Glass Spider

Glass Spider.
Glass Spider (live, 1987).

It’s an all-time low: a spoken/sung SF-themed track with “spooky” music and which has some of the silliest lines that Bowie ever wrote. I’m talking about “Future Legend,” of course.

“Glass Spider” is not the singular high embarrassment of the Bowie canon, as some have claimed. Along with Labyrinth, it’s the return of a part of Bowie that he had kept in a box for over a decade: the Bowie of “Laughing Gnome,” “The Supermen” and Diamond Dogs, the weird, whimsical, dorky, gloriously juvenile Bowie. The embarrassing Bowie. The Bowie who Lester Bangs once called “that chickenhearted straw man of suck rock you love to hate so much.”

By the Eighties, Bowie had reinvented himself as an aspirational figure, unknowable and cool, existing in a state of otherworldly fame. Then in “Glass Spider,” he suddenly became a clown again, and he got jeered for it. As Steve Pond of Rolling Stone wrote in his Never Let Me Down review, “Glass Spider” [is] Bowie’s most embarrassing moment in years…it’s probably not any dumber than the 1984-inspired excesses of Diamond Dogs, but coming thirteen years later from an artist who’s supposed to be sophisticated and intelligent, it sounds a hell of a lot dumber.”

Elvis Costello once said that his record company (and some of his fans) had hounded him for years to make another This Year’s Model,  but when he finally gave it to them in ’86—the bile and wordplay-soaked Blood and Chocolate—they didn’t know what to do with it. There’s something of the same in the general reaction to “Glass Spider.” Isn’t this what everyone wanted? Back to space-age fables and apocalypse? Back to costumes and dark theater? Back to scary monsters? Why was it all so embarrassing now? Why could Bowie dress up like a space pirate in 1974 and be the height of cool, but when he gloomily intoned his parable about spiders in 1987, it was a laughable, pathetic indulgence?

Maybe because Bowie was forty years old in 1987, and this monster-movie doom mongering now seemed beneath him. Bowie, as he aged, was apparently meant to drift into pseudo-Continental adult sophistication, à la Bryan Ferry (who had always done it better than him), not to revive his old pantomime shenanigans. Bowie was making his audience regret their tastes. There was an article I read some time ago in which a woman was driving with her teenage daughter and “Space Oddity” came on the radio. It once had been her favorite song. But as she watched her daughter listen and roll her eyes, the woman realized “what a dumb song it was.” And it is: “Space Oddity” is hokey bubblegum folk-pop. But it’s sublime hokey bubblegum folk-pop, with a world inside it. It didn’t matter: all at once, the woman had grown up and out of it.

There’s a Smiths B-side, “Rubber Ring,” that gets to the heart of this. Morrissey breaks the fourth wall throughout the song, with the record giving a long harangue to its teenage listeners, telling them of their upcoming betrayal. “The most impassioned song to a lonely soul/is so easily outgrown.” These songs mean everything to you now, but soon you’ll grow up and leave them behind, and crack jokes about your mopey Smiths-listening phase. All Moz asks is that from time to time, “when you’re dancing and laughing, and finally living/hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.” Because you get to move on, you get to grow up to be a clever swine. But I’m staying here at the barricades.

“Glass Spider,” while in no way as self-conscious (or as good) a song, comes from the same position, an artist saying: this is what I do, this is what I’ve always done, ridiculous as it may seem to you now. So it’s fitting that “Spider” is in part a (tortured) metaphor about growing up, of being abandoned by your parents and learning to live on your own. “You always think your mother’s there, but of course she never really is,” Bowie said in ’87.

Bowie’s inspiration was a TV documentary he saw about black widow spiders. He was especially taken by the image of their webs festooned with remnants of their prey, and he played with the idea of an enormous, multi-tiered, corpse-strewn spider web as a housing project (yet another link back to Diamond Dogs) as well as a mythic castle “with a kind of altar at the top.” And like his inspirational black widows, he kept piling things on—the spider became a universal mother figure, one who abandons her children to the cold world, where they have to fend for themselves. The third verse, with the spiders keeping to ground, looking for shelter, fearing nature, is Bowie’s Fall of Man (in a horror comic).

