienation. Ironically the Pixies covered this back in the day too. 6.5

7. I Would Be Your Slave: Magnificent string section hovering unsettlingly above a metronomic drum pattern, electronic pulses and gender-neutral lyrics, Bowie puts in a moving and heartfelt performance and bringing a confessional tone to this album highlight. 8.0

8. I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship: Covering a track from Bowie’s 60s muse The Legendary Stardust Cowboy this is fast-paced electropop featuring frenetic beats and dark swirling synths with Bowie’s amusingly detached vocals. 6.5

9. 5.15 the Angels have Gone: Underrated track, melodically exquisite if a little slight. The verse’s melody and guitar lick simply gorgeous, the misty-eyed nostalgia finds Bowie in a reflective mood not for the first time on the album, unfortunately let down by a bland-out refrain “Weeeeee never talk anymore”. Nice drums all-round. 7.5

10. Everyone Says “Hi”: A feeling of homesick melancholy cloaks this jolly little melody with a fine chorus and middle-eight that is something of a nod to the charming ‘Absolute Beginners’ (8.5) from 1985. Worthy single materiel. 8.0

11. A Better Future: A summation of an on-going internal spiritual dialogue, it’s a simple hypnotic and relatively catchy melody but the lowest point of the album. 6.0

12. Heathen (The Rays): Masterpiece #33. One of the first tracks written for the album, the ominous militaristic rhythms of the ghostly title track is quite a wonderful piece of bleak songwriting and display enormous emotional depth and quality. A welcome return to brilliant ambient menace. 10.0


VERDICT: While not a complete return to the form of the 1970s, Heathen is a huge comeback for an artist who was seemingly fading away amid an avalanche of indifference. The youthful brilliance and trend setting finesse of his early work is long gone, but in it’s place is a mature assured sound of acceptance, nonchalant charm and great songs. Out goes the heavy industrial sounds and the gratuitous guitar noodlings of Reeves Gabrels (as did the many co-write credits - Bowie was writing on his own again) and in comes a classic rocking guitar and saxophone sound, doom-laden lyrics literally threatening God himself (hence the album title?), and cool multi-layered backing vocals. Reuniting with producer Tony Visconti they have come up with a string of fascinating arrangements enhancing the timely subject matter to often moving effect. Heathen contains Bowie’s artistic leanings within a pleasing pop framework and it sparkles with hindsight unlike his past few albums which relied on the simple addition of bizarre-o sounds to flesh it out. Bowie finally formed his own record label (ISO) just prior to the release of Heathen which gave him renewed artistic freedom allowing him to write, record and release whatever he liked. This was particularly welcome after the unreleased indignity of (Virgin’s) Toy. Heathen put Bowie back on the map.

NEXT: “Never ever gonna get old”.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hours... (1999)


1. Thursday's Child: The moody magnificence of ‘Thursday’s Child’, a laid-back contemplative piece, is a pleasing shift in tone from the previous album's all-out bombastic aural drum 'n bass assault. Wistful and melancholy and sung quite beautifully in Bowie’s fragile vibrato, it’s the only track on the album where Bowie doesn’t do his own backing vocals. 6.5

2. Something in the Air: This one featured in a couple of film soundtracks (eg: Memento) and has a nervous grace to it via bittersweet reflections, grandiose minor chords and emotional atmospherics but, similar to a lot of materiel on Hours... , hardly a memorable melody. 4.5

3. Survive: Classic-sounding Bowie track and relatively straightforward affair with an acoustic guitar (and what sounds like a mandolin) strumming it’s way through a simple lyric and sweet melody. Represents a contemplative artist in the autumn of his life looking back over the years and trying to make sense of it all. Sparks into life with Reeves Gabrels’ solo before an outro that sounds a bit like 1975’s ‘Win’. 5.0

4. If I'm Dreaming My Life: An echo of a three-part epic, this has a certain dramatic presence although it sounds like it belongs on Tin Machine II. Like much of this album never gets out of first gear. 4.0

5. Seven: A pleasant acoustic song of regret. Like a few songs on this album the production is sparse and sounds like a demo, although give me that over the blips and bleeps of Earthling anyday. 5.0

