Real Cool World

Real Cool World (single mix, video).
Real Cool World (soundtrack LP).
Real Cool World (Cool Dub Overture).
Real Cool World (Cool Dub Thing #2).

Prologue: Three Scenes From a Public Life in the Early Nineties

11 November 1991: Tin Machine are en route to the Brixton Academy for their last UK gig. Bowie has asked the bus driver to take a “scenic” way to get there, so that he can see what’s become of the neighborhood of his early childhood. The bus goes along Stansfield Road. Eric Schermerhorn, the Machine’s rhythm guitarist, notices Bowie quietly weeping. “It’s a miracle,” Bowie says. “I probably should have been an accountant. I don’t know how this all happened.”

20 April 1992: Bowie plays the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. He sings “Under Pressure” with Annie Lennox, who’s dressed as a mingle of his discarded selves. He plays saxophone on “All the Young Dudes.” As Ian Hunter lurches into the song, Bowie sings along with him, not into the mike but absently, murmuring into the air, as though he’s only now recalling the words that he’d written for Hunter, the words which are the only reason Hunter’s on stage this evening. Later in the performance, Bowie pulls Mick Ronson over to him, in a slight echo of the Top of the Pops “Starman” moment. But they’re only sharing a private joke here.

Bowie plays “Heroes” with Ronson, who uses an E-bow to mimic Robert Fripp’s keening lines, and for a moment you can imagine some alternate 1977 where Bowie and Ronson had made “Heroes.” Ronson will be dead in a year. Bowie thanks the crowd, sinks to his knees and recites the Lord’s Prayer. Some guy yells “whoo-hoo” after Bowie intones “who art in heaven,” then Wembley seemingly holds its breath until he finishes. Bowie’s friend, a playwright named Craig, had slipped into an AIDS-related coma the day before—he would die two days after the show. Bowie had the bad taste to remind a stadium that the concert they’ve been screaming at is supposed to be a requiem. He later said offering the prayer was a spontaneous decision (Brian May: “I remember thinking that it would have been nice if he’d warned me about that”) and called it the most “rock and roll” episode of his latter-day career. Call it a humble moment of submission or galling pantomime, it’s one of the last moments that the general public will recall from Bowie’s life.

6 June 1992: Bowie marries Iman for a second time, in Florence (they had been married by a magistrate in Lausanne in April). He grants Hello! magazine exclusive rights to the coverage, which results in a 23-page spread. The second wedding is a public art installation: two celebrities, the groom’s teeth newly capped, pledging their troth to flashing cameras and to the sound of screaming fans, massed outside the St. James Episcopal Church.* In the Hello! photographs, the couple are stunningly beautiful mannequins; the wedding party is a taxidermist’s masterpiece.

Brian Eno attends. “It was a lovely wedding,” he said later. “And I was totally confused.” During his stay, Bowie plays Eno a tape of what he calls his “wedding songs.”

We used to laugh about Nile Rodgers and then it’s funny he goes back and works with him…Nile Rodgers is a very talented guy. [Bowie's] idea to work with him was to recapture what they had, but that’s bullshit. You can never go home again.

Hunt Sales.

We’d put all this effort into trying to get rid of the stuff that followed Let’s Dance to change expectations and allow David to be an artist again. So I was irritated by the notion, but, for whatever reason, they decided to do it.

Reeves Gabrels.

These quotes can seem like grumblings of a pair of discarded suitors. But let’s grant them the argument: what had been the point of the abrasive Tin Machine records and tours, of the grand public funeral of “Sound + Vision,” if the next move was just to make Let’s Dance II?

Bowie’s decision to reunite with Nile Rodgers to make a “mainstream” pop album was in some part financial. Bowie no longer had an EMI contract, he’d funded the “It’s My Life” tour out of his own pocket, and he was a married man now, buying houses around the world for the setting of his new domestic life. And he admitted to friends that he missed it sometimes, regretted he was no longer part of the pop conversation, missed hearing himself on the radio. He got a new contract with Savage Records that was predicated on delivering a radio-ready album.

But Black Tie White Noise, though it briefly hit #1 in the UK and produced Bowie’s last Top 10 UK hit, was a global dud, much to Rodgers’ and Savage’s frustration (though the latter was in great part to blame, as we’ll see). Bowie had steeled himself to become a mainstream entertainer again, then had seemed to balk in the process, sabotaging his own compromises. He consigned the best pop song of the sessions to a CD bonus track and left another possible hit on the shelf, not to revive it for a decade; he filled half the record with instrumentals and covers.

