Little Wonder (single edit, video).
Little Wonder (Danny Saber Dance Mix).
Little Wonder (first live performance, 1996).
Little Wonder (VH1 Fashion Awards, 1996).
Little Wonder (50th Birthday concert, 1997).
Little Wonder (Saturday Night Live, 1997).
Little Wonder (Nulle Part Ailleurs, 1997).
Little Wonder (San Remo Festival, 1997).
Little Wonder (Wetten Dass, 1997).
Little Wonder (live, 1997).
Little Wonder (GQ Awards, 1997).
Little Wonder (Live at the Beeb, 2000).
In the Eighties, the cartoonist Ray Lowry drew a strip called Note Oilskin Base, for which he often repurposed old newspaper ads and comics. In the first panel of a strip that ran in the 19 May 1984 issue of the NME, two women sit in a soda shop, looking with mild surprise at a figure who stands outside the window, a man in a trench coat and fedora. He looks like a premonition of Dave Gibbons’ Rorschach. “It’s that shabby old man with the tin whistle!,” the woman seated right says to her friend. Lowry drew a new speech balloon to let the shabby man yell: “I yam an Anti-Christ!”*
This was Lowry’s Monty Smith, “has-been, would-be pop savior,” a grubby old man on the margins of pop music, an irritant and a relic, someone reduced to ranting outside a tea room and inspiring little more than incredulity that he was still kicking around. In 1997, some considered David Bowie, now half a century old, to be something like the same.
In the Times, Caitlin Moran asked readers to imagine Bowie without a past, that Bowie was a Beckenham primary school teacher who’d recorded Earthling in his shed. “Do we really believe that record companies would eagerly sign up a 50-year-old man with no new ideas, wonky eyes, manky hair, LA teeth and a tartan suit, who talks like an animatronic statue in Picadilly’s Rock Circus?”
So yes, see the wonky, manky, shabby old man jabbering on stage, wearing his professionally-shredded Union Jacket, his hair dyed copper. His latest single rips off the Prodigy. Its video has him crawling around, looking like a cathedral gnome given malevolent life. It’s bass drops, synthetic clatter, sampled guitars. Tits and explosions, he crows. Half of his band look like step-dads. His bass player looks like a hired assassin.
His description of me was ‘coming on like someone’s nasty dad.’ And I thought, “that’s great. I really like that.”…I seem to be going into a kind of demented persona now on stage. I guess it’s ’cause I can’t sell youth. ‘Cause I’m not a youth. So I’m selling whatever it is I am as a persona, which tends to be this kind of ironically enthusiastic old guy who’s still into this crazed sound.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. If you were a rocker in your fifties, you needed to exploit dignity, the only resource left in abundance for the aging. You should become a curator of yourself. Talk about the old days but don’t take them seriously. Wear a well-cut suit, preface the old songs with wry introductions on stage: “this next one is called “Oh, You Pretty Things” (applause) and it’s about the rise of the homo superior. Remember the homo superior? (chuckles, applause) Ah you do, you do. Yes, well, it’s easy to imagine you are one of ’em when you’re able to get out of bed without groaning! (sympathetic laughs)”.
He would get there soon enough. But “Little Wonder” was the last time Bowie went for it: his last go at speaking rock’s current dialect, to get on MTV and make the cover of Spin and play summer festivals where kids take E and get drunk, rather than the ones where people bring their kids. Its meaty B major chorus, with its slamming guitars, echoed multi-tracked vocals and soaring synth lines, sounds like Bowie throwing down a gauntlet to U2 (themselves busy in 1997 trying to stay afloat), if not the Britpop bands: the “Helter Skelter”-esque backing vocals in the chorus are a nose-thumb at the likes of Noel Gallagher.
Yet as usual, he couldn’t just grab for the ring; he had to go about it sideways. So to get to the big chorus, the listener first has to make it through nearly two minutes of tortured guitars, drum ‘n’ bass loops, two skittering verses and a break filled with stomping feet, train whistles and other sonic bric-à-brac. And the melancholy of the verses never gets dispelled: the stadium-ready choruses are infected with it, they soon start to blanch and wither.