6. What's Really Happening?: Ultra-dull track co-written by an Internet competition winner although the lyrics are quite good. Reeves Gabrels does his best Mick Ronson but nothing to get too enthused over here. 4.0

7. The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell: Hilarious tongue-in-cheek glam retread with it’s chugging designer metal riff and glammy swagger. It’s a harmless little sarcastic grunge number and sung in an amusing English robotic voice. Shame there wasn't more of this on the album. 5.5

8. New Angels of Promise: Futuristic-sounding epic with a lovely Japanese-influenced synth-flute intro (and outro). Written for the soundtrack for the computer game Omikron, it’s the standout track on the album. Sounds like something off "Heroes" combined with Outside, it’s an extremely underrated song. The most structurally complex and strongest Bowie track in years. 8.0

9. Brilliant Adventure: This short instrumental is also reminiscent of Bowie’s late 70s work, ‘Moss Garden’ and ‘Crystal Japan’ spring to mind, but they were inspired works of genius. This is discordant, inconsequential filler. 3.0

10. The Dreamers: Strong album closer with great lyrics about decline of spirit and guilt with a nice distorted treatment on the vocal. It’s quite a complex piece and rewards with repeated listens and finishes the album on a pleasing note alluding to what comes next. 6.0


VERDICT: Bowie explores adult contemporary pop territory on this introspective album with it’s brooding, wrist-slitting laments about growing old and irrelevant. Hours... is certainly not on par with his earlier masterworks as initially reported (far from it) but it never attempts to be. His lyrics deal with subjects of remorse, regret, mistakes and failure almost relentlessly, at a time when he seemed genuinely happier with his life more than ever. His vocal performance throughout is excellent and this marked a return to more traditional song structures after two or three willfully experimental albums. Unfortunately the majority of Hours... comes across with precious little of the vitality and energy Bowie is known and capable of. Some of the tracks on this mostly unexciting album make me long for his (at least) Tonight-era swagger and relative cool. The languorous pacing of every humourless track (except perhaps 'The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell'), and muted feel of the album in general makes me wonder if the enigmatic songwriting genius who set the rock scene ablaze in the 1970s is still with us. This album is disappointing not through pretension (Black Tie White Noise) or over-ambition (Outside) or trying to be down with the hipsters (Earthling) but through time-honored sub-standard songwriting. The lenticular album cover is a good one, a repentant long-haired Bowie comforts an exhausted short-haired 1997 version. I know how he feels.

NEXT: “Nothing remains……”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Earthling (1997)


1. Little Wonder: Opening with an awkward high-pitch synth loop and jungle beats over some decent live drums, it’s a conventional song with a bouncy melody which Bowie could’ve written in his sleep anytime around 1967. It’s the first of several mocknee avant nursery rhyme ditties, extended instrumental passages and cutting-edge programmed percussion let down by being a cluttered mess and the disappointing repetitive refrain of “so far away” when the song was screaming out for a strong hook-laden chorus. Sadly, gone too was Bowie’s effortless cool for the videos from this period. This one being particularly unwatchable. 3.5

2. Looking for Satellites: Intro vocal pattern quite interesting "Nowhere, shampoo, tv …", and a beautifully paced shuffle makes way for a lovely Lennon-esque vocal melody in the verse, it has a bountiful style and sound and is the best track here comfortably. Actually when Bowie finally gets around to singing “looking for satellites” it’s the highest point of the album. Reeves Gabrels telegraphs his signature tortured guitar noodlings and goes for a Fripp-style slowburn solo for the outro and nearly pulls it, and his whammy bar, clean off. 6.0

3. Battle for Britain (The Letter): Turbo-charged guitars, obnoxious drum programming and avant-garde flourishes from Mike Garson, it’s the same problem with 'Little Wonder' and most proper songs here: it sounds lifeless and half-written. 3.0

4. Seven Years in Tibet: Obviously going for the loud/quiet/loud juxtaposition, there’s some good things about this stilted, lengthy track: cool lounge jazz, Bowie’s alto sax, a wandering bassline, electronically treated vocals and now stock standard Gabrels’ scratchy squeals. Unfortunately the two-chord verse pattern is swamped by pulverising industrial power riffs in the chorus. 3.5