So BTWN is one of the stranger albums of Bowie’s life: a pop record that seems intent on denying itself; an album jammed full of ghosts and memories, with a restless creative spirit running through it, along with a seeming indifference to quality at times; it’s a funeral album as much as a wedding album, its moods ranging from glossy pap to uxoriousness on a global scale to ham-handed public commentary to a studied alienation. Bowie would alter his voice beyond recognition, sing on some tracks as a seeming parody of his public self, sing on others as though he’s desperately answering a question someone had posed years before. He seemed to have trawled through his past and picked up whatever came to hand: it’s an album on which not only Mick Ronson and Mike Garson reappear but also the Tonight-era Frank Simms and Phillipe Saisse. While making BTWN Bowie seemed incredibly happy, a man sunk into domestic bliss, and one who also was vaguely disgusted with having to recompose himself, yet again, as a public figure.

Bowie had been writing the BTWN material throughout late 1991 and 1992. The first track that emerged from a desultory series of sessions (Rodgers later groaned that where Let’s Dance took three weeks to make, BTWN “took a year”) was “Real Cool World,” a song written for Cool World, Ralph Bakshi’s disastrous animated film, a crass rip-off of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, complete with a cartoon temptress (Kim Basinger’s “Holli Wood”) and human-toon interactions (a bewildered Gabriel Byrne and a sadly game Brad Pitt). While the title obviously came from the movie’s title, there’s a chance Bowie was also referencing the Greatest Show on Earth hit of the same name from 1970.

“Real Cool World” was a try-out session to see if Rodgers and Bowie could work together again (Rodgers had just finished a new Chic record, Chic-ism, and was in the mood for reunions), and the result was enough to convince Bowie to have Rodgers run the album sessions, which would stretch into late 1992, alternating between Bowie’s home base in Switzerland and Rodgers’ at the Power Station in New York.

The appearance of “Real Cool World” was well received at the time by the likes of Billboard, as it showed that the “real” Bowie (there’s always a “real” Bowie who’s gone missing) was back, not the scowling man who had been hiding out in some rock band. Along with Bowie’s sudden return to celebrity A-list status with his wedding, “Cool World” was a sign that Bowie intended to be a commercial force again, although the single charted modestly.

And “Cool World” did sound as though Bowie had gone to sleep around 1985 and had woken up seven years later at the Power Station, lying on a stack of R&B and house promo CDs. There was a crispness and a buoyancy to the track, a vibrancy that Bowie’s music had lacked for ages: if he was playing Rip Van Winkle, he was a sprightly one at least. Rodgers’ intro alone, with its mesh of percussive synthesizers (a hi-hat pattern in the left channel that’s soon drowned out by snares), two syncopated sequencer lines and a third synthesizer keeping on a high root note, and a staggered introduction of bass and Bowie’s saxophone, was the sharpest production that Bowie’d had in a decade. There were instrumental callbacks in the mix—a truncated version of the stepwise descending “Laughing Gnome” line on synthesizer, and another synth fill suggestive of “Speed of Life” (the former appearing towards the close of each verse, the latter midway through).

The track’s B minor verses are hooked to a lower-register Bowie vocal (doubled and tripled in some phrases, with what sounds like a synth bass effect applied to the lowest harmony) that’s a series of progressively sinking phrases, with Bowie plummeting to a low B on the last “world” of the verse, while the chorus, even with a cheery “do-Do-do-do-do” refrain, remains muted in sentiment. Only in the bridge/refrains, which shift to a bright C major, does Bowie seem to rouse himself, but even then he hardly ventures above a middle C. It suits the tentativeness of the lyric, in which the singer finds himself in love but can’t bring himself to fully accept it, trying to verify that what he’s feeling is real. “Color me doubtful,” he murmurs towards the end, still listening for footsteps: it’s a sentiment that could apply to the album that he was about to make.

Recorded ca. spring-June 1992, Mountain Studios, Montreux and/or Power Station, NYC. Released in August 1992 as Warner W0127 (#53, UK) and on Songs From the Cool World OST (the latter is an impressively hip soundtrack for DB to be associated with in this era, including the Future Sound of London’s “Papua New Guinea,” My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult’s “Sex on Wheelz”, and some early Moby tracks.)