Because “Little Wonder,” despite its Prodigy stylings and its epileptic Floria Sigismondi video, is at heart a sad older man’s song: it’s a man freighted with the past, trapped in a vein of youth music. Bowie’s glum vocal in the verses is confined to a single octave, never venturing above a middle B (on the slight strain of “you little wonder”), often keeping to a three-note span until he sinks low to close his phrases (“grumpy gnomes,” “bashful but nude“). The song’s visual counterpart, the jittery “grumpy gnome” that Bowie plays in its video, is a distraction; a better analogue is his blank-faced, sour Pierrot of the “Be My Wife” film.
It’s as if “Little Wonder” is sung by an alternate Bowie, the Bowie whose “Love You Till Tuesday” was a #1 UK hit in 1967. The Bowie who was a British institution, who never translated well overseas (though the Dutch loved him). Some movie work, some stage revues, a TV special or two, a hit single every half a decade: a disco spoof; a soppy rendition of “Nobody’s Child” in the late Thatcher years. A grubby pantomime counterpart to Cliff Richard; an actor routinely rumored, and never chosen, to play the lead in Doctor Who.
In this scenario, “Little Wonder” is just the latest rumble of contemporary pop sounds by Britain’s national holiday-camp director. “Let’s have the Laughing Gnome go to a rave!” Bowie says in the studio. So they import some drum ‘n’ bass loops, rent a guitarist with an effects pedal rack and off he goes, mumbling and winking through his lyric in his trademark Mockney: “Sit on my karma, lurve! Dayme meditation! Tayke me away!” It’s the sound of a man happy being ridiculous, a man so sewn through with the past that the present seems surreal, and he takes it as such.
“Little Wonder,” like much of Earthling, is Bowie and Reeves Gabrels papering over the gap between (aspirational) jungle and hard rock. The alleged jungle is in the verses, which are built on a repeating four-chord progression (E-C#minor-A-C)** established by a dry-sounding keyboard while drum ‘n’ bass loops clatter overhead in the mix. Where jungle was built on tension and contrast–double-time loops crashing against half-time bass drops, the sudden flanging of a drum line, a stereo-panned counter-rhythm that scurries in and out—it’s used here as ornamentation, or worse, as a timestamp, in the way that TV channels have a permanent logo in the bottom-right corner of the screen.
While the instrumental breaks get you in shape for the choruses and the transition to B major, they were dwarfs of Bowie’s original ambitions. “Little Wonder” was meant to be a nine-minute “jungle epic,” Mark Plati said, with the second break in particular crafted to explode into a spray of sound effects, samples, atmospheres (One tiny piece of the original sound-scrap left in the mix is a snippet of the drunken roadie Jerome Aniton, introducing Steely Dan to Santa Monica in 1974 before a live recording of the Dan’s “Bodhisattva”).*** Instead the “big break” winds up being fairly pedestrian stuff—bass yawns, an X-Files-esque rising synthesizer line—and much of its excision in the single edit isn’t a loss.
It’s part of what makes “Little Wonder” so frustrating: intended to be loud, remorseless, irritating, it wound up being charming, odd, minor.
My playing on this record is like making head cheese.
Reeves Gabrels, 1997.
The first thing you hear is a three-note Gabrels guitar riff that sounds like a roar, a muffled scream and a dog whistle. Gabrels sat down with the assistant engineer to make a half-hour DAT of “guitar stuff I like to do, things like the whammy aspect of the [Roland] VG-8,” he told Guitar Player. “I figured if we were going to use samples, we might as well make our own.” So the first note is Gabrels playing his E string with an envelope filter and distortion via the VG-8, the second note is the same tone but shifted two octaves up and set aflutter with a whammy bar, the third is a exosphere-high E played on the 24th fret of his Parker and kicked another octave up via the Fernandes Sustainer.