5. Dead Man Walking: A pleasingly simple melody, tuneful and catchy, chewed up and spat out by overblown dance club beats and irritating samples. Incomparable to the wonderful acoustic live version. 5.0

6. Telling Lies: Immediately sounds the same as track one, exactly the same jungle beats, but this time it’s a tune-free plodder. 2.5

7. The Last Thing You Should Do: Blips and bleeps and overbearing Nine Inch Nails inspired guitar hammering gives way to a overly-busy robotic trance grind. This isn’t my favourite Bowie materiel, you could say. Highly underwhelming hyper-techno. Makes 'Pallas Athena' sound like a classic. 2.0

8. I’m Afraid of Americans: Inexplicably overrated stuttering rocker. Surprisingly co-written with Brian Eno but nowhere near as good as anything they did on Outside. A minor hit but so intoxicatingly awful with it’s tiresome anti-anthem clich├ęd chorus and obnoxious no-chord riff repeated ad-nauseum that it’s beyond ironic that it has became a live favourite. The remix by Trent Reznor was much worse. 1.0

9. Law (Earthlings on Fire): More relentless club trance muzak dressed up in the same jittery synth, looped drones, melodic vocal snippets, sound effect samples and don’t-go-there jungle beats, this is actually one of the album's more interesting forays into techno. 3.5


VERDICT: Never warmed to it. A period piece that captured the mood of the contemporary pop culture but you could say that about Bowie’s whole catalogue. No, this is much worse. It’s a collection of conventionally structured, spark-less rock songs drenched in jarring drum and bass production by Mark Plati, generally revolving around monotonous dance electronica or, um, jungle (jumble?) beats. Thankfully his beautifully matured voice injects a degree of dignity to the album and some of these songs can be enjoyed in a stripped down, unplugged format in various concert settings. This was the sound of an artistically rejuvenated and enthusiastic artist releasing a logical follow-up to the post-grunge industrial experimentation of the gothic Outside. The only snag being it is nigh on unlistenable. No doubt a courageous experiment and that has to be applauded but the whole thing is let down by these things plus an overreaching ambition and the shallow “alien” concept (the sleeve has some cool imagery, unfortunately the one-dimensional Earthling concept is a little tactless and the liner notes impossible to read). Accompanied by ever-increasing collaborator Reeves Gabrels, new comer bassist and vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey and now mainstay Mike Garson, the most dominant musician however is the studio in an overwhelming production extravaganza creating a sound that has not aged well.

NEXT: ‘The Dreamers’ Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

Monday, February 21, 2011

1.Outside (1995)


1. Leon Takes Us Outside: This nice little curtain-raiser finds Bowie mysteriously reciting dates (August, Wednesday, 13th, Friday, 7th, June) and for some reason other random names (Nicholas), days (Valentines Day, Martin Luther King Day) and phrases (In view of nothing), over a pleasant atmospheric Erdal Kizilcay soundscape. 5.0

2. Outside: The album was originally going to be called Leon (and there are bootlegs) until a severe kitchen-sink sized reworking was undertaken. For better or worse the result was Outside. This anthemic title track is a dark and brooding exercise in post-punk electronica and a hugely improved reworking of a crappy old Tin Machine track called ‘Now’, re-tailored for this album. 7.0

3. The Hearts Filthy Lesson: This heavily textured Euro-dance industrial grind seamlessly interlocks Bowie’s disturbing cut-up lyrics with Reeves Gabrels’ looping sandpaper guitar riff (showing a pleasing new level of restraint and economy), delivering a feverishly menacing undercurrent. 7.5

4. A Small Plot of Land: This looping piece of freakout cabaret-jazz is actually quite superb with Bowie bleating some awesome lyrics: “Poor Dunce, he pushed back the pigmen, the barbs laughed, the fool is dead, poor dunce, he never knew what hit him, and it hit him so". One of the great songs off this album. Mike Garson’s flamboyant piano shines throughout, and in the lengthy outro Gabrels comes to the party (never better than on Outside) with a familiar yet tasteful solo laid underneath some subtle string washes. A highlight. 8.0