At the same time, Bowie had more practical needs for the song. He wanted it to be the big opening number for his tour (so the spoken prologue was designed in part as mood-setting and to give the band time to get out on stage) and to have a striking image he could build the stage set around. And of course he was playing with his past, too, obviously referencing the Spiders from Mars.*

So “Glass Spider” was a garish, muddled mix of influences and intentions. It begins as a spoken-word parable (56 bars, the first 1:40 of the song) in which Bowie’s echoed voice is set against washes of Mellotron and Moog, with Crusher Bennett’s stick percussion giving occasional punctuation. The spoken section is ridiculous (Bowie’s narrative soon loses its authority because he’s constantly equivocating, as if he can’t be bothered to remember the details: “with almost apparent care,” “one could almost call it an altar,” “its blue eyes [were] almost like a human’s!“) but also has a real creepiness with its wailing synthesizers, some of which call back to “Heroes.”

The latter half of the song, announced by a synth bassline that foreshadows the refrain, works well enough as a horror-movie soundtrack theme, with some of Bowie’s eeriest lines on the album (“life is over you,” “come along before the animals awake“) and there’s a sense of menace in its building momentum, with the “Mummy come back” refrain repeatedly knifing its way into the verses. “Spider” also uses some of Bowie’s favorite compositional tricks, such as backing his way into establishing the key: while the spoken section seems to be in E minor, when the song proper begins, it quickly hammers down into A minor, its verses a I-VI-VII progression similar to “Time Will Crawl” (Am-F-G, with the latter chords keeping A as the root note). There’s also a chromatically descending bassline (used in “Life on Mars?” among a host of other songs) that anchors the climactic “mummy come back” chorus, which climaxes in an a capella bar.

And just as much of it’s a mess, from Bowie’s quasi-operatic bursts in the first verse (“can you HEAAR this wasted CRYYYY”) to the whinnying Frampton guitar solos to Bowie’s irritating tone in the “jah jah jah” refrains. Still, “Glass Spider” alone makes the case for Never Let Me Down—with its air of frenzied desperation, its sense of Bowie being willing to try anything, even if it made him look like an ass—being superior to the pure product Tonight and, arguably, some of his later albums. “Glass Spider,” a bewildering, appalling lapse of taste, is the sound of a man reclaiming himself.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux and Power Station, NYC. On Never Let Me Down and, of course, it was performed in the tour that it named.

Jake Brown’s fine article on“Rubber Ring” from 2003 sums up well the song’s many qualities.

* Referencing the Spiders was a canny move, as the mid-Eighties were the height of Ziggy Stardust‘s reign as critical consensus pick for Best Bowie Album (Rolling Stone‘s Top 100 albums list in 1987 had Ziggy in its top 10, with no other Bowie records making the cut except for ChangesOneBowie at the tail end). Low and Station to Station have since usurped it (similar to how Revolver has knocked off Sgt. Pepper.)

Top: Gerhard Richter, Gudrun, 1987.

54 Responses to Glass Spider

  1. giospurs says:

    wow, this one really surprised me. A song from Never Let Me Down that I can really claim to enjoy, and with no caveats. I struggle to see why it would be perceived as Bowie’s “most embarrassing moment”. Musically, it’s less embarrassing than most of everything that had been on his last two albums and lyrically, well, he’s always been slightly embarrassing hasn’t he?

  2. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    Bowie couldn’t go back to the outrageous silliness; he reaped what he sowed. Except for Labyrinth, Bowie’s credo throughout the 80’s had been “Look at me, I’m a mainstream rock artist, I’m safe, I’m normal, I’m sophisticated.” He’d turned his back on all those things that had defined him in the 70s, and won him one of the greatest cults in pop history. Bowie was Establishment now.

    As the New Wave died down, Rock had finally grown up into a frustrated, middle aged man, who spent his hours making charity records, boring the rest of the world with stories of his glory days, and debating which Beatles album should be named best album ever.

    Glam has never quite been absorbed by the rest of rock. It has ties to frivolous pop and musical theater, which rock has so often defined itself in opposition to. It’s populist, silly, and fake. Most rock histories skip it, giving it a page at most. Even Bowie, who cracked the US market, who pioneered synthrock, who inspired the New Romantics, is rarely given serious consideration.

