Words are floated together with a dyslexia that is music itself—a dyslexia that seems meant to prove the claims of music over words, to see just how little words can do.
Greil Marcus, on Bob Dylan’s “I’m Not There.”
One idea pulled another behind it, like conjurers’ handkerchiefs…I felt more solid myself, and not as if my mind were just a kind of cinema for myriad impressions and emotions to flicker through.
Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia.
Bowie has called Buddha of Suburbia one of his favorite records. Maybe he said that as a bit of mischief, touting his most obscure record as one of his best, like a hipster connoisseur of his own work (and he was). But Buddha did seem to have resonance for Bowie; something about its creation had felt right with him.
One guess: Buddha finally got Bowie past something that had plagued him since 1987, which was the sour legacy of Never Let Me Down. Recall that Bowie originally felt he’d had a creative resurgence making that album, that he’d come back from the slough of Tonight in fighting trim. Then the record got panned as an all-time-low while its subsequent tour became a symbol of clueless excess. The press seemed to want Bowie to make a barefoot pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to atone for it. The blow to his confidence was staggering; he stumbled through half a decade. After NLMD, he fashioned an anti-“Bowie”-persona with Tin Machine, while he paced his “public” self through soulless exercises like the Sound + Vision tour. Even Black Tie White Noise, for which he was in happier spirits, found him undermining an alleged commercial comeback without much in the way of “art” songs to compensate.
On Buddha, he finally just seemed to let it all go. Maybe the process of the album’s creation, with Bowie thumbing through the past, letting 30 years of songs, memories and film clips flicker by as if in a child’s flipbook, gave him perspective enough to realize that the whole NLMD era would be a footnote. And he had nothing at stake on Buddha, which was just a weird spin-off of an obscure BBC soundtrack. He sat in his studio for a week and, using Erdal Kizilcay as a second pair of hands, fashioned whatever came into his head. Some of it was lovely, some of it was odd, but it was all of a piece, it held together; it was a humbly coherent record.
He closed the record with a thematic pair of songs. One, “Ian Fish, U.K. Heir” was an ebbing, a long subtraction, a song made out of what’s left when the tub’s drained (we’ll get to it next week). The other, “Untitled No. 1,” was the sound of the waters rushing in. It was so filled with melody, so dedicated to simple beauties, so easily and blissfully content as music, that it seems to have brokered a creative peace within Bowie. He came to rest here.
The title was a joke, Bowie naming a pop song as though it was a painting (reflecting a growing interest in contemporary art that, as we’ll soon see, would dominate his life in the mid-Nineties) and reflecting its lyric. The latter’s nonsensical, in the best sense of the word. It’s two verses and a chorus built of words chosen entirely for their flavor, their internal rhymes and rhythms. Lines extend in happy strings of consonance and assonance, cut to fit the generous spread of music that Bowie and Kizilcay laid out.
Bowie had his secret alphabets in “Subterraneans” and “Warszawa,” and he’d used cut-up to generate “random” lyrics since the early Seventies (and he was about to go whole-hog again on Outside, having upgraded to using cut-up software on a Mac Powerbook). But there’s a languid ease in his “non-lyric” here, in his long, slightly descending phrases of indeterminable English. Most of them begin with Bowie in his high register, dwelling on some lovely, opaque words, until he relaxes his grip and slides downward: In mornings she’s so regal that the [valley/curlew] sighs or Now we’re swimming rock [farther/by there] with [the doll/the idol] by our sides…
Or the indecipherable chorus hook: Shimi Kapoor? See Me Kapoor? City Kapo? There’s no right answer: it’s simply a giddy bubble of emotion, carried in a few swoops of sound. It’s reminiscent of how the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser phrased her songs, breaking lines down to syllables, turning common English into a gorgeous glossolalia (on paper, one line in “Lorelei” is “Lift up your toes /in my mouth,” but Fraser sings it like a Venusian would). Or Clare Torry on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky,” who, asked to improvise a vocal, decided instead to be an instrument.
There’s possibly a prayer buried in the second verse. The only line that Bowie sings distinctly is “it’s clear that some things never take.”
Still, to stay too long on a lyric that Bowie deliberately obscured is to neglect the track’s other pleasures. The little melodies that Bowie and Kizilcay keep dazzling you with, as if they’re adding more and more spinning plates upon a table: the rising scale motif that’s occasionally met by a groaning bass, like sunlight rousing a sleeper; the swirling gypsy synth figure in the breaks; the simple guitar solo, its player (Bowie?) opening with a line that entrances him so much that he just plays the last notes again and again; the jangling countermelody to the opening scale motif that soon molts into a trebly barrelhouse piano. Or in its most gonzo moment, when “Untitled” suddenly breaks down into a quasi-Indian dance track until the rhythm guitar, which has been the track’s quiet powerhouse from the start, noses in and closes things out.