The BTWN tracks have a bewildering set of remixes and edits. So for “Cool World” there is: a) the single edit (4:14), used for the video; b) the album cut, used for the closing credits of Cool World and found on the OST—this version later appeared on the 2-CD reissue of BTWN; c) Satoshi Tomiie’s five remixes, including “Cool Dub Thing” Nos. 1 and 2, the “Cool Thing” 12″ club mix and “Cool Dub Overture,” which were on the CD single; d) an instrumental version used for the B-side of a few 7″ singles.

* Commonly known as “the American Church” in Florence. It’s a colorful place. The church’s first rector was Pierce Connelly, who abandoned his wife and children to become a Catholic priest, only later to change his mind, becoming an Episcopalian, and then suing his wife (who’d become a nun in the meantime) for “restitution of conjugal rights.” (from Alta Macadam’s Americans in Florence.) Sinclair Lewis described weekly services there in World So Wide as a hour when assembled US expats “are betrayed into being American again…[though with] their flippant unfaith to their lean and bitter mother, America, there is yet more faith than in their zest for Europe, their opulent mistress.”

Sources: first anecdote is from Trynka’s Starman. The Sales quote is from Spitz’s biography, the Gabrels from Trynka’s.

Top: Shimon and Lindemann, “Hutch With His Bowling Ball,” Manitowoc, Wisconsin, 1992; Bowie and Lennox at Wembley, April 1992.

50 Responses to Real Cool World

  1. David B says:

    We’re through with Tin Machine at last & almost onto a Bowie album I bought, which is cool. I have no recollection of ‘Real Cool World’ though. This may be the first time I’ve heard it. Good piece.

  2. Patrick says:

    I think this the only the second time I’ve heard it. the first was when it first came out. My feeling is the same. Pretty slickly produced, and pretty forgettable. I really don’t have any desire to hear it again for a third time. Though I have a childhood fondness for say, Disney’s The Aristocats , there’s also often something a bit naff about music for cartoons, specially for a sort of mainstream “comeback” of an artist like DB after TM.

  3. humanizingthevacuum says:

    It’s a minor track that I have loved for years: not as strong as “Jump They Say” but a tasty appetizer. My college station used to play this and JTS in the spring of ’93 (and nothing else from Black Tie White Noise).

    You’ve shrewdly nailed BTWN, col – the first new Bowie album I bought and one for which I still have a lot of frustrated affection.

  4. Ian Fryer says:

    I’m looking forward to reading comments on the Black Tie, White Noise material. For some reason it’s an album I return to rather more often than some of DB’s more highly regarded material. To my ears even Real Cool World stands up better than most of Let’s Dance and Tonight.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      I very much agree! I actually like Black Tie White Noise more than Let’s Dance and Tonight combined. (Although I must confess that the guilty-pleasure rawk factor of Never Let Me Down and Tin Machine II above elevates those two slightly higher than the other three! ;))

      • Maj says:

        I think BTWN actually works better as an album than either Let’s Dance or Tonight do. I don’t have any clear favourites on the album and I don’t think I find any of the songs too annoying either. So that might be why.

  5. Thanks Chris. Immaculate as always.

    I was disturbed by the Greatest Show On Earth references. Was that a hit outside Schleswig-Holstein?

    ‘Borderline’ is totally funky tho’. Now that must have been a hit at the Paradiso. Someone should sample it.

  6. Diamond Duke says:

    Not necessarily one of my favorite Bowie tracks, but Real Cool World is a rather nice, breezy dance-pop number. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the lyrics are about, but I personally like the lines “Questioning saint-like and fantastic heroes / Feeling like lost little children in fabled lands.” Perhaps this offers as much of a clue to Bowie’s early-’90s state of mind as those three scenes mentioned in the prologue…?

    As far as Nile Rodgers is concerned, while Let’s Dance and Black Tie White Noise are certainly decent enough albums, and I like many of the songs on both, Rodgers’ production and arranging style has an unfortunate tendency to file down Bowie’s rougher edges. Or…perhaps I’m being too harsh on Nile? An alternate way of looking at it could be that Bowie was looking to Rodgers’ style as a way of compensating for the fact that his own “edge” (which served him throughout his ’70-’80 “classic” era from The Man Who Sold The World to Scary Monsters) had dulled somewhat on both occasions.