    Now Bowie has his feet firmly in the rock establishment. And he couldn’t go back to that old magic. Bowie had BEEN an starman, a pretty thing, a rebel rebel, a necromantic aristocrat, a tragic clown, an existential astronaut. In 1987, he was a middle-aged millionaire in a jumpsuit.

  3. david says:

    Not going to defend this, because it is pretty ludicrous-but you really think Future Legend is an all time low? I’d put Chilly Down or Dancing in the Street much lower in those credibility stakes, but its horses for courses I suppose. I thought FL set the stage perfectly for DD-which was the world of Burroughs and Ballard to a rock and roll beat, a perfect apocalyptic dystrophy for the times, and a natural progression to Ziggy.

    It does seem odd that he was lambasted for trying to do what had brought him to prominence doesn’t it? Maybe because he had done it before, it felt like he was just resting on his laurels, and pulling from a bag of old tricks.

    That said, he should have taken it further, continued in that vein, dispensed with the other turds on the album, and made a more cohesive concept from it. At least then, if it had still been considered folly-which given that one reviewer upon hearing Glass Spider, said he had been hanging out with Muppets too much- then at least it would have been a more coherent one, than the ‘hotchpotch of ideas’ he ended up with.

    • col1234 says:

      no, “future legend” is fine by me. just stirring the pot to make the argument. Also don’t think “Glass Spider” is really a bewildering appalling lack of taste. This one was written in broad strokes, hopefully in the spirit of the song.

  4. Diamond Duke says:

    Frankly, I think Future Legend tends to get a free pass because – however ludicrous it may seem when considered objectively as an entity unto itself – it so perfectly set the stage for the Diamond Dogs album. Not to mention the fact that it just sounded so skincrawlingly creepozoid! By comparison, the spoken-word intro to Glass Spider reminds me of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge – hardly the most flattering comparative one can come up with! (However, one must also take into consideration the fact that Bowie’s mindset back in the mid-’70s was probably a tad more edgy and paranoid than his more settled ’80s persona. If his Burroughsian imagery of societal meltdown and mutation is more unsettling than that of glass spiders and webs festooned with victims’ remains, than that’s probably because his thoughts were dark enough for him to halfway mean it!)

    But if Glass Spider has an edge over Future Legend, it’s the fact that Future Legend is merely a lowly intro track, while Glass Spider‘s intro is merely the opening section of a larger song – and a pretty darn good one at that! That synth/bass riff is wonderfully driving and propulsive, and I actually love that “Mummy come back ’cause the water’s all gone / Jah jah jah…” refrain. Bowie’s vocals are perhaps OTT above and beyond the call of duty, but they’re really quite thrilling. As much stick as Never Let Me Down gets in retrospect, I imagine that it was quite a thrill for many fans that Bowie was using his “Ziggy voice” again after sticking to a sometimes wearying baritone croon through most of the ’80s!

  5. Nick Currie says:

    It’s possible that Bowie was thinking of Michael Jackson’s Thriller when he made this track — he’s doing his own version of the Vincent Price intro narrative, with its campy gothic feel, and then the bass sequencer kicks in, just as it does in Thriller. If so, Glass Spider — superficially eccentric — fits the NLMD narrative Chris has established, which was, Madonna-like, to re-establish old brand signifiers (the spider imagery) in the context of relatively current pop signifiers. Nothing wrong with this as a general strategy, but NLMD does it cack-handedly. Not long after this, Bowie was singing “tie you down, pretend you’re Madonna”; it should have been “pretend I’m Madonna”.

  6. diamond dog says:

    The thing with glass spider is it perhaps should have opened the album and Bowie should have tried to do a loose concept album he may have then got away with it. The spoken intro is laughable especially some of the choice of phrasing in it. It Was a weak opening number on the tour and the set itself just spinal tap. It spoils the album for me stpos it dead it its tracks.