And then there’s the bleating, neighing sound in the later choruses, which seems like Bowie’s parody of Marc Bolan’s singing voice (see “Black Country Rock”). Had the whole song been a secret requiem for Bolan, Bowie’s fellow traveler, one who had gone lost so many years before? (One can easily imagine Bolan singing something like “Sleepy Kapo.”) If so, it’s a tribute that more honors the living, the gracious hours that we have left to us. “Untitled” burgeons. There are a few times where it seemed as though Bowie could have stood up, then and there, and never recorded another note again: these tiny eddies of finality, in which everything in Bowie’s work and life reconciled for a moment before they broke apart again. This is one of them.
Recorded June-July 1993, Mountain Studios, Montreux.
Top to bottom: Juliette Binoche, Trois Coleurs: Bleu; Julie Delphy, Trois Couleurs: Blanc; Irene Jacob, Trois Couleurs: Rouge. (Kieslowski, 1993-1994).
A lovely breakdown of this lovely song.
For me, the chorus is, and always will be “Cynical fool”.
Cannot see anyone convincing me it’s “Shimi Kapoor” or anything else.
“Cynical fool” seems appropriate. The Fool is one of one of Bowie’s ‘personae’, but the cynical point of view has never fitted him well. Dark, depressed and pessimistic, yes, but never cynical. So, when he tries to be cynical, he’s just being ridiculous, a real fool rather than a pantomime fool. The exercise called Tin Machine was a cynical device, but some things never take, that much is clear. Welcome back, David, we’ve missed you.
I should probably mention that years ago I read in a music magazine – probably Q – that Bowie said the song is a tribute to actor and director Shammi Kapoor.
But for some reason I doubted this information.
Probably because I was convinced it was “Cynical fool”.
Now suddenly I am second-guessing myself.
Although here it says “Shashi Kapoor”. I don’t know any more.
if it’s “cynical fool” for you, it should still be that. DB would approve, i’d think.
I was writing the above while listening to “Untitled.” Then “Ian Fish” came on; perfect background music for polishing up an awkward sentence or two. ( ^ replace “has never fitted him well.” with “did not suit him at all.” and cut the first “fool” in the following sentence.) 🙂
True. He often sounded ridiculous when trying to be cynical.
Although on the other hand, the likes of “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon” is sort of cynical and also brilliant.
I wish it was not necessary to discuss his career in the past tense.
The Bolanism of his vocals was an exciting abstraction as he channeled Marc vocally while extending a toe into Elizabeth Fraser territory. I love how this song coalesces something unique and emotional from its many disparate components. This track, more than any other on the superb album delights and thrills like nothing Bowie had recorded since “Heroes” for my ears. I still feel that it represents his late career peak. As for the title, does it not echo Scott Walker’s [not him again] conceits with titles on “Climate Of Hunter?”
Re: Climate of Hunter, I agree!
Often, when musicians put too much information into a track, too many melody lines or harmonics, it suffers. This is one of those rare exceptions, an object lesson in how to fill a sonic landscape. Kizilcay and Bowie throw just about every color at the easel and it shines right on through. Even Kevin Shields could learn a thing or two here.
The secret is in the songwriting. Play this on a piano and there are holes a tank can march through. The chord progression then becomes its quiet charm and by playing down the importance of lyrics, the song begs for more colors. It all works.
My favorite moments, not mentioned in this wonderful article by Chris, are the lovely sax motif at the end of verse one. It’s subtly alluded to afterward by several instruments in the mix. The sighing ooohhhh-ooohhhs that are the song’s mystery hook, they seem to hold the recording together in my ears, coming in so early and staying throughout. The way the synths, themselves deftly chosen, are introduced at twelve seconds in. The anguished singing at 2:17 where the heart of the vocal is revealed. A wonder since the only word being somewhat articulated is “all, all, all…”
And to end this magic trick with “never, never…” Speechless. We’re still trying to figure it all out nearly twenty years later. We never will. Isn’t that a beautiful problem to have?
It’s my favorite on the album, and that’s a difficult competition to win.
off topic 2012 housekeeping note:
WordPress sent me the year-end stats for the blog. Top five posts, in terms of views: Dancing In the Street (no surprise), Nite Flights (another one that got a lot of play), Aladdin Sane (solely because, IMO, a photo in this entry is now a top Google Image search for DB), Rebel Rebel (no idea why), I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday (lots of Moz fans, I guess).
It’s hard, I guess, for me to talk about it. “Can You Hear Me” was the first to have the distinction. For years after, that went to “Teenage Wildlife.” But as soon as that water-drop-start comes on, and the song washes over me (and you’re right— this song is water), I know it can’t be any other than this.
This is my favorite David Bowie song.
I almost want to say “I don’t know why,” but I do know why (and you expressed most of ‘why’ above). Maybe I at times feel hesitant because it seems so at-odds with ‘fandom.’ Why this and not “Ashes to Ashes?” “Win?” “Sweet Thing?” “Lady Grinning Soul?” Because it is. “Untitled No. 1” is so effortless and inviting that it couldn’t possibly be anything other than my favorite.
I’m typing this as it snows tiny flakes. “Ian Fish, UK Heir” just came on, which again, is fitting. I’ve been waiting for this post since I read “Space Oddity” those years ago, and I feel completely satisfied. A little sad, maybe. A real service to the song.
(The choice to use Kieslowski is strangely harmonious, as well.)