5. (Segue) Baby Grace (A Horrid Cassette): The first of a sustained level of tangential departures, this one find Bowie playing the character of Baby Grace, running his voice through a vocoder with extremely creepy results. 4.0

6. Hallo Spaceboy: Or ‘Allo Spaceboy'. Bowie takes great pleasure in revisiting the enduring Space motif in this jarring, chaotic and overbearing galumph. This is the sound of Bowie and Eno going gangbusters on an irritating, yet naggingly addictive Nine Inch Nails-inspired death-disco thud, later remixed by the Pet Shop Boys. His official farewell to Ziggy? I think not. The live version on A Reality Tour is worth a listen for his extraordinary vocal performance alone. 6.0

7. The Motel: The first of two sequential jailhouse laments (“And it’s light’s out boys”), the slow burn of ‘The Motel’ is paced to perfection. Beginning with a threatening whisper channeling Scott Walker over a fretless bass, subtly evolving into a monstrous climax featuring an open-throated vibrato not heard since ‘It’s No Game Pt 1’. 7.0

8. I Have Not Been to Oxford Town: Reminiscent of 'Fame', and the welcome return of Carlos Almoar and his insistent rhythm guitar figures, Bowie cleverly constructed this over a completed Eno instrumental track, wryly delivered with a call and response technique and super-catchy nursery rhyme chorus (“Toll the bell, pay the private eye, all's well 20th Century dies”). Upbeat considering the rest of the album, especially the subject matter. 7.0

9: No Control: Bowie sings with full-bodied vigour as Eno described it: spotlight centre stage, down on one knee, arm extended to the heavens. His marvellous vocal performance and song-craft skills a refreshing revelation. 7.5

10. (Segue) Algeria Touchshriek: A narrative from a tired old man who has been left behind. This is the second of the five ‘Segues’. Nice name. 4.0

11. The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty): Awesome title. Lyrics in keeping with the ill-defined conceptual gobbledygook, this is actually a disfigured juggernaut of a track. Bowie’s vocal performance once again is quite breathtaking as is Garson’s discordant piano splatter. 7.0

12. (Segue) Ramona A. Stone/I Am With Name: Starting with an announcement from the nasty Ramona A. Stone, this is the most unpleasant character encountered so far. Bowie’s voice distorted to sound like a Dalek. Thankfully it segues into the much more pleasant ‘I Am With Name’. That’s a live Brian May sample heard later on in the track “Give it to me one more time” after singing ‘Hammer to Fall’. 5.0

13. Wishful Beginnings: Interesting abstract track although over-long and a little too sparse and minimalist for my liking. This one evokes the nuanced experimentation of Scott Walker’s disturbing Tilt epic which was released the same year. 5.5

14. We Prick You: Experimenting with, and somewhat weighed down by, multi-layered jungle beats (to be further explored on his follow-up album) this melodically stark track features a leisurely groove, Eno’s treatments and strategies, and best of all Alomar’s fine guitar textures. 7.0

15. (Segue) Nathan Adler, Pt 1: Short conceptually relevant piece featuring a nice guitar line from Alomar underneath Bowie’s schizophrenic conceptual monologue. 4.0

16. I’m Deranged: Bowie’s delicately mournful vocals shine throughout the album highlight’s exquisite techno-infused tense Euro-dance propulsions. Beautifully complemented by Gabrels’ and Garson’s understated melancholic tones. 8.0

17. Thru’ These Architects’ Eyes: The rattling funk of ‘Thru’ These Architects’ Eyes’ is another fine traditional Bowie song found towards the end of this album, and is simply one of it’s best tracks. Garson’s piano solo towards the end is his best performance since 1973. 8.0

18. (Segue) Nathan Adler, Pt 2: The final piece of the puzzle finds the main character speaking to himself from inside his padded cell, and at only 0.28 seconds, it’s even more insignificant than Part 1. This one is the most unwelcome as it breaks a nice flow of terrific songs but thankfully the last of the segue tracks. 4.0