  7. Brendan O'Lear says:

    Couldn’t get further than 24 seconds into that …
    I left the UK, and contact with western popular culture, some time before Live Aid. Bowie, though no longer infallible, was still centre stage. By the time I was coming into contact with young British people again, around the turn of the decade, he was a ridiculous irrelevance to them. I’d never understood why, until I heard the post-Tonight stuff on this site. Age is surely a factor. When you’re forty – and assuming no major developments to either the hair or waist lines – then you still see the same face looking back at you in the mirror as when you were twenty five. Unfortunately, the rest of the world sees only the forty-year-old man.
    Two points I’d disagree on in the main entry. Space Oddity seems to get better with time: what once seemed like a novelty hit now seems to be one of the most profound expressions of the human condition within the pop-song format. Second, there was nothing stylish about Bryan Ferry post his breakup with Jerry Hall. For all Bowie’s sins there was never anything as horrific as Bryan Ferry’s ’embarrassing, wooden dancing uncle in a shiny suit leering at your younger sister’s friend’ routine that he developed in post-reform Roxy Music.

    • Sigmata Martyr says:

      Maybe it is a difference in how Ferry was marketed in the states compared to seeing his career in a linear manner in the UK. 87-88 was Bete Noir, and a parade of articles about his suave sophistication in all the smart magazines, like Details before it went men’s as well as the album being smooth -“grown up” above top 40 stuff, posited to the US as smoky room, after hours, music. Press photos from BN and Boys and Girls were like glamour movie still compared to other acts of the time.

      If you think about the average American guy in jeans and a sweatshirt, Ferry was stylishness personified and a shiny Musikladen outfit would just be shruged off as “those crazy Seventies..”

      Bowie once said that being mega famous in the States meant that people who didn’t follow as fans still knew basic things about you. He said his were Ziggy and Let’s Dance. In America Bryan Ferry might have his reputation for being stylish rate higher than Roxy.

  8. Jeremy says:

    Strangely I don’t mind this at all. I recall cringing at the time and hating it, but know it’s weirdly entertaining. Perhaps because I’m about the age a Bowie was when he made the track? Surely my faculty of taste isn’t that far gone!?

  9. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    Okay, perhaps I shouldn’t write while feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. That comment is starting to make less sense after a nap.

  10. diamond dog says:

    Some good points pinstripe my comment was under the influence of vodka. Its hard to pinpoint why Bowie could not go back to sci fi art rock because the lyrics made little sense and after punk and spinal tap this kind of stuff sounded plain silly. You also need a good song and this is not one …sorry , though the driving beat is ok. Like morrisey said ‘it says nothing to me about my life’we had all grown older . He no longer had the persona as he was a chirpy cockerney geezer so hardly fitting but despite all this his voice is fantstic delivered with real conviction so he understood what it was about and believed in it all. For a sort of modern update of space oddity territory try Bowie’s new big fan Paul Weller ‘s Andromeda.

  11. Maj says:

    Great. Gonna have the “mummy come back” bit stuck in my head for the rest of the day now. 🙂

    Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s, indeed, very Bowie. More Bowie than anything on Tonight or even Let’s Dance. I think it only sounds a bit stupid in the context of the 80’s rock sound, I suppose. Times have changed etc etc – but it IS very Bowie.

    While I like both Diamond Dogs and Outside, I tend to skip the spoken bits (easy on DD, Outside with all its segues makes it a bit more tricky)…I don’t particularly mind them as such but I find them unnecessary (but yeah, some of the spoken bits on Outside are annoying). The spoken intro here makes a lot of sense for tour use, so I’ll give it a pass (I actually like it tho, it’s funny). I might give this one a few more listens actually. 🙂

  12. Maj says:

    Am I the only person here who comments while sober & well-rested? 😀 Not that you’d be able to tell…

    • Sigmata Martyr says:

      Maybe being sober and well-rested is a girl thing? If I posted drunk I’d have way more typos than I already do…

  13. humanizingthevacuum says:

    I’m going to assume Bowie himself plays the Mellotron.

  14. Jasper says:

    There is always a potential problem with spoken pieces, there is no hiding of the lyric in the music so the text have to really stand up for it self, there are no hiding of bad lyric.
    The spoken part is in my mind some of the better writing on this album. I agree that it should have started the album instead of side 2. That would have been an improvement, and wishing that he would have used it as a vehicle for writing the rest, but that is just wishful thinking. He might have know that if he did that we would all have blamed him for ripping himself off wanting to do Diamond Dogs 2, as an out of touch 40 year old. It could have been really interesting if it would have done that in a serious manner, way too many musicians keep writing for teenagers all of their career. I guess chasing a hit might the driving force for that
    Musically it is one of the better songs on the album.
    Playing the album now, and must admit that it catches me, even at his worst Bowie is better than most of what is released at the same time.