Mr. McDuffie – You said a mouthful with one word. That DB was capable of creating something so effortless that was completely successful just six years on from the debacle of “Never Let Me Down” was very satisfying to this Bowie fan. My brain seizes up just when I contemplate the cover design to that nightmare, but has a record ever had a more appropriate cover than that overworked mess?
That’s it – I just can’t take it anymore. The constant bludgeoning of my favorite Bowie album, and perhaps favorite album ever – NLMD. I concede that it’s not his best work, but hey – it was pretty cool for 1987. And from a purely subjective standpoint, some people actually like the crazy-quilt schizophrenic quality of the music, art direction, and production of that album. I was raised on 80s radio and that album was the perfect bridge from pop/rock sensibilities to a more “sophisticated” kind of rock. Where else can you run a gamut of song concepts ranging from the homeless crisis, to a dystopia filled with eyeless and fingerless peasants, to a terrified cluster of baby spiders, to a teenager ODing on his mother’s bed, to a funky ditty about a hilariously disfunctional relationship, to one of the most colorfully anthropomorphic description of NYC I’ve ever heard, and so forth…each one straining to fall comfortably into a different genre but never quite making it. And this nonsense talk about the “embarrassing ridiculousness” of the Glass Spider tour – would you have Bowie go back to dressing as the Ziggy she-thing giving pretend fellatio to Mick Ronson on stage? Is that the “cool” Bowie everybody was longing for?? Sorry, but Bowie’s always had a dose or two of weird/goofy in all his incarnations, some more than others, and I for one prefer the James Dean-coiffed days of early ’87 to most of his other looks. So that’s “my” David Bowie, and if it spoils the memory of “your” DB, then I’m sorry.
Ian McDuffie, you say as you’re typing this its snowing tiny flakes. Sounds lovely. Spare a thought for me. As I’m typing this it’s the day after a 41degree heatwave in Melbourne, with dry Northerly winds and bushfires raging throughout the State. I’d love to be back in my beautiful homeland of England, but unfortunately I’m stuck here for the time being.
I’d put Untitled in my top ten Bowie songs too.
A pro screenwriter once gave some great advice: if you want to break in, write the one you’d write if no one was looking. If you chase the marketplace, you end up with mediocrity.
With Buddha, it feels like Bowie was finally finished with chasing the marketplace, and was making music for no one but himself. (and well, maybe Kizilkay, heh). Untitled comes from a place so pure, so unaffected with trying to please someone … It can’t help but be pleasing.
Now, this one I really like! True, as I’ve stated before, The Buddha Of Suburbia is an album that I’ve personally always found rather difficult to warm to as a totality, but this is definitely one of its high points. Sweet and breezy, with that terrific Bolan-channeling vocal, it’s latter-day Bowie at his most effortless.
I might also point out that perhaps Bowie’s long-standing affection for The Buddha Of Suburbia might be precisely because it was something which apparently came together very easily, spontaneously, and so seemingly effortlessly, and that it wasn’t some big conceptual project which was labored and sweated over – and as such qualifies as something “honest” and “authentic” (probably to a greater extent than Tin Machine). Personally, I’ve always tended to enjoy the more drama-courting and self-conscious – or “pretentious,“ if you will – side of Bowie’s work (The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Diamond Dogs, Station To Station, Scary Monsters, Outside, Heathen). Perhaps this explains why I’ve never completely embraced The Buddha Of Suburbia, and why the “Berlin triptych” (Low, “Heroes,” Lodger) ranks a little further down my list of favorites. Oh well, that’s just me… 😀
While I like Low and Lodger, Heroes as an album would not get into my Bowie album top 10 either (but shhhh, don’t tell anyone here 😉 ).
I totally get what people like about Buddha but while I enjoy a lot of it I just don’t love it, as a whole. So it’s not just you.
Yep, another of my favourites on the album. Very Bollywood…but not full-on Bollywood. You can still hear an English gentleman laughing behind it all.
The Marc spin is interesting because I wouldn’t have though of that but it actually makes a lot of sense. The whole thing is quite T.Rex-ian.
First: Just to say thanks for all this continued, brilliant writing – endlessly fascinating, wonderful stuff.
Second: This sentence caught my eye – “And he had nothing at stake on Buddha…, which was just a weird spin-off of an obscure BBC soundtrack”.
My teenage self remembers ‘Buddha of Suburbia’ not as ‘obscure’, but as ‘event’ television, in the vein of other artful serial dramas of the 90s (e.g. Alan Bleasdale’s ‘GBH’ a few years earlier, or the final Dennis Potter television plays of a few years later). ‘Buddha’ was heavily trailed on the BBC, much talked about at the time, greatly anticipated.
I’m wondering whether Bowie might not have finally found inspiration post-NLMD because the ‘pressure was off’, but because Kureishi’s atmospheric, ambiguous storyline gave him something very concrete to bounce off, creatively, for the first time in years?
It was a relatively high-profile commission (at least in terms of a British television audience) – perhaps Kureishi proved an ideal foil in the Eno / Fripp / Rodgers / etc. mode, the only difference being that he was a writer, rather than a musician?
“Recorded at Mountain Studios, Montreux.”