The rest of the track was built in a similar grab-bag fashion: stolen sounds, distorted instruments, studio verite footage. Much of the bass track, for instance, was Gail Ann Dorsey caught unawares, trying to get a sound from her pedalboard without knowing she was being recorded. “We constructed the track by grabbing bits of her bass line,” Gabrels said. (That said, Dorsey gets the most striking moment of the track: her sharply whispered “little wonder you” break).
The vocal came together along the same lines: what you’re hearing for the most part is just Bowie’s guide vocal. His lyric began as an exercise: to use all of the names of the Seven Dwarfs in the verses (he did: find them all—it’s like a word search in a pop lyric). Bowie soon ran out of names, at one point adding “Stinky” and “Scummy” to the mix. Having some sort of guidance apart from the random edicts of the word-generating Verbasizer program gave Bowie’s lines some melodic life: he takes care with his vowel sounds, plays off consonances and alliteration, and even the weak pun of the title line works thanks to the neat precision of his singing.
Bowie got to #14 in the UK with the single, topped the Japanese charts with it, got some minor airplay on US alternative stations. Its video, with Bowie playing the familiar of a reincarnated Ziggy Stardust, aired often enough to be remembered, living on glam nostalgia: it turned out to be a preview trailer for 1998’s Velvet Goldmine. And “Little Wonder”/Earthling became the last image of Bowie to make an impression on the public imagination. For a time, this copper-haired grubby rave granddad version of Bowie came to mind when you thought: What’s Bowie doing these days? It was his last notable pop disguise.
He would keep at it for the rest of the Nineties, trying his hand at any new toy sent his way: the Internet, the booming stock market, more jungle and dance collaborations. By the close of the century, he stopped kicking and let himself get tugged back to the past. It was inevitable; it was sad all the same. Bowie had once seemed predicated on change, on an allegiance to the future. “Little Wonder,” a catchy but fraying single, was an indication that he couldn’t take as much nourishment from change anymore. He would become a curator despite his best intentions.
Recorded August 1996, Looking Glass Studios, New York. Played live a few times in autumn 1996, and issued as Earthling‘s lead-off single on 27 January 1997 (Arista 74321 452072, UK #14). There were the usual gang of mixes, mainly by Junior Vasquez, who did the Ambient, 4/4 and Club Dub. Danny Saber’s mix, which featured a cello played by David Coleman, appeared on the soundtrack to the Val Kilmer edition of The Saint.
* The panel is reprinted on the first page of Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces.
*** The E major verse progression is a steady tromp back home (I-vi-IV) that’s intercepted at the end by the C major chord, borrowed from the parallel minor (so I-vi-IV-VI then back to I). While the whole song could be in E, the dominance of B major in the choruses (the fact that the song never feels like it’s yearning to resolve back to E, but is happy to stay hunkered down on B) argues for a modulation of sorts. Insights (as usual): Dave Depper.
** Originally issued as the B-side of “Hey Nineteen” in 1980 and later included on the Citizen Steely Dan boxed set.
Top: Ted Barron, “Chan Marshall (Cat Power), 1996.”
I’d heard that Bowie was “going techno” on his new album, which honestly, on the heels of the very disappointing “Outside” did little to put the wind in my sails. I was non-plussed. In fact, I avoided the album until the week before going to see Bowie at the Chili Pepper nightclub in Ft. Lauderdale. Since we had tickets for the club date [I still can’t believe it happened] I thought I might as well give the new album a try. I popped it in and like most techno, it immediately caused me to become tense and very uncomfortable. I played it once, made a tape for the trip in the car, and didn’t play it again.
We saw the Bowie show at the Chili Pepper. Night two, which meant we saw the longest Bowie concert ever given. In a club holding a thousand with Bowie about 60 feet away having the time of his life with a killer band behind him. When I woke up the next day in our Ft. Lauderdale kitschy seaside vintage motel room, I had those songs, “Little Wonder” in particular, coursing through my mind. After returning to normality the following week, I played the tape of “Earthling” non-stop. It had seeped in via the most virulent vector of infection. After hearing it live, I finally “got” Earthling,” and its rock/drum+bass hybrid vibe finally crossed the line and worked for me. Like a fiend. A week later I loved the album as it had a fantastic sound, even if much of it didn’t amount to much, consciously.