  15. MC says:

    Interesting angle on the song in this post: not necessarily what I expected. It`s a really good question, why Future Legend sounded cool in `74 (and still does) and why Glass Spider seemed ridiculous in `87 (and still does). Context is everything, really. Where Diamond Dogs anticipated punk and its permutations with its trashy nihilism, and its warped, diseased sound (compare that to Rick Wakeman`s contemporaneous ice spectaculars), by the late 80`s, the reality principle birthed by punk and post-punk on the one hand, and the mindless hedonism of mainstream rock (`87 being the peak of hair metal, after all) on the other really made Bowie`s theatricalism and sci-fi impulses anomalous, a weird throwback. The production is a problem as well; FL was scary and rather silly simultaneously, but GS seemed just plain silly.

    That being said, I appreciated the sheer daftness of the song at the time: that was a part of Bowie`s palette that had been neglected for far too long. On thing I like about the NLMD posts thus far is that you`ve really tried to wrestle with the complicated nature of the record rather than just dismissing it, as Buckley did in his bio, as a contractual obligation album. Bad as the album is, it seems, for better and worse, a genuine reflection of where Bowie was as an artiste circa `87

    • David L says:

      Agreed. I am also enjoying these fresh perspectives on NLMD songs.

      “It`s a really good question, why Future Legend sounded cool in `74 (and still does) and why Glass Spider seemed ridiculous in `87 (and still does). ”

      Here’s what I think: Future legend is a somewhat garbled, dystopian take on a future city, not unlike, say, “Blade Runner.” Meanwhile, Glass Spider is about baby spiders crying for their mother. Not unlike a Saturday morning cartoon that takes itself too seriously.

      “Blade runner” is still cool. 😉 Crying baby spiders? Don’t think even Pixar would touch that one.

      Glass Spider has more in common with the narrative on Outside, which is almost as silly, and shares some weird fascination Bowie apparently has with infanticide/killing children.

      But yeah, the original post is an interesting angle, never thought of Glass Spider as being a man reclaiming himself but that may very well be true.

  16. Gnomemansland says:

    Well Future Legend is just one big Burroughs rip -off (which is good) whereas this is…???

  17. Frankie says:

    With almost apparent care Mr. B made a song that sounds like Cat People meet in the Labyrinth to do a John Lennon impersonation for fake children. I think pure delivery pulls it off, but in terms of the Gothic orchestration and performance, I preferred listening to Peter Hammill’s The Fall of The House of Usher from 4 years later than this. At least he’s got a whole creepy movie in there, not just a short trailer, and there is some actual singing by real adults.

  18. diamond dog says:

    I don,t think Bowie was out of touch at 40 he seemed too fashionable to me too normal looking in his roller skates and mad quiff mullet it was just he was no longer innovative he was just doing rock music. I just think he needed a good collaborator. Someone contemporary its always worked for Madonna she chooses contemporary producers etc Bowie was with Peter frampton. …..mmmmm make what you will of that.

  19. Jeremy says:

    Yes, Frampton! God awful if you ask me…

    As a adjunct to the thoughts about why is Future Legend cool and years later Glass spider’s spoken intro laughable:

    Why is African Night flight’s rap/proto rap cool but the ‘rapping’ on NLMD not?

    • David L says:

      I’ll take a shot: on African Night Flight, Bowie was trying to push the envelope, musically.

      On Shining Star, he was expecting an envelope full of cash.

  20. sunray jahchild says:

    Without doubt his worst decade, yet DB made more classic recordings in the 80s than Bono, Sting, Ferry, Jagger, Springsteen, et al (put together). The only one who really outdid him in the 80s was Prince, who was just untouchable, and probably in retrospect the main reason Bowie was seen as so uncool. I believe he aludes to Prince on NLMD. I think he just thought, better to leave that ground to Prince (The Artist!), who´s younger, more keyed in, and does the whole 80s production thing so much better. I really like this one, if you cut the spoken intro, which just isn´t poetry, whereas Future Legend is …

    • Carl H says:

      Actually thinking about ripping off this blog with a Prince focus. But I don’t think I’ll have the time yet.