    As far as the movie Cool World itself…I’ve actually never seen it! I saw the TV ads and figured it to be a B-grade Who Framed Roger Rabbit knockoff. (In fact, I just saw that movie again on DVD recently! It’s held up rather well since its 1988 release. It’s got a rather nifty little subplot relating to the American transportation system – specifically about how the relatively inexpensive city streetcar was displaced by the freeway system! But once again, I digress…)

    col1234, I trust you’ll be dealing with Tin Machine cover I’ve Been Waiting For You once we got to the version on Heathen in 2002…?

    • col1234 says:

      yes. makes more sense, thematically, to do it then. same with keeping “Disco King” to the Reality entries.

    • BenJ says:

      I’ve read, and Chris has posted here, Nile’s reflection that he signed onto Let’s Dance in the belief that he’d be making “Scary Monsters 2″ with Bowie and was initially disappointed to find out they were making a Top 40-minded album. It seems to me that BTWN may be a nearly opposite situation. Let’s Dance made a lot of money and helped him up his fees as a producer, which of course gave him more freedom as an artist too. I can see him hoping for another cash cow when he got back together with Bowie. It wasn’t really going to be that way. Still, I like a lot of what I’ve heard from BTWN, and Nile deserves some credit for that.

      • Ian Fryer says:

        Niles Rogers comments on his period with Bowie are, at times, very revealing about the pressures both were under as artists. Bowie was under pressure (no pun intended) at the time to produce pop albums, but Rogers was shoehorned, by the very fact that he was a black pop musician, into making dance music. I can’t recall the exact quote – I probably saw it on this very blog – but he basically said that Bowie had the luxury of not having to make catchy songs. I can under stand his frustration if he thought he was getting into someting more artistically fulfilling. BTWN sounds great to me and all concerned should be proud of it.

  7. MC says:

    Now this song really worried me when it came out, as it struck me as a return to the bad old days of the Labyrinth soundtrack. The two things that semi-saved the track for me were DB’s sax, and the doo-doo-doo-doodoodoodoodoo chorus, a ghostly echo of Mary Hopkin’s indelible vocal on Sound And Vision, it seemed to me at the time. Listening to it again after a really long interval, it strikes me as a bit less of a throwaway, perhaps, and more of a capsule of his ambitions for BTWN – as D. Duke indicates, a fusion of DB’s blue-eyed soul stylings with his Berlin-experimental sensibilities. If only it was as good as this suggests!

  8. Roman says:

    In the pre-internet years, when this was released, I only became aware of its existence when browsing the Bowie section in the (now defunct) Virgin Megastore in Dublin. I bought it on cassette and playing it was probably my lowest Bowie moment – coming after the mortifying Bowie-as-Christian-rocker incident – when I seriously considered moving on from him.

    It wasn’t that Real Cool World was bad – it was just boring. It was the most uninteresting single he’d ever released. Plus, there was no image change accompanying it, no video, and no hype – all these things make collecting Bowie interesting.

    With regards The Freddie Tribute. When I first went online about 1995/96, there was a thread on some Bowie fansite regarding your personal low point in following Bowie. I wrote that it was The Lord’s Prayer – that it was the only time I was embarrassed to be a Bowie fan.

    Some God-warrior took exception and emailed me 20,000 Our Fathers – which in the land of slow dial-up and outlook express, completely wrecks your browsing experience, believe you me!

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I’m with you on this one Roman, regarding the toe-curlingly cringe-awful embarrassment of seeing Bowie dropping to one knee and reciting the Lord’s Prayer on stage. Speaking as an agnostic/atheist myself, I can only sympathise with you when you earned the ire of some online God-botherer.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        As a fellow atheist, I didn’t mind Bowie’s gesture as a piece of theatre. Few things are more convincing than a former androgyne now wearing a lime green suit reciting The Lord’s Prayer.

    • As an agnostic (one raised in a mixed-religion family who is at least technically considered Jewish) I found it jarring – especially since I was under the impression Mercury himself was a Zoroastrian. However, I don’t know why I would find it OFFENSIVE – it was a personal expression that he didn’t ask anyone else to particpate in. Getting angry at any public display of religion is the sort of thing intolerant fundies use to justify their paranoiac belief that they are being warred upon. Live and let live.

  9. Maj says:

    Owning one of the CD re-issue boxed sets of BTWN I have to confess I never even realised Real Cool World was ana actual single (and on a film soundtrack), I just assumed it was a b-side/discarded song just like Lucy Can’t Dance (coz if he could not put Lucy on the album why not this one).