So many of Bowie’s “directionless” recordings come from this place — from the fruitfully dithering Lodger to the barren wanderings of the lost years — that I decided to look at it on Google Streetview, and learn its history.
There’s something radically decontextualised about Mountain Studios, and about Montreux. There you are in a quiet, rich, bourgeois town in the Swiss Alps. You’ve driven down from your comfortable chateau on a nearby hilltop, parked your Mercedes in the underground garage, greeted the multi-instrumentalist you discovered at a nearby restaurant. The studio is a bunker built into the left side of the Casino, reconstructed after a fire which broke out during a Zappa concert (and inspired Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water).
The Montreux Casino overlooks a gorgeous lake and towering, snowcapped mountains which nevertheless lend a certain sense of luxurious claustrophobia, of being muffled or shut in, protected from the rest of the world.
Bowie was always very cagey about his Swiss residency. “What is ‘most of one’s time’?” he’d shoot back at 1970s interviewers, preferring to give an impression of restless nomadism than risk being typecast as a rich recluse holed up in Switzerland for tax purposes — or, worse, because he actually liked the place. 1980s collaborators spoke of being summoned when Bowie was “climbing the walls” in his chateau, bored out of his skull.
Somehow, Streetviewing Lake Geneva from the Montreux Casino, I understand Bowie’s lost years better. In such a beautiful landscape, rolling with natural reverb, things may well sound better — more dignified — than they would elsewhere. Bad ideas might sound like good ones. With urban grit hidden by pristine mountains and held back by majestic lakes, vague social commentary about homelessness might well sound edgy and incisive. Time might well crawl up here, and musical trends might well seem summarisable by a talented multi-instrumentalist discovered in a local restaurant.
So muffled and mollycoddled is Montreux, in fact, that it’s a miracle anything as good as Untitled No. 1 (let alone Under Pressure, or Lodger) ever got recorded there. In the bunker you’d be pretty much alone to play around with your habits and your past, while the weather drifted across the lake, under snow-capped mountains as unscalable as the peaks of your past.
Or, as Orson Welles said in “The Third Man”; In italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The Cuckoo clock”.
Excellent. “Bowie: The Cuckoo Clock Years”.
It really makes me wonder why it was so important to Bowie to avoid paying tax, to the extent that he would damage his credibility and his artistic output to make a few dollars more. Sure, the UK tax rate in the 1970s was above 75%, but Bowie surely had enough money to live fairly well.
I suppose Bowie felt trapped between Defries (who had his own form of over-75% artist taxation) and politicians like Denis Healey, who was famously threatening in the late 70s to “tax the rich until the pips squeak”. And Bowie was still saying, at about the time he moved to Switzerland: “I’ve been a silly boy about my finances. It’s only now, after ten years of working in public, that I’m starting to see anything back.”
I would imagine that Bowie thought he could be vague in public about living in Switzerland, thus preserving his credibility, and that he was creative enough — and peripatetic enough — to avoid the artistic doldrums, or any sense of premature retirement.
Later, of course, he realised that this wasn’t the case. In 1994 he told The Independent: “‘In the mid-Eighties I lost the trade winds and found myself in the creative doldrums. I was still writing as much as ever, but I wasn’t happy about the quality of it. I was pandering to a certain audience.”
This has been his own explanation for the lost years. For Bowie, the big problem of the 80s was that he tried to please a mass audience — that he wasn’t, if you like, elitist enough. He’s never said: “At my best I’m an artist who’s a taut and febrile cultural weather vane, super-attuned to contexts, especially those of anxiety and decay. Tax exile in Switzerland ruined that. I thought I was big enough to see over the Alps, but it turned out I wasn’t.”
Bowie’s official FB page today, celebrating his birthday, gives a glimpse of a slightly more racy Switzerland. Bowie is depicted in red lipstick inspired, he says, by an old man he saw no the streets of Lausanne.
Wanted to put this as a reply to your next post but it wasn’t possible.
I’ve always had a bit of a thing about the so-called “Berlin Years”, or even worse the “Berlin Trilogy”. Low is undoubtedly a masterpiece but the bulk of it is recorded in an idyllic French chateau by a group of people yet to set foot in Berlin. The tortured artist confronting his demons amid the rubble of the Cold War’s principal battlefield conforms to a much more conventional narrative than that of a man turning 30 starting to think sensibly about his financial affairs and his family and, while doing so in very peaceful and comfortable surroundings, managing to produce some of the best and most challenging work not only of his career, but within the whole body of mass-market popular music.
Regarding your tax point, there’s a very revealing mid-seventies interview (one of those Young Americans-era things) where he grumbles in finest angry, Daily Mail-reader style about the ‘socialist government’ and what ‘they’ll probably nationalise’ next. You can take the man out of Bromley, but it takes a long time to squeeze the Bromley out of the man.
Happy New Year, Chris, and to all commenters. Not too much to add about Untitled except to second the consensus as to its excellence – Bowiemusic at its most opaque and haunting and beautiful.Great pix too! (but a little Juliette Binoche goes a long way).
I’ve gotta say that I don’t understand, with regard to Maj’s comment, why Heroes (the album) tends to get overlooked. It’s probably my favourite of the “Berlin” trilogy (though truth be told, depending on the day, Low sometimes comes out ahead).