    • PH says:

      I agree with everything you said, except the bit about Prince. The world at large may have clasped him to their collective bosom, but not me. I always found him sleazy, pervy and frankly disgusting.

      • sunray jahchild says:

        “I always found him sleazy, pervy and frankly disgusting.”

        The exact words my heavy metal loving schoolmates used to describe DB in 73!

      • PH says:

        Well you don’t have to worry on that score, I despise Heavy Metal. I’m not any kind of prude either. I guess what it boils down to is, an artist and the way they present themselves either connects with you or they don’t. I just personally found this little garden gnome (Prince) slithering around waggling his tongue about like he was Mr. Lovesexy frankly ridiculous. Most people on the other hand bought it.

      • Carl H says:

        My theory about Prince is that he started his career as nearly a fully developed musical genius (at least he could play loads of instrument at an early age). He wrote about what he knew, mainly being a horny teenager – when the croud responded positivitely he continued with that. Still he’s not all about that. Listen for example to “Sign o the Times” – an 1987 masterpiece.

        And I do thinks his sex songs are great.

  21. Carl H says:

    This blog really isn’t for emotional outbursts, more for dry intellectual musings about various subjects pertaining to evolved analysis of popular culture.But I must digress:


    It’s the Ziggy Stardust of the eighties!

  22. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Among boomer rockers Springsteen and Reed did best in the eighties.

  23. PH says:

    I spent most of 1984/5 trying to avoid “Bore in the USA”. That and the equally Dire Straights. It was pretty difficult , because every time you turned on the radio or the TV there they were (shudder). Broooce is just AWFUL.

  24. Jeremy says:

    While we’ve digressed from Bowie to other unfortunate commercial music in the eighties – the real musical progressions came from the emergence of the great indie bands of this era that paved the way for the alternative explosion in the nineties. If you know your music history then you know which bands I’m talking about….

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      I agree! Bowie did his part to promote a few of’em too. But what pains me about how badly Bowie floundered in the eighties is the timing. 1984 was by wide consensus the best pure pop year since the early sixties. Besides the febrile intersections of disco, New Wave, hip-hop, and R&B, MTV and radio on both sides of the Atlantic boasted acts for whom David Bowie was their first love, for whom Bowie was their Beatles. How did Bowie respond to New Pop? Releasing “Blue Jean.”

      • col1234 says:

        ’83 and ’84 were fantastic pop years. I’m biased, natch, because that’s when I was 11-12 yrs old and first getting into music, but they were really damn good years.

        Springsteen makes the ’80s grade for Tunnel of Love and Nebraska alone. And “I’m on Fire”! Does anyone really not like “I’m on Fire”? Madness.

      • PH says:

        I don’t like ‘I’m on Fire”. In fact, the only Bruce song I can halfway stand is “Born To Run”, because it has an epic quality. I don’t consider this madness at all, that’s just the thing about taste, it’s subjective. I feel that same sense of being slighted when you rip into certain Bowie songs.

    • PH says:

      Well I guess you’d be talking about bands like The Pixies and Husker Du in the US, and The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays in the UK?

      • Jeremy says:

        That’s right – and REM and the Smiths, although I’m not major fan of the latter, but they did have their charms.

        A thing to consider about the eighties lapse in quality of the greats who came out of the sixties is that if, say, the Beatles had stayed together their output would have suffered. At least when you are in a band you can break up and that seals your legacy. When you are a solo artist you are stuck with yourself (even despite collaborations) and you can’t break up with yourself – all you can do is stop. Despite his struggles I’m glad that Bowie kept on going as the journey itself is quite fascinating.