19. Strangers When We Meet: A conventional pop song right at the very end works surprisingly well as an album closer. The inclusion of this good track however is a little confusing considering it’s an inferior re-recording of the best song off his previous album. 7.0


VERDICT: Bowie's first bona fide 90s comeback album. Ok, so the indigestible Naked Lunch-esque art-ritual-murder megaconcept (or in Bowie’s words A Non-Linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle) isn’t exactly a page-turner: a detective investigating a murder following a run in with some dismembered livestock or something, I don’t know nor do I care, however this experimental and roundly ignored album was an uncompromising statement from Bowie and contains some of his most compelling and downright exciting moments in years, and sounding more engaged, since the benchmark of Scary Monsters (there I said it). With Outside he seemed intent on thoroughly alienating the legion of fans who jumped aboard in the early 80s with this willfully un-commercial epic. A studio reunion with Brian Eno after some 18 years since his virtually canonized Berlin-era landmarks, together creating a marvelously dense album folding in elements of techno, electronica and grunge resulting in an album as excessive as any mid-90s rock magnum opus as there ever was - and in the 90s there was plenty. Unfortunately it’s needlessly elongated containing a substantial amount of intrusive conceptual fluff, but the storming proper songs can stand up on their own as there is certainly some brilliant and inventive avant-garde rock to be found here. Dispensing with the forced melodrama may have inspired a concise masterpiece (Leon, anyone?).

NEXT: 2.Contamination. No…wait!

The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)


1. Buddha of Suburbia: Bowie’s homecoming. This self-referential title track (featuring the guitar break from ‘Space Oddity’, and revisiting the “Zane, Zane, Zane, Ouvre le chien” refrain from ‘All the Madmen’) and theme song to the TV series, is as strong a song Bowie had written in a long while. Fine vocal performance throughout revisiting his cockney delivery. 7.0

2. Sex and the Church: Well crafted techno beats with Bowie’s semi-spoken robotic vocal effect and strangled sax, this hypnotic track taps into the vibe laid down on the previous album while pointing towards what was to come with his underrated 90s work. 6.5

3. South Horizon: Lengthy supper-jazz/jazz-ambient/instrumental jazz (take your pick) jam with some interesting bass, intermittent beats, trumpet and Mike Garson’s customary piano flourishes. 5.0

4. The Mysteries: Album sequencing not great (another long instrumental track 7 minutes this one) although this fine instrumental concentrates on mood over melody or structure, and conveys quite a lovely ambience. 7.0

5. Bleed Like a Craze, Dad: This is what I can only describe as disco-rock (if there’s such a genre), it’s the most rocking song on the album with it’s ominous funk and pounding drums. A vocal delivered in rapid staccato bursts on top of bass grooves, Garson piano, and Bowie’s Idiot-esque guitar weaving it all together. 6.5

6. Strangers When We Meet: Magnificent lyric (directed perhaps to a certain ex-wife), understated delivery, and a fine fine track. The masterful refrain of “All your regrets, ride roughshod over me” never fails to send shivers. Bowie liked it so much he recorded it again for his follow up album. 8.0

7. Dead Against It: The Britpop sound is characterised by an onslaught of speedy synth layers and a terrific vocal melody, this enjoyable track is placed perfectly within the track order of the splendid side two. 7.0

8. Untitled No.1: Very impressive track. Dreamy, beautifully paced psych-ballad. A lost gem. 7.5

9. Ian Fish, UK Heir: This Eno-esque ambient instrumental drifts along quietly summoning the melody of the title track. This is very much low-key incidental soundtrack music crafting quite a nice texture with a subtle acoustic guitar. 6.0

10. Buddha of Suburbia: A barely noticeable *shudder* Lenny Kravtiz guitar solo, this is otherwise pretty much identical to the album opener and unnecessary. 5.0


VERDICT: The one that got away. Bowie had begun the slow climb back up to artistic relevance with his second album released in 1993 after the middling success and confusion of Black Tie White Noise, and once again teaming up with multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay (he and Bowie play virtually every instrument), this turns out to be one of the great “lost” Bowie albums, as it was deleted shortly after it’s release. Recorded in six days, the album was unfairly overlooked upon it’s release, gained little if any promotional press (and not released in the US until 1995) and was also incorrectly labelled as a soundtrack album, which it is not. It does however play like a soundtrack album and a remarkably enjoyable one, if a little incoherent. While no classic, it’s highly underrated and mysterious and roused Bowie from his artistic slumber. Only the title track appears in the TV series, in fact it was a surprise he called it The Buddha of Suburbia at all. I wonder how it would have been received had he called it South Horizon or Strangers and went with the eventual 2007 re-release sleeve rather than the original Jungle Book version?

