Bowie had been a dedicated self-recycler from his earliest days, although he used to take more pains about his sleight of hand (burying the likes of “I Am a Lazer” and “Tired of My Life” so that their descendents on Scary Monsters seemed like fresh songs). By 1993, Bowie was opening the lab door, letting you watch him stitch a fresh piece together.
“Bleed Like a Craze, Dad” feels like a set of rough mixes that Bowie’s considering using for some other song, but his trial-and-error process of creation winds up being the actual track. There’s the self-sampling: the bassline from “Sister Midnight,” already reused on “Red Money,” while Mike Garson’s flown-in piano gives tastes of his work on “Lady Grinning Soul” (a little dancing phrase on high keys in the intro suggests the latter, but it gets diverted and broken down by the guitar kicking in). Then there’s the cohesion in real time of the song itself—take how Bowie sews together the chorus, first the guitar/keyboard vamp anchored on the “Sister Midnight” bass, then introducing the “shine, shine, shine” hook (very Tears for Fears) and then, finally at 1:50, singing the title line. The assembled chorus doesn’t arrive for another thirty seconds.
The lyric seems owed to a similar picking-up-sticks method, with Bowie using cut-up to fill his three brief and rapped verses with a run of words, occasionally wedded by similar vowel or consonant sounds (astral/kestrel, footnote/footstone, parlous/parlours, Shirley/Charley), down to the title phrase itself, a pun on the Kray Brothers.
The Krays (and “friends of the Krays I had known,” as Bowie wrote) were part of Bowie’s memory jog while writing Buddha of Suburbia. Twin gangster brothers who ran West End nightclubs in the Sixties as part of their racketeering, the Krays were as much part of Swinging London as Mary Quant (even being photographed by David Bailey for his Box of Pin Ups). Their connections with the London entertainment world meant that many musicians came into their orbit at one time or another (“very dangerous people those Kray twins,” as Ray Davies recalled in “London Song”) and their thuggish glamour fit the times—what’s Get Carter but “a Kray Brother visits Newcastle”? Criminality had a fashionable allure for the smart London set, and decades later, as Morrissey noted, the Krays remained a celebrity crush for some. On “Bleed,” the Krays are used as part of a London Mod biography told in a few scattered fragments, the Bewlay Brothers on the town (“how they drank from the jazz,” “seek for a leather journey,” “living on a movie”).
There are some subtle touches of keyboards and organ (and a guitar arpeggio that cycles throughout the track), the bassline is good enough to have been used in three Bowie tracks, and Garson, while vanishing for long stretches, manages to parry his way into a backing track that seemed inhospitable for him—he makes a lark of it, opening with a parody of a Debussy prelude and jabbing out a few scattered notes while the sludgy guitars kick in. The question is Erdal Kizilcay, who’s charged with playing the Robert Fripp/Reeves Gabrels sonic-disruptor role here but instead mainly offers tasteful guitar licks suitable for a Richard Marx record. Kizilcay was a player who lacked irony, and his presence here (perversely, intentionally?) generates some tension—he’s another piece that doesn’t quite cohere in the mix, contributing to the track’s sense of turbulence.
Recorded ca. June-July 1993 at Mountain Studios, Montreux.
Top: Joacim Osterstam, “The Stockholm Archipelago, 1993.”