      • PH says:

        I didn’t mention REM and the Smiths as they’d already been around for a few years by the late 80s. I was referring more to bands who emerged at the tail end of the decade, who as you said; “paved the way for the alternative explosion in the 90s”. I suppose when you consider also that Nirvana released “Bleach” in 1989, it’s true what Col 1234 said in an earlier post, that the 90s really began in the late 80s.
        As for Bowie, yes, I’m really glad he soldiered on too. His journey as you say has been fascinating. I’m curious though Jeremy. Do you believe, like I do, that Bowie re-discovered his mojo in the 90s after wiping the slate clean with Tin Machine? Or do you feel, like a lot of people unfortunately seem to do, that he lost his gift for good?

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        In my eyes Bowie recovered. He tried too hard in the nineties when before it was (almost) effortless. “Outside” and BTWN deserve their kudos.

  25. jopasso says:

    Well, I must say I love his voice in the sung parts of the song.
    In fact it’s the only thing in this album, that I like

  26. princeasbo says:

    Frankie said GS “sounds like Cat People meet in the Labyrinth to do a John Lennon impersonation for fake children.”

    While Frankie rightly points out the Lennon vocal crib, no-one has mentioned (or at least I didn’t see anyone mention it) the likely allusion to Plastic Ono Band’s harrowing “Mother” (“Mummy don’t go, daddy come home”).

    It wouldn’t be Bowie’s first knowing nod to his one-time collaborator.

  27. diamond dog says:

    I think the Lennon influence is more pronounced on the title track of the album , the vocal is clearly very much Lennon. Looking back its clear he was listening to Lennon so much so that he covered working class hero on his next project. not one you would thought he would have touched or would associate with Bowie.

  28. ian says:

    this entire album is cringe inducing and this song is the penultimate example of that. the nadir of his career from which he’s never really recovered. bowie had 10 good years 1970 to 1980 and made much music that is genius and stands the test of time. after that, well, decades of sub-par efforts that hold little to no interest. how i wish he’d quit after scary monsters and gone into seclusion rather than produce the consequent disappointments up until his ‘official’ retirement.

    • PH says:

      I honestly don’t know how anybody who claims to be a Bowie fan would fail to get any enjoyment out of albums such as The Buddha Of Suburbia, Outside, Earthling, Hours, Heathen or Reality.

  29. One thing Bowie knew even before he HAD any fans is that they are like feral cats- they will love you when you fed them, but they will also turn on you with no predictability. Give them what they expect and they say you’re treading water or going through the motions. Change things up and they tell you you betrayed them. “Mummy come back cause the water’s all gone” could just as easily have been the cry of his fans- angry they “lost” him while he’s still there leaving them things on his web.

  30. Brian says:

    David Bowie and Doctor Who are regularly compared to each other for constantly changing… but that’s the wrong comparison to make. Doctor Who is at it’s best when the Doctor has compelling companions and writers. David Bowie in the Tonight/NLMD era is like Colin Baker/Sylvester McCoy- potential greats ruined by circumstances.

    Your line about him being 40 in 1987 struck me. He was old enough to be a grandpa during this album, which really puts it in perspective. I’ve noticed most of the “cool” older people I came across growing up were in their mid fifties, while a good amount of forty year olds were in denial about losing their youth and subsequently were a drag.

    That’s where Bowie finds himself in this song. It’s listenable, but that’s about it. Like the Doctors, David needed to surround himself with interesting collaborators and be guided by inspired ‘writers’/producers. Unfortunately he had neither. Perhaps that’s why he was so eager to lose him in Tin Machine once the 90’s came along.

  31. claws-on says:

    This is a verrrrry late to the party comment but… I’ve just realised that the big problem with this track is the way Bowie narrates it. He sounds (as pointed out above) like Nigel Tuffnell or perhaps like a Bill Bailey spoof. Now, if he’d got Mickey Rourke to do the spoken bit, or maybe another actor mate, it could have been an entirely different animal. Listen to the equally loopy introduction to “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” on Gorillaz “Demon Days” narrated by Dennis Hopper.

  32. Ashley Pomeroy says:

    The line about critical consensus in the mid-80s was interesting, because I’m roughly the same age as the author and I remember it that way too. Back then Sergeant Pepper was inarguably the best music album of all time and Ziggy Stardust was the best David Bowie album. It was difficult to read about old music from the past because the British music press in the 1980s was only interested in that week’s new find, so the critical consensus that I remember probably came from space-limited newspapers or cheap coffee table books written by the kind of shove-em-out authors who would otherwise have been writing books about how to write books.