Wow – I envy you that gig my friend.
twinkle-twinkle – That’s understandable. Sometimes I envy myself with gigs like that one! That’s a show I wouldn’t mind re-experiencing again via time-machine.
One thing that comes to mind when listening to the album track for starters (apart from the “manually” created samples mentioned) is that , as with too much of Earthling, the loops and percussive samples seem too “off the shelf” , too untransformed. It may have been cutting edge technology at the time but it seems too mundane now , with our easy access to cheap digital music programs. While many other artists like John Foxx, New Order etc were using the latest tech but their work has aged better than this album, perhaps because it was means to an end, not an end in itself and the melody would often shine through whatever the instrument.(seven dwarf jokes hardly suggest much emotional involvement but this is a far cry from the exquisite icy detachment of the Thin White Duke days)
In Germany, Earthling was received relatively well. Outside was basically ignored, only the Pet Shop Boys single got some reception. To promote Little Wonder, Bowie appeared on Germany’s then-biggest TV-show “Wetten Dass…”, it was the first gig of his I watched live. I think the general tenor was that Bowie is on his way back, but not quite there yet (The general comment on Hours… was that it’s the album Bowie fans have waited for…)
Little Wonder is a fun track, maybe it’s assembled out of a few pieces too many, but Bowie definitely wanted to project energy and innovation – well, I guess that if you’re really young you don’t have to want it, you just do, but Earthling was the last gasp of Bowie’s mid-life crisis. I loved the video, and the Dead Man Walking one. The package as a whole made sense.
I agree. I think Tin Machine to Earthling was Bowie’s mid-life crisis. He was rejuvenated by being ‘open’ again, blew off some creative cobwebs and stuck them on a frock coat.
Then he decided to write some great songs and make Bowie albums that could stand next to his previous best. Although I’m sensing that is not the way future postings will see it.
I think people take this track too seriously.
I think much of the scorn comes from the fact that people finally had an axe to strike him with. He’s always been artful, or a faker if you like, borrowing from whatever musical genre he fancied but doing it so well that he got always away with it. His foray into jungle was less successful and somehow that was just the excuse the music press needed to bite his head off. Totally out of proportion but that ’s what you get for being an actor in age where The Sincere Rocker is the highest thing to be.
Having said that, I don’t particularly like this track, as a recent convert I really wanted to like this song, but I never did. It has its moments but on the whole it’s probably the weakest one on the album. The fact that the drum loops sounded dated even then doesn’t help either. On the other hand, I ’m sure The Prodigy sound just as dated nowadays, but I always hated them so I have no desire to test that theory myself.
I’ve already given much of my thoughts on Earthling in previous posts. To sum it up, I like the energy and oddball quirkiness of the record a lot, and there’s probably not one single track I don’t like (even if I care for The Last Thing You Should Do and Law (Earthlings On Fire) perhaps less than the others). However…and it seems I’m not alone in thinking this…the jungle/drums ‘n’ bass stylings do sort of timestamp and date the record. On the whole, I much prefer Outside over Earthling. (Outside is actually #5 in my list of favorite David Bowie albums!) Yes, industrial and jungle influences definitely rear their heads, and there is much in the way of sampling, but on that earlier album they feel just a bit more integrated into the overall vision, a means to an artistic end rather than a wholesale embrace of the latest musical style. (Artistically, The Hearts Filthy Lesson‘s use of sampled musical and vocal sounds certainly feels much more viscerally charged and unsettling than anything on Earthling. That strange feminine gasp/sigh always makes my hairs stand up.)