Kudos to Momus, as well, for his thoughts on Montreux, and the influence the place had on his albums recorded there. I have wondered about that myself, and I shudder to think about what role my hometown of Montreal might have played in the making of Tonight, recorded, as it was, in nearby Morin Heights.
Curiously, there’s no “reply” button for E. Hennessy’s post. So here goes: get over it. I’m a huge fan of NLMD but conventional wisdom says it’s his worst album and we’re never going to change that. At 45 I have every Bowie album but have no recollection what Untitled No. 1 sounds like. I – or we – are the fools obviously.
I think conventional has it as a 50/50 proposition that either NLMD or Tonight are Bowie’s worst albums, and I personally would vote for the latter by a considerable margin. At least Bowie was trying on NLMD, rather than just phoning it in, and padding out an uninspired album with a load of cod reggae,soft-rock Iggy covers.
But Sky-Posessing Spider brings up an interesting point. Bowie was trying on NLMD, whereas “Tonight” had him smugly phoning it in after conquering the marketplace. But personally, I find the fact that for every decent idea in NLMD there were 4-5 bad ones jockeying for position truly disheartening. Save for “Time Will Crawl,” the rest of it fell apart under the strain. That, to me, is the real tragedy of NLMD.
That he was clearly trying and still failing to make a “David Bowie record” after a cynical [and successful] market ploy followed by the sloppiest market would-be market ploy ever makes the failure all the more poignant. Similarly, “Outside,” has 5-6 great songs in the worst possible setting that all but challenge me to try to listen to the whole of that album. That makes albums like “Outside” and “Never Let Me Down” much harder for me to listen compared to tripe like “Let’s Dance” or “Tonight,” which are technically worse albums.
On a similar train of thought, the new Ultravox album has three perfectly adequate songs competing with nine compromised-to-horrifying numbers. The three songs I like enough are far superior to anything on the universally reviled “U-VOX” album. As sad as it is, the “U-VOX” album makes me less incensed than listening to “Brilliant” because its worst [and there is a lot of that there] manages to make the merely tooth-grinding mediocrity of the “U-Vox” material sound better in retrospect. “Brilliant” has snuffed out 32 years of Ultravox fandom for me in a way that “U-VOX” didn’t quite manage to do 26 years ago. The real tragedy is that in their 60s, the odds of Ultravox pulling their artistic fat out of the fire to the extent that Bowie or Simple Minds did is highly unlikely. It took the latter two a good decade to manage that trick.
You make an interesting point. The setting or context of a song counts for a lot. A great song on a bad album can be lost. And bad songs on a great album can seem better than they really are.
I think you’re a little too hard on those 80s albums though. I personally like Let’s Dance a lot. Tonight has its high points. And side A of NLMD is solid enough. It’s really side B that’s the fiasco. Even there it might have been salvaged if it wasn’t so garish and blustering.
Oh, we’re back! No one told me. I’m enjoying Momus’ blog within a blog above.
Untitled is another Bowie Song Simulation but this one actually works. I really don’t like this music fakery where he just piles on random notes and words and sees if it all sticks together. I guess it makes sense given that he lost his songwriting mojo. With BSS, he didn’t have to worry about coming up with bad ideas because he actually had no ideas!
This may be getting way off the subject (and considerably far back in time from where we presently are!), but seeing as how several people have brought up the subject of Never Let Me Down, I thought I’d address an article I recently found on Google News about Bowie and Peter Frampton. It’s from the Ultimate Classic Rock website (and only 3 hours old as of this posting!):
“David Bowie‘s 1987 album Never Let Me Down is considered to be among his worst, but for Peter Frampton, its importance can not be overstated. In a new interview, he credits his time with Bowie, both on the album and its accompanying tour, for helping revive his career.
‘The ’80s were a difficult period for me,’ he told M Magazine. ‘It wasn’t until my dear friend David Bowie got me out on the road for the Glass Spider tour and on his Never Let Me Down record and reintroduced me as a guitar player around the world. I can never thank him enough for believing in me, and seeing past the image of the satin pants and big hair to the guitar player he first met when we played together in school.’
Bowie and Frampton became friends when they were students at Bromley Technical School, but had never worked together in their professional career until Never Let Me Down. At the time, Frampton’s career had stalled when the massive success of 1976′s Frampton Comes Alive! was met head-on by the failure of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie two years later.
Frampton released several albums after that, but none approached the heights of his seminal 1970s work. However, his recent FCA! 35 tour shows that he has come to terms with his place in the rock world.
‘It’s something…that I’m very at peace with and proud of,’ he continued. ‘Look, the day that Frampton drops dead, the first sentence is going to be, “Peter Frampton, who was most famous for his album Frampton Comes Alive!…” There’s no getting away from it, no matter what I do.’”
Frampton also has some very kind words for the Never Let Me Down album in Dave Thompson’s Hallo Spaceboy book, as well… 😀
Diamond Duke – Whatever the failures of NLMD for me, I have to say that none of them were the fault of Peter Frampton. My pick for least appropriate lead Bowie guitarist would definitely be Stevie Ray Vaughan, though! He was the one lead guitarist who I felt was totally at odd with the material being played. I generally like Bowie’s choice of lead guitarists for his projects. All of them, except for SRV, bring goods to the table, no matter how good or bad the meal might be. At the end of the day, Bowie carries the burden on his own back for each album.