    RCW is mysteriously missing from my iPod, but so is Lucy. But while Lucy and I have a love-hate relationship (it’s almost as if McCartney wrote that song, it’s such an ear-worm!), Cool World is quite…cool and unobtrusive. It works as a background noise for house chores and it works when you actually decided to really listen to it. It’s a nice song. Nothing more, nothing less.

  10. tin man says:

    Always thought Nile Rogers was at his best when Chic… ism in family with Nard, Tony & the Girls Norma Jean & Alfa; i remember them saying they wanted to be the next Roxy Music…, The Roxy Music of the Bronx. I’m a great fan of these two Roxies (GB & US). In my opinion, the better Danceable Bowie (maybe feat. “sex” mantras???) was by far “Stay” & its sort of precursor “John, i’m only dancing (again)”. The 92/93 trip… an old hat thing… performed with (i must admit) Class !

    This is Bowie!!!

  11. david says:

    I’m with the Sales bros and Reeves on this one, at least were RCW is concerned.For me his credibility had seriously crapped out at Mercury’s concert, the Hello wedding photo’s did little to help that cause and then there was this-what the hell was he thinking I wondered? I thought he’d completely lost the plot.

    Vocals aside, I thought it was atrocious then, and still do-the kind of throwaway pop he’d have thought twice about saddling Tonight with.
    A real low point for me at the time, almost causing me to dispense with my thirteen year fan-ship.

  12. tin man says:

    Another brilliant idea from (don’t forget it), The Hunt Sales fan of the Blog: Real Cool World sounds like an extra-track of the FGTH “Liverpool” … i used to listen to back in 86/87

  13. tin man says:

    Did you know that the Simms bros. had recorded & performed with our French National Icon Serge Gainsbourg in his late 1980’s works & his 1986 shows.
    Serge was also a great fan of David.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I loved real cool world. I wish BTWN had been more like it.

  15. heathen72 says:

    Real Cool World was a breath of fresh air after the caterwauling and abrasive Oy Vey Baby. I am very fond of it and his other his other Soundtrack singles – Absolute Beginners, When the Wind Blows, This is not America etc. Take BTWN and I know it’s gonna happen off the upcoming album, and put this and Lucy Cant Dance on it instead.

  16. humanizingthevacuum says:

    The 2006 Chic comp is one of the wonders of the western world: so many elegant, witty, danceable songs. If anything, Bowie had more to learn from Chic in 1983 than Nile Rodgers did.

    • tin man says:

      This is my opinion…, the best Chic line-up (Nard died in1996 & Tony in the early 2000’s) was the original one. Then, later in the 80’s & 90’s too much technology killed this groove you could felt in your pelvis.

  17. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Oh, and, yes: Bowie-the-singer sounds fabulous on “Real Cool World,” as commanding in his understated cool as he would on “Jump They Say.” Part of me wishes he’d recorded more of these vaguely “Middle Eastern” house-inflected sax-led tracks.

  18. Jeremy says:

    BTWN? An underrated album – although patchy. A fascinating period in Bowie’s career. Real Cool World – too slick but he was on the way up again!

    Great write up by the way….

  19. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    I remember BTWN being released the very same day as Midnight Oil’s Earth, Moon,Sun and Stars album. I was standing outside the (long-gone) Virgin Megastore in Bourke Street Melbourne waiting for the store to open, with a large band of eager Oils fans, and not a single Bowie fan in sight.
    They became excited as the store suddenly began piping what they thought were previews of their heroes new album. But their excitement quickly turned to cynicism when the track in question turned out to be “You’ve Been Around” instead .”Aw, that sounds like Bowie”, one of them sniffed disdainfully, rolling his eyes.
    Sadly, I think this small memory sums up how far Bowie’s commercial stocks had fallen by the early 90’s. For my own part I’d been eagerly anticipating this album, partly out of curiosity for Bowie’s next move after the unpopular Tin Machine, and partly in anticipation of his re-union with Mick Ronson, who I’d read in NME some time back was battling liver cancer.
    Overall though I remember being pretty disappointed in the album. I felt its better moments were overshadowed by some soppy,treacle-y, sentimentality, over-production, and embarrassingly naive Ebony and Ivory-type platitudes on the title track. Even Ronson’s playing was indistinguishable to my ear. Had his illness robbed him of his power, or was his playing on I Feel Free just buried deep in the mix? Whichever was the case, it seemed the Nile Rodgers curse had struck again.