Nicholas Pegg, in his reference guide The Complete David Bowie, makes an interesting observation (in his entry for the later album Reality) that Earthling shares the same relationship with Outside that The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars has with Hunky Dory, or that Reality has with Heathen, in that one record feels more cerebral and ethereal, while the follow-up is perhaps a bit more visceral, more rocking or “thrusty”. (Perhaps one could extend the analogy to the relationship between Low and “Heroes”…)
Personally, I much prefer the later records (Heathen, Reality and The Next Day) over Earthling. (However, ‘hours…’ to my mind is a bit uneven, and I still think that Outside still remains the titleholder for the “best since Scary Monsters” tag!) I think that as much as the best of Bowie’s “classic” earlier work got its primary charge from the changes that Bowie and the culture around him went through, I think it was inevitable that his work would become more settled as he got older. Even Bowie couldn’t fight the inevitable march of time. And I think his latter-day albums have been all the stronger for this concession. But hey, that’s just me… 😉
And as for Little Wonder itself? Definitely an amusing piece of work. Not one of Bowie’s all-time greatest songs, mind you (its presence on the UK Best Of Bowie comp notwithstanding), but it’s certainly a fun track. I think that the big “so far away” chorus is definitely the best part.
P.S. And Chris, thanks for revealing where that sampled voice going “If it’s good to ya, it’s gotta be good for ya!” came from. Not really being a hardcore Steely Dan fan (aside from a few songs), I probably never would have found out otherwise… 🙂
At the time, it struck me as weak album filler, not much of a song, and a bad sign for the album.
I’ve come to the conclusion I hate Reeves Gabrels. I’ve never heard a more boring guitarist constantly sucking life and energy out of songs. It’s not the fact that he’s avant-garde or unconventional, more that he’s really, really lousy, even when judged by those standards. Appreciating him is all intellectual-justification and chin-stroking. There is not one single iconic guitar moment in any of the songs he’s involved in.
” There is not one single iconic guitar moment in any of the songs he’s involved in.”
Something tells me he’d be perfectly happy with that assessment!
I’m glad someone had the balls to say that as I likewise don’t have a scooby in what Bowie heard in him.
Nice to see a reference to the Chili Pepper show. For the rest of my life this Miamian will regrete missing the concert because of a night class.
1. “The anxious interval,” I wrote in 2009, “is a place, a style, a set of references we avoid, repress, sublimate, have selective amnesia about, stow away, throw out, deliberately forget… There’s a kind of shuddering repulsion for long-neglected, long-repressed artefacts, and yet something compellingly taboo about them.”
2. “In 1990, Bowie announced that the set list for his ‘greatest hits’ Sound+Vision Tour would be decided by telephone voting, and music magazine NME made a concerted effort to rig the voting so Bowie would have to perform “The Laughing Gnome” (with the slogan “Just Say Gnome”), but the voting system was scrapped.” (From Wikipedia entry on The Laughing Gnome.)
3. What was taboo in 1990 had apparently become acceptable by 1996. The “deliberately forgotten” was apparently now “compelling” again, or at least amusing. This was partly because Britpop artists were going back to the 1960s in 1996, whereas in 1990 electronics and futurism had prevailed and the Swinging Sixties were sublimated.
4. We now have the same embarrassed reaction to the drum’n’bass of 1996 that Bowie seems to have had to his 1967 novelty single in 1990. It feels cheap and tacky to us, it lives in a shadow of ignominy and obloquy. Listening to it — the stolen drum loops, Reeves’ more-is-less squawks, the kitchen-sink sampler hits — we feel somehow compromised, trivialised, as you do after watching a Tommy Steele movie when you really wanted some Tarkovsky.
5. It’s a side-effect of “having no authentic style” that you might, at any given moment, be associated with the currently-least-acceptable style you have ever embraced. To be an artist like David Bowie, in other words, is never to be without some kind of skeleton in the closet. But to be an artist like David Bowie is also to dare to fling the closet doors open from time to time and pronounce a particular skeleton “cool” or “funny” or “suddenly interesting again”. If anyone can do that, you can. Who do? You do, it’s the power of voodoo: you can make skeletons dance.
6. If Little Wonder is fuelled by the residual unacceptability of Bowie’s 1960s vaudevillian period, thus by taboo itself, the Toy album recorded five years later embraces the same period with a mawkish sincerity, and with “classic, timeless” arrangements rather than startling sci-fi-like juxtapositions of genre. Where has the future gone? Where has the present gone, for that matter? There’s only the past now: retromania. And the rock magazines are all about geriatrics. Yesterday dwarfs us all.