Take Nile Rodgers. He was shocked that Bowie came to him in the 80s and didn’t want to make a progressive leaning album. “Let’s Dance” was the result and while I didn’t like it, I can’t lay the blame at Rodgers feet. He was following the brief. That Rodgers produced the much better BTWN was vindication for his production talents. Talking about Nile Rodgers reminds me that he’s among the few who have played on Bowie and Ferry recordings. Apart from him, Eno, and Fripp, which others are out there?
Oh, goodness no! Stevie was absolutely perfect on Let’s Dance. Listen to that one note solo he strikes after the first verse in the single edit of the title track. There’s an embarrassment of emotion in that one note: I hear stubborn pride fighting it out with hidden fear, a facade of grace distracting you from the ugliness below. That note really does “tremble like a flower.”
And Nile may have found it odd when Bowie introduced his choice for guitarist, but that’s a long way from saying he was “shocked.” In fact, Rodgers has publicly applauded Vaughan’s contributions and his role in the overall context of the sound: “(Stevie) was ridiculous, there was only a handful of people who could play like him… …And I think that this record almost more than any other captures that thing, that enigmatic thing called rock ‘n’ roll. It’s r&b at its roots – it’s r&b, it’s black music, that’s what rock ‘n’ roll was.”
I happen to agree. Let’s Dance is an awesome record with four classic tracks, two deep cut gems and only two average numbers. That’s a wonderful track record if you’re keeping score. Plus it sounds better than just about any other Bowie album. Warm and punchy. The drum sound, in particular, is classic. I put it up there with Lodger in the “misunderstood but perfect” drawer of the Bowie Cannon.
Now there’s a challenge. Not that few – Andy Newmark, Herbie Flowers, David Sanborn, Fonzi Thornton, Steve Nieve, Dave Gilmour, Gail Ann Dorsey…
My comments until now, prompted by the piquancy of Chris’s thought, the beauty of his writing and by the work of Bowie, have overlooked one of this blog’s greatest pleasures. I don’t know when or if I’ve encountered a public internet forum so composed of literate, insightful people.
Irrelevant or snide remarks that make wastelands of so many forums are absent or exceedingly rare here. Chris might do a bit of invisible pruning, but the quality of his audience, if it’s permissible for a member of that audience to say so, is exceptional; I’ve learned from and been stimulated by this group. And while I’m eager to own the book this blog produces, I hope the blog itself, rather than ending, transforms into another meeting place for all of us.
Here, here. This has quickly become the best Bowie site on the web. The ideas being shared here by critical, but encouraging ears make me want to listen to more records, not bash ones I haven’t listened to. Bowie Wonderworld
Even our host is welcome to criticism and has generously adapted posts with the helpful information of this community.
Wonderful, wonderful stuff. Wish we could program a Bowie box set together. I’d bet we’d put together a marvelous collection that would leave Sound + Vision in the dust.
That should read “-cough-Bowie Wonderworld-cough-” above. WordPress didn’t like the text.
Just a comment to agree, this is now the best Bowie site on the ‘net. My only regret is that we can’t start over at the beginning when not enough people knew about the site to get into these great comment discussions!
Well, we can always go back, y’know! 😉 I myself only became aware of this site around the time the Let’s Dance entries were being made, and I’ve made quite a few comments about earlier songs such as Station To Station (during which I made some speculative references to connections between Bowie and Peter Hammill).
when the book is finally finished and I am trying to promote it, I may bring up an old “classic” post on occasion so people can comment on it, if that level of conversational manipulation is all right.
It’s more than all right. King of Oblivion and Diamond Duke gave voice to a wish I had entertained, as well.
I would love to see all of these threads preserved as parts of a continuous, active forum.
Many of us missed the posts on the 70s albums and would be happy to go back to them.
I’m not sure I could cope with re-visiting and re-interpreting the re-visitation and re-interpretation of my own youth just yet. But there really is some genuinely excellent stuff way back there and anybody who hasn’t taken a look really should. And not just the writing. Some of the photos are great.
What do we think of THIS now..?
Looks like you may have more work ahead of you than you’d planned, Christ… http://www.davidbowie.com/the-next-day
I’m flabbergasted !! The video is incredible and I like the non-sensical lyrics. i can’t wait for the album.
Looks like you will have another set of entries in March!
Looks like this blog will have to go on that little bit longer, Chris.
F**k me, he’s only gone and released a new single!
Who saw that coming? My first reaction … “I hope Chris hasn’t done anything stupid?” … I think we need some confirmation that you’re still with us!
I honestly didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime, haha
Looks like I’m third in a trio of posts that began with the words “Looks like…” Clearly I’m not very original.
It’s going to be fun watching the reaction to this as the world wakes up.
For what it’s worth, I kind of wish he hadn’t … and not just for Chris’s sake. I thought “Little Fat Man” was a great way to sign off. But I have to confess to a bit of a thrill listening to new Bowie song, a thrill I thought belonged to the past. Where are we now, indeed!