NEXT: “The music is Outside….”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Tie White Noise (1993)


1. The Wedding: The albums opens with stately wedding bells, this track was written for his wife and their recent wedding. A nice instrumental, it’s essentially Bowie’s treated sax over housey piano and drums with some nice Eastern qualities. Bowie bookends this album with another version of the same track, but luckily that’s where the wedding concept starts and ends. 5.0

2. You’ve Been Around: Bowie often professes to have been deeply influenced by the icon of obscurity Scott Walker (The Walker Brothers), and likewise Walker influenced by Bowie and Eno’s work of the late 70s. This track was one left over from Tin Machine II and Bowie generates quite the Scott Walker self-harmonizing vocal effect almost predating Walker’s Tilt. Co-writer Reeves Gabrels’ guests on this track only and his guitar is mixed way down creating a nice warm sound. Jazz legend Lester Bowie (dotted all over this album) plays some nice trumpet too. Decent track. 7.0

3. I Feel Free: Cream cover with the late great Mick Ronson returning after many years, offering a nice guitar solo. This is a dance version of a song goes as far back as the Ziggy Stardust concerts and finally gets the (albeit OTT) studio treatment. Somewhat reminiscent of something off Let’s Dance, it’s fun in a sterile kind of way, and essentially forgettable. Bowie’s ultra-deep baritone plunges down to the earth’s core at one stage. 4.0

4. Black Tie White Noise: Post-LA Riots ebony and ivory duet with Al B Sure! or nonsensical ramblings of a middle aged man, either way it took them weeks to get this one right (longer than it took to record the entire Let’s Dance album), and not sure if it was entirely worth it. I still don’t know who Al B Sure! is! 4.5

5. Jump They Say: A looped horn section competes with Bowie’s strange sax sound (heard all over this album) on this energetic and edgy track. Possibly addressing the painful subject of suicide, it’s a strong track and his most successful single and innovative video for some time. 6.5

6. Nite Flights: Faithful cover of a brilliant Scott Walker song from the dark 1978 album of the same name. Bowie does it justice with a beautifully restrained performance and adds spacey drones and electronic treatments to excellent effect. The best song on the album by a long shot. 8.0

7. Pallas Athena: Anonymous dance floor muzak. People who were dancing to it had no idea it was Bowie. Listening to this track I wonder if I care. 3.0

8. Miracle Goodnight: Cute and cheery love song with some nice emotional lyrics from new husband and clearly besotted Mr Bowie. You can’t blame him for that. A wedding present for his wife? Lovely. Unfortunately the cornball ascending synth riff wears out it’s welcome as does the drum machine as usual. 4.5

9. Don’t Let Me Down and Down: Another more obscure cover this time, his voice is strong on this one and his performance strangely enjoyable, but the track grates with it’s cod-grandiose tempo and is way too maudlin. A setback for side two. 4.0

10. Looking for Lester: Lester Bowie plays a nice trumpet on this instrumental and goes head to head with Bowie’s own dissonant sax and Mike Garson’s piano tinkling. Bops along ok if you like that kind of thing. 5.0

11. I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday: Bowie covering Morrissey covering Bowie. A perplexing choice doing this one, particularly with a gospel feel. A bit out of place on the album and painfully over-schmaltzy. 3.0

12. The Wedding Song: Bowie reprises the opener, this time with a vocal and somewhat trite lyrics “I believe in magic..”. 4.0