    I’ve always assumed that Q magazine and (to a lesser extent) Record Collector changed things. They were never trendy, but for the first time there were mass-market British music magazines that wrote about the past. And because they had to write about the past on a monthly schedule they couldn’t just regurgitate conventional wisdom, because that would be monotonous. And thus Revolver was suddenly the best album ever and “Heroes” or Low were the best David Bowie records. And then it became fashionable to move a step further on and argue that The White Album was actually the best album ever and that Hunky Dory was Bowie’s magnum opus. And then Magical Mystery Tour and the Baal EP etc.

    There’s a line in this very blog’s entry on Scott Walker’s “Nite Flights” that sticks with me. “None of (Walker’s) records get a mention in the Rolling Stone Record Guide of 1983, or in the Trouser Press record guides of the era; he merits a single line in a two-graph Walker Brothers bio in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of 1983 and isn’t mentioned at all in RS’ 1986 History of Rock & Roll”. I used to think of history as a continual accumulation of details, but in reality things are forgotten and remembered and suppressed and revived, stop-start, back-and-forth. Pity the person who tries to leave a legacy, because history has a scattershot mind of its own.

    Scott Walker probably isn’t mentioned in the kind of rock history books that sell for a pound in discount bookshops, but there is so much more media nowadays, and it is much more widely accessible. Usenet, and then Tripod and Geocities, and then Myspace and Facebook and blogs and of course Pushing Ahead of the Dame. The kind of universal critical consensus of the past is no longer possible because there is no longer a single dominant media. Even this blog, for its strengths, will gradually fade and be replaced (just as Alan Pollack’s “Notes on the Beatles” series seems to have faded away).

    How did Bowie fans swap tales in the 1980s? How did pop music fans communicate? Fanzines and mail I suppose, but they didn’t have instant global reach. I’m slightly too young to remember the pre-internet world clearly, I was busy with other things.

    Also, Glass Spider. It’s Bowie’s hip-hop intro track. His narrative voice gives me a vision of Arthur Cheam of Putney, insurance clerk and part-time Aleister Crowley enthusiast. It’s terrible! The rest of the song isn’t very good. There’s a certain kind of mid-late-80s rock album; recorded digitally on a 96-track SSL mixing desk with three Fairlights, top session musicians, expensive microphones etc, but no-one had the guts to say “this sucks”. In my opinion Prince was a much better David Bowie than David Bowie in the 1980s. I wish they had merged into one human being a la the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

  33. John says:

    In the past month or so, I’ve delved into Bowie’s catalog chronologically, and proceeded to pick up most of the stuff I’d previously been missing: the Deram Anthology (to cover his first album and related stuff), and the three 80’s albums I’d heretofore avoided: Let’s Dance, Tonight, and Never Let Me Down.

    Yeah, most of it isn’t very good. But there are hints of past and future glories in there. This is one, I think. It particularly seems to predict the Outside/Earthling stuff which I love. I can easily imagine the very same track (maybe minus the opening narration, or with some word/effect altering to make it more like an Outside segue) being another electronic workout a la Hallo Spaceboy. A remix in that vein wouldn’t be too off-base, and might salvage it somewhat. For me, it’s one of the more interesting tracks from his “bad 80’s” period, even despite–or because of–its ridiculousness.

  34. Chubby White Duke says:

    Wow, this one made me chuckle a bit.

    I remember listening to this on my sister’s record player as a teen and while enjoying it, thinking something was a bit off about it.

    Sure, the late 80’s production value seemed dated even when I first heard this circa ’95, but it’s not unlistenable. But there’s a cringe factor to this song that isn’t present in earlier “theatrical” songs such as “Space Oddity” or the discarded 1984 musical cuts appearing on Diamond Dogs.

    You nailed what was off about this one. It’s the embarrassment of a middle age rocker trying to recapture the whimsy of his earlier theatrics. Bowie playing a Bryan Ferry meets Bruce Springsteen on “Absolute Beginners” works; “Glass Spider” does not, except in a guilty pleasure, so cheesy it’s good way.

    And the equivocating you noted only adds that extra Spinal Tap quality to the whole thing.

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