Having lived in Berlin for eight years myself — and been a Bowie fan since I was 12 — I found the video electrically moving. Vivid old man indeed!
I’m wondering how many other people in the world own this single right now!
Pssssh, preordered the album as soon as I saw. Kind of wondering what place I took, ahha.
Did you do it before your first post here? If so, you’re ahead of me. I ordered mine somewhere in the 13 minutes between yours and my post.
think I grabbed mine at about 1 AM EST. Wouldn’t have even seen it if I hadn’t been up late talking to friends.
Just heard the single on Radio4; sounds elegiac.
However, stunned at my own powers of prognostication (Thrifty Vinyl readers will know what I’m talking about!)
How on earth did they keep the release quiet in this day and age? On play #5 now and loving it more and more. He’s back baby!
A tear in my face
Wow. As a former resident of Berlin (West) this conjures up a lot of memories for me too. Many of the places namechecked by Bowie in the song have given way to the type of post-Wende gentrification that was mourned by Barbara Morgenstern in ‘Come to Berlin’.
The nightclub Dschungel in Nürnberger Straße is now a hotel; Potsdamer Platz (misspelled in the video, just as Neukölln was on ‘Heroes’!), which Bowie would have known as an empty shell divided by the Wall, is now a soulless modern shopping centre.
The 20,000 people marching over the Bösebrücke is a reference to the fall of the Wall on 9 November 1989. The crossing point at the eastern end of this bridge was the first to be opened to East Berliners to allow them to enter the West.
Excited as we all are by this amazing new release).
Speculation on musicians used?
Do I hear some understated Torn….?
Who’s playing the piano? (is it Garson… sounds a bit “straight” for him?)
It’s being produced by Visconti again but other than that I haven’t read anything. I wonder if Gail is back, it doesn’t sound too much like her style on this one…
Actually, I’m not even sure there is a bass on this one, I can’t tell. Piano doesn’t sound like Garson to me, actually sort of wonder if Bowie did any of this himself – it’s incredible how they managed to keep something like this a total secret in this day and age.
Music Journo Anil Prasad tweeted:
“(Tony Levin on bass, btw)”
Agree on thinking it could be Bowie on piano/keys…
I doubt it very much, since she very rarely got the call for studio work even when she was a core member of the live band.
It’s amazing. TBH I prefer a bomb like this out of the blue than several months of teasing.
It sounds fresh like Buddha to me. I hope it’s all new people or just him and a drummer.
Only gave it one listen so far (but hey, it’s now on my iPod so I’ll definitely will be gorging on it for the rest of the day/life) & it’s not bad, is it. Bits of the chorus remind me of bits of the chorus to Thursday’s Child. Nice video…brings back my own Berlin memories (I absolutely loved it there when I visited it a few years ago.).
As for going back to the older entries…I did comment on some of the songs analysed before I started reading this blog (I started with Heroes)…I don’t see why anyone else can’t – esp those who have more to say than me. 😉 But I understand a bit of navigation would be better, so we all would go back to the same entry.
And talking abt the new album at some point is sure going to be fun. 2013 will be a great year for a Bowie fan. Who would have thought! 🙂
Apparently I’m not the only one hearing a bit of Thursday’s Child there. A friend of mine called it a “similar mood”. I know many here are not too fond of Hours but I personally really don’t mind.
“Hours” was very compelling listening for me. My wife and I played the hell out of that disc. I liked “Hours” so much, I finally broke down and bought “Let’s Dance,” Tonight,” and “Never Let Me Down” after decades of avoiding them – just so I could have the full picture. I just watched the video and yes, it does have a similar vibe to “Thursday’s Child.” I like the music better. It sounds less like loops in Pro Tools or some such.
While I am excited that Bowie has proven me wrong re: his retirement [and I was fully confident that he would never release an album again] a small part of me is disappointed that “Bring Me The Disco King” isn’t the final Bowie song. I loved that track so much I literally couldn’t see how he could top it – though for years afterward, I wanted a whole jazz album in that vein from him. The new song could slot into a jazzier album than he’s delivered before, so we’ll see in March.
Yes, the sound is much warmer and, for lack of a better word, “organic” than that of the Hours album, that’s for sure.
Yesterday the release of Suede’s new song made me happy, it wasn’t bad, but hoping its not the strongest song on the album they will release.
But getting a new Bowie song today is making me absolutely ecstatic. I cant with for the album.
The artwork on itunes for the album is the Heroes artwork (my favorite Bowie album) with a white square with the title, that combined with the lyrics of the first song taking place in Berlin makes me very excited. My guess is there will be a lot of revisiting old places and hopefully sounds on that album, even using Tony Oursler on the video, like he did wile touring on Outside I believe it is a good indication of that.
I moved to Berlin a week ago, and am going to do some small Bowie tours around the city wile being here, so this song is very welcome.
I hope they also release it on vinyl.
I thought he had retired, it true Christmas today 😉
According to Maarten on illustrated-db-discography, it will be released as CD and also on vinyl, nice with the vinyl.