Ever considered teaching a course on how to conduct research?
For a long time I’ve pictured your home as a mass of stacks and piles of papers, books. notebooks and loose scraps, with perhaps a couple of crowded bulletin boards and chalk boards. And whomever you might live with as a model of endurance while you turn the place upside-down looking for a note you scribbled on the back of an envelope last month.
yeah, pretty much true. no chalkboards. living room table often looks like this: http://bowiesongs.tumblr.com/image/44398618416
gotta have beer to write this wonderful stuff
the chorus is really fantastic with those offset guitar tones in the back. the rest seems a little overblown.
Fantastic, healthy & juicy !!!!
Bowie’s latest “Youth Manifesto”….the kind of stuff that makes me feel nostalgic.
God save Bowie !!!
I liked the album at the time, but now it stands as the last time he was engaging with the present rather than the past. ‘The Next Day’, good as it is, is a ‘Bowie’ album, not a Bowie album.
Despite ‘Set the World on Fire’, I’d say TND is a true bona fide 100% Bowie album and a work of genius. It does not merely look at his musical past in a superficial way, but cleverly uses his full range of skills and sounds for very specific purposes. It’s not simply a ‘here’s a bit of ’72, here’s a bit of soul, now let’s nod to ‘Lodger’ and Berlin.’I believe it’s the most deeply layered emotionally affecting album of his career.
I thought ‘Dancing Out in Space’ was slight and pointless till the penny dropped, I now think it’s the pivotal – in more ways than one – track on the album. One day I’ll finish explaining why (See my drafts folder. Oh – you can’t, lol).
I might add “Boss of Me” to your list of questionables, but I agree with your general assessment of TND. Moments that I initially regarded as brash or goofy now sound incredibly emotional, especially Valentine’s Day. There’s definitely some gallows humor on the album, for sure, but it’s also soaked in sincere feelings of tragedy, absurdity, despondency, etc. I admit that tapping these deeper emotions gives the album more of an ennervating effect than it used to, but the songs now sound less like random novelties.
Hi again, s.t.
After my previous post, I now don’t know whether I’m answering as Me, Twinkle, Sailor or some imaginary character, lol.
I don’t envy Chris his publishing deadline and TND suddenly appearing out of the blue. Never mind a chapter, I think TND could easily fill a book, rather like the Berlin period. Although I wasn’t keen initially – I still think he should have broken up the lyric after the false ending – I now like ‘Boss of Me’. Musically I think it references three other songs and has a deceptively simple lyric, rich in possible readings.
As for your restraint when spotting Bowie and Lou Reed at an Antony and the Johnsons gig, very admirable. I think I’d have been crawling under legs, or leaping over chairs, ha-ha-ha!
I like this one, but it goes on too long (well the album version does). My usual complaint with this album.
Great entry, I don’t have much to add. Apart from that Bowie would make a good Doctor. Alas…
Caitlan Moron can re-enact the mountaintop dance from “The Sound Of Music” underneath some whirring helicopter blades as far as I’m concerned. And what has that flash-in-the-pan Keith whatshisname from The Prodigy done since “The Fat Of The Land” exactly?? The true signifier of talent is longevity.
Caitlin Moron – nice touch Spider – isn’t really someone you need take seriously.
She’s a self-satisfied, solipsistic hack who loves to hop aboard a bandwagon. Caitlin now has her tongue so far up Bowie’s arse she can taste his ear wax, but I doubt it’ll get her the exclusive interview she craves.
By that standard, Crosby Stills & Nash and Cliff Richard >> Talking Heads and Alex Chilton.
Cliff Richard died years ago, they just haven’t told him.
I think we all know what Spider meant by longevity – still having artistic relevance in their later years and/or being an artistic touchstone to future generations.
The Prodigy were a cartoon threat even in the midst of their one real hit ‘Firestarter’. By the time ‘Fat of the Land’ came out their star had waned. They now almost seem like one hit wonders.