  20. SoooTrypticon says:

    This is a lesser favorite of mine too, with a few few gems in the lyrics and a nice croon.

    If you kick around a few songs on the album, and add the missing b-sides back in, you get a pretty decent listen.

    -The Wedding
    -You’ve Been Around
    -I Feel Free
    -Jump They Say
    -Nite Flights
    -Pallas Athena
    -Miracle Goodnight
    -Real Cool World
    -Lucy Can’t Dance
    -The Wedding Song

    Col1234, I’m interested on your thoughts regarding the extended mix of the title track, BTWN. That grim sounding piano has me suspicious, and I wonder if it wasn’t scavenged from an early version of BMTDK…

  21. Mother says:

    I go back to Tonight and Never Let Me Down more often than the bland sub-dance-pop-crossed-with-smooth-jazz stylings of BTWN. In my opinion Bowie was limiting his creative potential by working within strict mechanical drum patterns, jarring hiphop samples and programmed loops to reach the arbitrary four minute length on nearly every track. My least favourite and a most uninteresting period in Bowie’s career.

    I will keep reading these magnificent critiques though!

  22. Remco says:

    I had completely forgotten about this song and hope to forget it again soon. I think there’s a passable song buried somewhere in there but it’s hard to hear underneath the horrible production. I’ll probably get back to this when we reach the album proper but I truly hate Rodgers’ production on BTWN, it’s thin and shallow and it tries to emulate the very worst of what was in the charts at the time. The Gabrels quote sums it up pretty nicely: just a really bad idea.

  23. Anonymous says:

    As an A&R consultant @ Arista Records I was heavily involved in the UK release of BTWN and look forward to contributing to this thread.

  24. teenwildlife says:

    Can’t wait for BTWN,the Bowie album I find myself playing the most over the last few years.I may be in a group of one but I just love it.Go gently now Chris!

  25. Momus says:

    There’s something I’m trying to puzzle out. I’m a huge David Bowie fan, yet I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Future Sound of London’s Papua New Guinea, but recall nothing at all about Bowie’s Real Cool World. And ten minutes after relistening, I recall nothing about it all over again!

    These records are both products of recording studios in 1992, both use pretty much the same sampling and sequencing technology. One was probably a lot more expensive than the other. Yet the cheaper one ties into the clubs, the drugs, the scene, the tribes and the sound of 1992 in a way which makes it a valuable artefact of its era, reminding me instantly of The Shamen, The Sabres of Paradise, The Orb, Black Box. Along with FSOL, these people changed the way those of us making music in 1992 went about things. They counted, they were rooted, they seemed to have inside knowledge, they were bellwethers; precisely things that David Bowie, at various points in his career, had been too, but very much was not in 1992.

    Of course, you can survive not being or knowing where it’s at if you produce a really strong song and video, and that’s what Mr B jumped to next, fortunately.

    • Momus says:

      Of course, it’s worth adding for balance that groups like Suede and Blur were lauding Bowie and parading his influence at the same time; Bowie even posed with Suede’s Brett Anderson in a 1993 NME. But even the most ardent of the Britpop bands were unlikely to have been studying the sequencer patterns on Black Tie White Noise. They were playing their well-worn copies of the master’s 60s and 70s recordings.

  26. gcreptile says:

    This song is pretty forgettable, in my opinion, but I like the production of this period very much. It’s powerful and confident. It may be too strong for this nice little forgettable song here, but it supports the stronger songs on BTWN and Buddha of Surburbia. I think that BTWN is Bowie’s fusion jazz album.

  27. joeb says:

    “He consigned the best pop song of the sessions to a CD bonus track and left another possible hit on the shelf, not to revive it for a decade”

    Could someone fill me in as two what two tracks these are?

  28. Ian McDuffie says:

    As much as I like this song (and I very much do, far above most other songs on BTWN), I have to admit that I couldn’t quite remember how it went before listening to it just now. More, really, that I kept confusing it with half a dozen other similarly beat-infused tracks from the era.

    That said, I like that for the vocal, Bowie just seemed to take the word “cool” and write an entire performance around it. I think he was more focused on the temperature aspect of the word, though. It’s a pretty chilly performance. Full-on Croon.