Have all Bowie albums been made available on vinyl? (Some googling tells me that the Buddha of Suburbia WAS, though possibly only in Brazil and I doubt I’ll ever see a copy.)
Hi Steven, I think Reality is the one that never was released, and yes Buddha is super rare, I have never seen it. Heathen was re released using the same masters as for the first press.
Oh Earthling has not been released on vinyl either
I just looked at discogs, apparently Earthling was on vinyl. I don’t know how to remove the post above, so one more line here
in terms of DB vinyl, i think the only one not available in full is “Outside.” Just the edited version is on LP. & as others said, “Buddha” on LP is just Brazil’s edition, v. rare and “earthling” is also a bit rare.
If I recall correctly, I think Hours wasn’t released on vinyl either.
I just listened to the new song on You Tube. This is the best news ever. Happy Birthday David, but shouldn’t WE be giving YOU presents?
I, too, agree with stuartgardner and others about this great blog and the fantastically encouraging nature of its community of likeminded commentators. We’re all here because we love Bowie and, though we may disagree about the relative virtues of one song or another, or whether ‘art’ and ‘product’ are mutually exclusive, or whether, even, if Morrissey is a complete tosspot and should, once and for all, recognise and acknowledge that there never would have been a Morrissey without Bowie (well, I certainly often find myself thinking that..!), we are respectful,courteous and incredibly knowledgeable about our subject (I’ve learned so much about Bowie since dipping into this online nirvana…and Scott Walker, Montreux, Frampton …I could go on and on). It’s been, and continues to remain, a complete joy. Thanks.
PS Awoke to the ‘Today’ programme and the complete shock of the new material. I was, initially, elated, but now some anxiety is creeping in. I haven’t had an opportunity to hear the song and…well, is it any good? Can it be any good? I had gotten used to the idea of him being in self imposed (happy?) retirement; he was enjoying his second lease of life as a father again and he had left us with a monumental catalogue that very few other artists can even remotely compare with. Why risk it? Why?
I know I’m striking a very pessimistic tone here and I really don’t want to, but there have been so many other records from his more recent past that have chipped away at his legacy. Neil Young’s ‘it’s better to burn out than fade away’ is, perhaps, the best way to sum up my feelings about Bowie’s, to my mind, overextended, career. Of course, it’s great to hear his voice again and my elation this morning was genuine but I found it telling that it was ‘Starman’ that I bellowed around the house as I got my kids ready for school!
To close, before my dinosaur tendencies depress you all, I’d like to recount a conversation I had with some people at a Christmas party last week. They were all slightly younger than me but they were all keen music lovers. After about an hour of listening to, amongst others, The Smiths, The Jam and, even more depressingly, Paul Weller’s solo stuff, I agitated for some Bowie to be played. This was met with some bemusment and a general feeling from them that Bowie was ‘dated’.
“Dated?”, I spluttered in response.
“Dated? This is the man responsible for the evolution and explication of more musical genres and, more importantly, more great hairstyles than any other artist on the planet!”
I went on to bore them endlessly, as I’m sure you can well imagine, but I did manage to get ‘Golden Years’ played (they had only a vague recollection of it!) There was some concession to the fact that it was ‘pretty good’ and that it didn’t sound as though it was over 35 yrs old but they kept returning to his songs fom the mid 80s onwards. That’s what they remember as they were growing up and that’s what they have discounted and discarded. That’s what he (Bowie) is up against. I can’t bear it when I hear him being described as ‘irrelevant’ or, worse still, ‘dated’. That’s why I’m anxious.
Still, we here on this site, will always have the music and we will always, well, nearly always, be right about David Bowie and his place in the history of popular culture.
PPS Bloody hell…reads like an obituary; didn’t mean it to come out like that!
His new song is just fantastic, beautiful, sad and with a subtle edge. It will reward multiple listenings. After giving up on him in recent years thinking that that was it from him – recently I had a feeling that he would release something this year. My intuition had licked in and here it is!
It’s gonna be great! Thanks David.
This blog just changed from the History Channel into CNN!
My first thought is that it’s great that David is healthy enough to put out a new album and promote it.
It’s clear from the video of the new single that this isn’t going to be a slick commercial album which is great as far as I’m concerned. I’m not exactly sure what to make of the single yet but it is a pleasure to have a new Bowie album to look forward to.
Just played it on YouTube…my anxiety blissfully evaporated! Happy Birthday!
Keep the faith 😉
I can’t seem to get this grin off my face. Lovely stuff
Sounds like I imagined it would (if it was going to happen 😉 ), non-bombastic and somehow worned.
One of the songs I don’t know very well, because I haven’t really listened to the album as a whole. So thank you for introducing me to this. Indeed it’s quite alluring, the waves of sound, the tiny melodies, the indian touch. The guitar at the beginning sounds like U2 during Achtung Baby/Zooropa, doesn’t it?
Ha! Great reading initial reactions to Where Are We Now…
I really have enjoyed hearing the tracks off this album. This song in particular is gorgeous.
First time commenter here. I have been slowly working my way from the beginning of the blog until the present day and have just reached this comment thread. Stumbling upon the joy of 8 January 2013 is incredibly bitter-sweet now.
Isn’t it just? 😦