Now this is one I pretty much detested when it came out. Suspicious as I was of jungle at the time, I remember thinking this would sound as dated as Never Let Me Down within months. It grew on me gradually, though. I wound up really liking it, and I don’t think it’s aged badly at all. For me, it also descends from freewheeling everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sonic experiments like the title track from Blah-Blah-Blah. (If only NLMD sounded more like that.)
As imperfect as much of Earthling is for me (esp. after Seven Years In Tibet), there’s no question something went out of DB’s work afterward. That being said, for me the apex of his late work comes later – one of the twilight albums of the noughties and this year’s tour-de-force as well (which doesn’t sound all that backward-looking, actually)
I can’t put my finger on why, but The Next Day seems to have some sort of quality about it that transcends all necessity to compare it to earlier DB eras. That’s my feeling anyway.
On Little Wonder, I’m a little bit ambivalent about it, and i really wish i knew nothing about the Seven Dwarves connection. Or that Bowie had expunged all overt references to them from the final lyric. It just ruins the feeling of the song for me.
I totally agree with your comment about TND.
I was surprised to read the negative review from Caitlan Moran as nowadays she gushes over everything Bowie. Perhaps hitting 40 has given her some perspective.
Aside from the jungle/industrial fusion, I have long thought of Little Wonder as Bowie’s version of Underworld’s Born Slippy (maybe a working title was “Born Sleepy et al.?). Those keys are quite similar, and both have a sing/speak style with plenty of repetition in the lyrics.
Still, I never gave this song enough credit as a *song*. Unlike Born Slippy, the vocals of Little Wonder sound quite comfortable in a more traditional pop context. I actually found an example of this on YouTube, a cover that presents the song as 60’s soul by way of Slowdive:
And as Chris and Momus have shown, a 60’s connection is appropriate, with all this talk of gnomes and karma and mars happy nations. Here is yet another example of Bowie starting to look back, even when cribbing from contemporary sounds. In 1995, he was obsessed with what was happening Now, not tomorrow or yesterday. Outside was a album locked onto the 90’s; even his Scott Walker fantasy project was an attempt to bring his friends sound into the present. So it’s with Earthling, and his 50th birthday that loomed at the time, where the seeds of Hours, Toy, and Heathen are sown.
It seems as if he, like so many former fans who were ragging on him at the time, saw himself as an old fish swimming mischievously in waters that were supposed to be off limits to him. Even as he was basking in the excitement of the project, he was turning inward like never before.
Little Wonder was the first lead-off single released by Bowie since I had become a proper fan and I remember being fairly disappointed and slightly embarrassed by it, probably because the “so far away” bridge sounded exactly like Babylon Zoo.
“Spell Breaks With The Weather”, David Torn’s 1996 “What means solid, traveller?”… makes me think about “Little Wonder” with its repeated guitar loop; great stuff anyway!!!! Vive David Torn!!!
The ‘so far away’ section of this song serves as the top slice of bread in a Bowie self-reference sandwich. The filling being Buddha of Suburbia which uses much the same chord progression(and at the same point of the song). Then in turn Buddha reuses the ‘zane zane zane’ refrain from ‘all the madmen’.
I like the song but think there are much stronger tracks on Earthling. I used to skip it quite often just to avoid the clattering of the jungle fill. Like with the tolling clock bells on Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’, sometimes my ears are just too delicate for that intro, but the song rewards the patient with plentiful hooks and dumb-genius lyrics.
Just wanted to say the link to the video does not work where I am on copyrigth ground, but this one does
As for the song, to my ear it lacks genious, but still works –and not dated, excepted in terms of Bowie own timing.
ok, the first 35 sec of the intro are dated.
Not a favorite of mine by any measure. I think I was on my way to becoming a full fledged Bowie fan in the mid/late 90’s because I loved IAOA and liked Hallo Spaceboy (and was a big NIN fan), not to mention the rest of the popular Clasic Bowie catalogue, but this song kind of scared me off, though thankfully not for good. I still mistake it for a Prodigy song whenever it comes on, a group I had no interest in with a sound (jungle, blegh) I loathed. Video was pretty cool though.