  29. tin man says:

    Bowie is for sure one of the few really talented singers you can call “The Voice”. His croon, his vibrato, the way it includes several starta, the way it federates many sounds together is quite unique. Only great singers like Scott Walker (a huge influence.., sort of Master – see the link Tilt/ Outside in 1995) or maybe Jimmy Osterberg.
    Concerning the song RCW… i’ve just listened to Frankie’s “Liverpool” LP (Holly Johnson is… very talented & total Bowie fan) and it sounds to me like a variation of the song “Lunar Bay”.
    The main problem here is the beat which seems to come from an old mid-eighties drum machine, completely deepless; pleasant but “daté”.
    Chris: “And “Cool World” did sound as though Bowie had gone to sleep around 1985 and had woken up seven years later… “

    • Here’s where I say Bowie >>> Scott Walker both as singer and songwriter. I prefer Bowie’s version of “Nite Flights”!

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Bowie has namechecked many artists over the years, and by and large I have come to love most of them too: Everyone from Vince Taylor, Lou and the Velvets, to Iggy and the Stooges, the NY Dolls, Mott the Hoople, Eno, Talking Heads, Neu!, La Dusseldorf, Kraftwerk, The Psychedelic Furs, and The Screaming Blue Messiah’s. Hell, even the completely tone-deaf Legendary Stardust Cowboy had a couple of decent tunes.
        But the one singer I just can’t get into at all is Scott Walker. To my jaded ear he just sounds like an old-fashioned crooner singing music my Mum and Dad would like (though not Tilt, obviously.)

  30. tin man says:

    Concerning Scott Walker… i’m very deep into this wonderful Artist.
    The fact is that Scott created his own idiom, his unique universe… even very early when experimenting “strange” songs as B-sides of popular Walker Brothers singles…, a mixture of many Genres (György Ligeti meets Einstürzende Neubauten meets Guillaume de Machaut meets Hermann Nitsch meets…) with strong “unusual effects” and a “no-need-to-chart & sell or being popular” philosophy. “Tilt” is a Masterpiece & also “The Drift”. I’ve got a 1995 interview of David speaking about “Outside” where he suggested that he would not measure up to Scott he characterized “The Greatest Voice in Western Music”(these are the real words used by Bowie). As a listener, i don’t agree with this point of view because the both of them are just incredible Artists with Extraordinary Voices. Bowie’s more a chameleon & far more concerned by the sales (with a small “s” not a big one like Sales… Tony…, Hunt…, you see what I mean????????????)

  31. Momus says:

    During the postpunk period there was a trope in the UK music press that consisted in saying — as the NME reviewer for Wire’s 154 did, for instance — “imagine this was the new Bowie album” or “this should have been what the new Bowie album sounded like”.

    It was a thought that could only arise when two conditions were met: one, that Bowie was considered an avatar of progressive creativity, and two, that there was some sort of explosion of creative music happening in Britain. If both these were fulfilled, it was a natural thought to say, effectively, “everybody could be Bowie” or “Bowie could be everybody”.

    Significantly, this wasn’t being said in reviews of BTWN — we were by now in the “Return to form? Best since Scary Monsters?” era, critically, as far as Bowie was concerned. But the post-acid house music scene was going through a creative sea-change that paralleled the explosion of the post-punk years. So if Bowie had still been seen as a creative paradigm, whose record would critics be reproaching him for not having made? I’d say Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. But to imagine Massive Attack making BTWN is a parallel world too far.

  32. Lovely post. Some comments, first a personal one. For someone who became a Bowie fanatic over the course of a childhood where I was simultaneously pursuing an abortive career as a boy singer, there’s was nothing that could replace my annoyance at constantly being asked if I was related to a minor English R&B singer like learning that my name is the same as that of the street Bowie grew up on. Maybe it’s silly, but it felt like destiny.

    Regarding the Mercury tribute- I was already a huge fan of Eurythmics, though Lennox’s solo work had left me tepid. Seeing the two of them together became a moment I wouldn”t forget, until years later I saw it on Youtube and realized it wasn’t very good. Thankfully, the rehearsal was better. Many people have criticized the Lord’s Prayer- since I am not a Christian it did feel jarring, especially since Mercury himself was no Catholic. Whether this was genuine spontanaity or calculated focus pulling is hard to say. It is also hard to understand why Bowie didn’t contribute to Ronson’s memorial unless the griping about Bowie only showing up for this one for publicity was true.

    Regarding Real Cool World: I find this to be as overproduced and annoying – actually, moreso – than anything on his 80’s pop trilogy. If I had been paying any attention at all I might never have hung around until Outside. It sounds like a retreat.

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