VERDICT: Black Tie White Noise marks the beginning of Bowie’s modern era and presents us with his latest persona that of a relevant solo working artist. A transitional album between the disappointing Tin Machine albums and the semi-firm creative footing of The Buddha of Suburbia, it’s also a dance album sitting insignificantly in the Bowie cannon, once again relying on Let’s Dance mastermind Nile Rogers as producer although Bowie maintained his artistic vision and turned down a lot of his suggestions to make this a more chart-friendly album ie: Let’s Dance II (maybe he shouldn’t have been involved at all?). Unfortunately they only succeeded in making an album dominated by upright ultra-funk bass, mediocre dance-club pop crossed with large amounts of smooth jazz stylings, and limiting his creative potential by working within strict mechanical drum patterns, jarring hiphop samples and programmed loops on nearly every track to reach the completely arbitrary four minute length. The album does herald the welcome return of Mike Garson and Mick Ronson to the fold, and while it was welcomed with open arms upon it’s release (what wouldn’t after Tin Machine?), it flopped in the States, bankrupted it’s record label (Savage), was then unavailable for many years, and has not aged well in sound or packaging (the album cover is Bowie’s career worst). It’s ultra-slick and humourless, and forever cemented as a piece of indistinct 90s dance pop. I can’t rate this one higher than Tonight but it’s definitely better than Tin Machine II. It’s Bowie’s least interesting album (even Tonight had it’s quirky charms), it’s stylistically narrow and there was no tour, only an hour long extremely dull video package of interviews, (mimed) performances and studio footage that’s best left alone.

NEXT: “Sometimes I fear that the whole world is queer”

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tin Machine

Tin Machine (1989)

Studs: Baby Can Dance, Amazing
Duds: Video Crime, Crack City


Tin Machine II (1991)

Studs: You Belong in Rock N’ Roll, If There is Something
Duds: Schtateside, Sorry


VERDICT: I’m not a Tin Machine fan. Let’s be loud and clear about that right now, and apologies in advance to those who do enjoy it on the level it was intended. Within my layers of cynicism and bitterness I don’t even consider this outfit to be components of the real Bowie catalogue. They are not David Bowie albums (much to the dismay of Reeves Gabrels) and considering we were smashed about the head at the time: this is a band effort/a collaborative affair/I’m with the boys, or as Bowie’s accompanying surly personality declared “Fuck you I’m in Tin Machine”, it is enough of a Bowie album(s) to at least mention in this albeit abridged Discography roundup. So, for all it’s faults Tin Machine was a much needed artistic enema in 1989 as Bowie’s rock-star career had come to a shuddering halt after Never Let Me Down and the ridiculous Spinal Tap-sized laughing stock that was the Glass Spider fiasco. To call it mostly awful is a trifle harsh (there are some decent rocking moments), although it has not aged well. Just listen to the first track off their first album and you’ll see what I mean. This track encapsulates just about everything Tin Machine were about in it’s 6 gruelling minutes. What starts out as quite an interesting track disintegrates into a loud, pointless “rock out” with some of the most embarrassingly awful lead guitar you’re ever likely to hear. The drums, like Hunt Sales’ personality, are horribly loud and obnoxious and when listening to this (the first album particularly) I can’t help but think here are four suited-up gents getting all rather rowdy in the basement before going back upstairs to their sandstone mansions, sipping their kool-aid and watering pot plants. Bowie had wrested back control by the somewhat more polished second (and final) album, but they were trying so hard to prove the point the band was democratic they even included a couple of unlistenable Hunt Sales tunes on the second side. For a career that was built on violently changing direction, Tin Machine was no different. Bowie needed to get this out of his system and to clear his mind (and his record company) before another stab at a commercial albeit artier sound.

