No One Calls

99wallingerecce

Awakened 2.
No One Calls.

Of all the tracks issued under the general ‘Hours’ banner, “No One Calls,” stuffed away on the “Thursday’s Child” CD single, seems the most likely candidate to have emerged from one of Bowie and Brian Eno’s lost Outside sequel sessions. It was as though Bowie assembled the track with the intention of recapturing the dark murmurings of “Wishful Beginnings.”

This could well be true. What’s also true is that Bowie raided the Labyrinth soundtrack for the song: Nicholas Pegg’s argument that “No One Calls” is in part a rewrite of Trevor Jones’s “Thirteen O’Clock” is pretty undeniable (the melodic line of “no-body-calls” is essentially the first synthesizer melody in the Jones piece). And “No One Calls” also appears, in instrumental form, as a piece of incidental music in the Omikron video game, listed in the CD sequencing as “Awakened 2.”

Further, it’s as “plastic” a track as “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell,” only here the reference book isn’t the glam years or Tin Machine rawk but the tasteful “European” Bowie, the Bowie of Side 2 of Low and “Heroes,” the minimalist of Buddha of Suburbia, with Bowie using a vintage 1980s drum machine, the Roland TR-707, as the track’s chassis.

Not that this is a bad thing: Bowie in austere self-parody mode can still work small wonders. “No One Calls” (an odd title, as Bowie actually sings “nobody calls” throughout) is one of the subtlest and more intriguing pieces to emerge from the ‘Hours’ period. The fragmented lyric, which Bowie sings in his sad Pierrot voice via loose, four- and five-syllable lines (and echoed, per usual, by distorted ghost voices), can be read in a host of ways: as an isolated, depressed person’s internal monologue; as the thoughts of someone facing the repercussions of something horrific they’ve done (why does no one call anymore? why is the singer having to be photographed?). It could even be post-apocalyptic: counting the windows (left unshattered); nobody phones anyone at all (because there are no phones, or people, left).

Built over a twinned eerie repeating keyboard melody, one strain of which seems to have crept out of a Dario Argento horror film, and with a processed Reeves Gabrels guitar, sounding like an Indian esraj, that echoes, then pilfers the top melody (and which soon divides into two competing lines) “No One Calls” seems to be building to a climax but instead loses heart, with Bowie left to repeat his last doleful “not at alls” as the track slowly fades away into synthetic rainfall.

Recorded ca. January-February 1999, London; poss. May 1999, Seaview Studios, with overdubs at Chung King Studios and Looking Glass Studios. Released 20 September 1999 as a B-side of various “Thursday’s Child” CD singles (Virgin 7243 8 96268 2 7/VSCDT 1753) and offered as a freebie to fans who downloaded the album via Liquid Audio; later included on the 2004 reissue of ‘Hours.

Top: Mark Wallinger, Ecce Homo, 1999 (displayed on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square; another angle here).

16 Responses to No One Calls

  1. stuartgardner says:

    One of my very favorite tracks from the period.

  2. Momus says:

    When I looked in his eyes they were blue-slash-green but nobody home.

  3. s.t. says:

    Wow, I didn’t catch that total rip off of “Thirteen O’Clock.” I’d love to know the story behind that. Perhaps looking at endless scenes of avatars running through streets and corridors during the Omikron soundtrack sessions made Bowie think of poor Sarah in the Labyrinth?

    In its final form, it provides some breadth to the Hours collection. It’s not a stunner, but a welcome creeper. The lyrics are like the dark sequel to Fixing a Hole, where the shut-in’s household distractions devolve into ritualistic counting and obsessing, anything to stop his mind from wandering to the realization of his loneliness.

    Yet there seems to a touch of cruelty in the song; the music cold and driving rather than soft and vulnerable. And there is a known cruel streak in Bowie as a writer, so I wouldn’t put it past him to create some exaggerated rendering of a colleague or rival as they flounder. Perhaps, running with the Hours theme of “my friends and their regrets,” this is a contemporary portrait of Ms.Connelly, who hadn’t yet restored her celebrity (with Requiem for a Dream and A Beautiful Mind). I doubt it, but it’s worth thinking about, at least to stop my mind from wandering…

    “…well, laugh!”

  4. Maj says:

    Intriguing maybe but also excellent material if you wanna torture someone. On par with the least successful segues on Outside.
    The melody itself is pretty good though.

  5. Mike F says:

    The music sounds like a pastiche of Low with vocals by Mr. Touchshriek. Uninspired. Fine for a videogame but not strong enough to stand on its own. Was he contractually obligated to release an album at this time?

    • s.t. says:

      “If I’d had my druthers, I’d rather not have put out an album right now. But Virgin wanted me to put this album out now, because everyone has gone for the end of the millennium thing. I don’t mind. But I would rather have had it come out earlier this year or waited until the beginning of next year. But at least it will come out and I can move onto the next one – which is how I tend to think.” –Bowie, Dirt Magazine, 1999

      • col1234 says:

        yeah, during this period DB’s constantly shifting his plans (in interviews) between the Eno Outside sequels, “the Visconti album” (which eventually becomes Heathen), Toy and the Ziggy Stardust revival. So “hours” does seem to be in part a concession to Virgin to get something in the stores by Xmas ’99, so he cobbles together some Omikron pieces and a few songs sharing the “sad middle aged loser” narrative pov.

  6. s.t. says:

    Weird. Having problems posting.

  7. Mr Tagomi says:

    Awakened 2 really seems more like the seed this song grew from than a different version of it.

    A minor bit of work, but i think this sort of material is a richer seam for db than the likes of Survive, nice though that is.

  8. Bruised Passivity says:

    This is one of those tracks where I wonder “if it had been released on Low or Heroes would we be praising it as genius or not?” While I like this one’s moody odd-ballness, I don’t find myself listening to it often because I find it only mildly interesting. In my mind it ranks as a novelty song. Awesome point about the reworking of the Trevor Jones piece, I don’t think I would have ever spotted it on my own.

  9. Trevor Mill says:

    It sounds like the end part of a bigger, more interesting song; a bit like the ‘zane zane zane’ bit in ‘All the madmen’. It would have been better with more coffee and another day on it. Or just Robert Fripp walking through the door and plugging in.

  10. Eder R. M. says:

    I love it, one of my fav from the hours era, and far more interesting than Wishful Begginings managed to be. The pictures it draws on my mind are pretty much in line with the one’s written by the blog author. Intriguing and fascinating stuff.

  11. The Ziggurat says:

    I like this a lot – more than the 1. Outside Segues and nearly everything from the ‘Hours…’ period, chiefly because the song stands on it’s own two legs.

    (I think Bowie’s 90′s creeping electronic rhythms – mainly on 1. Outside – would have benefited from not having the Lynchian story crammed into each and every song (Segue). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could just listen to some of the shorter tracks (Segues) on 1. Outside and not had some horrid BS about Ramona talking to you?)

    Worth noting: This song reminds me of The Smashing Pumpkins “Eye”, which came out on the Lost Highway soundtrack. Bowie’s song isn’t nearly as dramatic, or as nuanced, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the song were inspired in some way by “Eye.” (Billy Corgan uses a TR-606 for in a similar capacity for “Eye,” and Bowie a 707.)

  12. crayontocrayon says:

    I find this one of the less engaging tracks out of some very strong b-sides/extras in this period. It doesn’t go anywhere, which is probably the point. The Argento comparison is a good one, it has a certain menace to it.

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