NEXT: “Putting on the Black Tie (Again)…”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Never Let Me Down (1987)


1. Day-In Day-Out: A great opening line “She was born in a handbag…”, and a few others along the way, can’t save this tuneless plodder as it's all downhill from there. One of the few occasions where the opening track on a Bowie album isn’t a jaw-dropper. Also included a wholly unpleasant video. 3.5

2. Time Will Crawl: The lyrics reflect on the aftermath of nuclear war and life in a postnuclear society and environment, specifically Chernobyl. Well chosen track to remix for 2009’s iSelect. This is a good Bowie track and the best track here. 6.5

3. Beat of Your Drum: This is pretty lousy stuff, and at just over 5 minutes Bowie sounds as bored as I do. Plays like a half-finished left-over from the Labyrinth soundtrack. The first in some rather lyrically unpleasant irony-free borderline misogyny tracks. 2.0

4. Never Let Me Down: This slight title track is always talked up as being a terrific John Lennon-esque number (although it’s more an ode to his long-term faithful assistant Coco Schwab), in actual fact he sounds nothing like Lennon ever did. The song is far from a classic but holds up and a standout track on the album. 6.0

5. Zeroes: Opens with a really annoying fake crowd noise and even more annoying and incomprehensible announcer (Diamond Dogs it ain’t), Bowie’s winding vocal searches far and wide for a melody and almost finds one. Ambitious and not horrible. Some nice sitar, if you get that far. 5.0

6. Glass Spider: The pivotal track on the album Bowie begins by uneasily narrating a preposterous tale of (you guessed it) a, or indeed, the 'Glass Spider' which is embarrassingly bad and best not pondered over it’s near 2 minute intro. Once the song actually gets underway it becomes quite a spirited if melodramatic affair, but weighed down but a cluttered mix of backing vocals, clattering synths, over-affected guitar soloing and obnoxious drums. 3.5

7. Shining Star (Makin’ My Love): An innocuous one-dimensional shuffle with a pointless and incoherent rap by Mickey Rourke. "When I performed I was thinking, you all look like you should be seeing Phil Collins. Then I thought... hang on... I sound like Phil Collins." On this one that is true. Similar to the title track, I dislike Bowie’s fey voice in this. A complete flop. 2.0

8. New York’s in Love: This one isn’t much better. I think this is the track where Bowie plays lead guitar. The couple of dirty guitar solos after the choruses may well be the best sounding instrument on the whole album. Otherwise this song is completely pointless and melody-free and goes nowhere astonishingly quickly. 4.0

9. ’87 and Cry: Surprisingly this one does have a tune, and the rather nice refrain “And only you..” has it’s charms. Let down badly by those monotonous drums and a horrible middle eight. 4.0

10. Too Dizzy: This track has the unenviable honour of being a song Bowie thought so bad he had it deleted from some reissue of the album. Unfortunately my copy has it. 1.0

11. Bang Bang: At last an Iggy Pop cover. This is a relatively pleasing finish to an extremely disappointing side two. It’s always been a pretty good song (track down Iggy’s ‘non-hit single’ version off Party produced by Monkees songwriter Tommy Boyce), but Bowie’s unimaginative version doesn’t do it a lot of justice here. Some very dubious and altogether nasty American accents on display towards the end. 4.0


VERDICT: The 80s proved such a barren ground for so many major artists who had powered through the 60s and 70s, and Bowie was no exception with Never Let Me Down proving to be his creative nadir. After the commercial success but relative disappointment of his previous two dance-oriented albums, Bowie (in an unhappy and contractually obliged relationship with his then record company EMI) crafted a more arena-friendly guitar rock album to complement his forthcoming theatrical 'Glass Spider' world tour. Unfortunately the tour would go down in history as one of rock’s greatest follies. The hair was bemulleted, the drums loud and monotonous, the suits bright and the band (and dancers anyone?) dynamically impotent. The 'Glass Spider' theme and narrative was muddled, hammy and delivered with a horrible MTV gloss, free of any artistic credibility or conviction. The accompanying album, co-produced by David Richards (Iggy Pop’s Blah Blah Blah, Queen’s A Kind of Magic) and accompanied by one-man-backing-b(l)and Erdal Kizilcay, confirmed Bowie’s artistic insolvency, where any track with a hint of charm or appealing technique was buried in an avalanche of breathtaking overproduction and bombast. And that’s a shame because there is some merit and fine singing beneath the semi-melodic generic 80s pop sound. The busy album cover name-checks a number of items within the lyrics if you could be bothered, and also features the worst David Bowie ‘logo’ ever.

NEXT: The Artistic Enema of Tin Machine.