Saviour (Kristeen Young with Bowie).

At the end of 2001, Bowie broke with his current label, Virgin (it helped that Virgin hadn’t picked up its option on a new Bowie album—they were all but daring him to leave) and formed his own record company. This was the culmination of over a decade’s worth of frustration with the music industry and in particular with Virgin, who’d rejected both a live Bowie album (liveandwell) and a studio one (Toy). “Many times I’ve not been in agreement with how things are done and as a writer of some proliferation, frustrated at how slow and lumbering it all is,” he told Billboard.

So at age 55, Bowie was finally an indie recording artist. His new label, ISO, had one client, himself: there were reports ISO had signed a band and another solo act, but nothing apparently came of this. He signed a distribution deal with Columbia for Heathen, a structure that remains at the present day (Columbia’s issuing Nothing Has Changed in a few months).

One sign of Bowie’s contractual freedom was a growing penchant for guest-starring on others’ albums: these would be his only moments on record in the late 2000s. It helped that he was able to use Tony Visconti for his field research. Visconti had already gotten Bowie on a Rustic Overtones album and now he introduced Bowie to a St. Louis songwriter and pianist named Kristeen Young.


A half-Apache, half-German child adopted by fundamentalist Christians, Young endured adolescence as a series of pitched battles (her mother would smash her Prince records; Young later described herself as “an imprisoned child”). She took refuge in punk and indie music, becoming pen pals with Jello Biafra (who once taught her to parallel park); in the Nineties, she formed and discarded bands, worked as a waitress and began recording solo records with a drummer, “Baby” Jeff White (the set-up was a reversed image of the White Stripes). She was an acquired taste: the CMJ, reviewing her debut in 1997, began with “What is it about playing the piano that encourages young women to become crazy, screaming banshees?

She sent Visconti a copy of her second album, Enemy, in November 1999 (she’d reportedly found his name in a music industry directory). Taken by what he described as her “part rock, part Bartok” music, her cover photo and her four-octave “gutsy voice…with its high soprano register,” Visconti agreed to produce Young’s next album. As she had no record deal, Young and Visconti worked up a collection of demos in New York in 2001-2002, around the same time Bowie was recording Heathen. She wound up singing and playing piano on a few tracks, Bowie in turn offering to sing on one of hers.

This was “Saviour,” which Young later said was in part a tribute to her friendship/mentorship with Visconti. Bowie took the second verse, savoring the line “American landfillLAAND-fill,” and kept pace with Young for the rest of it, mostly content to let Young out-sing him. It’s a piece of bizarre, affected, fairly catchy art-rock. Should Lady Gaga and Bowie get together at some point, “Saviour” could even be something of a template.

Young went on to have a contentious, sibling-like relationship with Morrissey, who sacked her from a 2007 tour for “salacious language” but soon mended fences. Earlier this year, the Morrissey camp accused Young of giving Moz a “horrendous cold” that resulted in yet another tour cancellation. If Bowie ever tours again, Young should perhaps consider switching allegiances.

Recorded: Looking Glass Studios, ca. late 2001/mid-2002: (Bowie vocal retake) February 2003. Released 13 June 2003 (November 2003 in the US) on Breasticles (N Records ZM 00103). (Reflecting the chaos/implosion of the music industry in 2003, this record was released as a CD only in Portugal, and later as a web-only release in the US/UK). The promo version of Breasticles, which Young self-distributed in 2002, featured an earlier Bowie vocal.

Top: “The king stay the king“: D’Angelo lectures Wallace and Bodie on chess strategy, “The Buys,The Wire, June 2002; Young, ca. 2002.

40 Responses to Saviour

  1. stuartgardner says:

    Yet again, you’ve introduced me to a Bowie track I knew nothing of. Thanks!

  2. zappuccino says:

    There’s another shelf in that cupboard, Col; the medley that DB sang with Cher on her show.

  3. Mike says:

    Does anyone know what ISO means or stands for… or “Isolar” from his seventies tours?

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s completely awful. Sub-Tori Amos etc etc, which is perhaps too obvious a comparison to reach for. As something with no aversion to screaming banshees, I never want to hear this again.

    Other news tho, I went to a truly, truly incredible gig last night that managed to be genuinely and sincerely and completely provocative (which Kristeen Young really isn’t). An act called GFOTY, who’ll probably never be go anywhere, but her producer will. It was amazing. People were going completely, completely mad for it in a way, speaking as someone who goes to a lot of gigs, I’ve never seen and honestly didn’t think people did anymore.

    They’re been circling round it for a while, but I think it’s only a matter of time before PC Music pull off one of those gigs everyone talks about and pretends they were at, like with Joy Division, Pistols, Bowie whoever. Really mad stuff.

    • StevenE says:

      hit enter before filling in my details. I’m Steven

      • StevenE says:

        it was amazing seeing (as people have been pointing out on twitter) a predominantly male audience (60:40 split probably) singing back lines like “get to the club at 2am / I’m gonna fuck loads of men”, over and over and over and loving it. It was exciting (saviour isn’t, it’s shit)

      • StevenE says:

        wait a sec the lyric was bang not fuck.

    • Champiness says:

      Nice to see another PC Music devotee here, especially with the degree of respect I afford Bowiesongs commenters! That photo of Kristeen up above looks an awful lot like a Hannah Diamond shoot, which might’ve been the catalyst for this comment in the first place come to think of it. A tad envious of your GFOTY attendance, “Friday Night” (the source of your quote) has near-infinite replay value and her Instagram is a heavensend.
      As for the actual topic of this post, I think the song’s rather pleasant and I didn’t know it existed until now. That should be enough, I think. Certainly nothing to get angry over, apart maybe from the bizarre ending bit (no, I’m breathing just fine, thank you).

      • Champiness says:

        Drat, one of my hyperlinks worked and the other failed dismally. I’d appreciate a salvage job if one is possible.

      • col1234 says:

        no prob. i’ll do it in a sec

      • StevenE says:

        The astonishing thing about the PC Music mvmt right now is that you really wouldn’t expect it to work half as well live as it does. Played through a laptop the songs can seem slight (deliberately so), but when it’s being played live and it clicks with an audience it’s rapturous and so exciting.

        Hannah Diamond’s probably my favourite of the lot, because she seems to have complete and total control over her image – which seems to be a kindof take on 2004 preteen working class culture (and yeah you’re right about the resemblance – I could see Young in the pages of SuperSuper), regurgitated, twisted round and but still recognisable. There’s a slightly uncanny sincerity, warmth and sweetness to her music – that GFOTY, though similar (and if we’re on honest, both are probably 80% a. g cook’s work) completely and deliberately lacks.

        One of the most interesting parts of it is the class element. The music’s outrageously working class – yet GFOTY is one of the poshest people I’ve ever met, and a few of the other accents you hear hanging around the mic could cut glass. (not sure about cook himself). There’s a level of discomfort around that for me- but a lot of it – especially those Serious Thugs promos – is so deep an engagement with a certain type of culture I grew up around (entering my teens in the mid-00s) that, if they are all faking, they’re doing it astonishingly well and know the sensibility inside and out.

        In any event, it’s great to see something working class (underclass basically) and British represent itself in a way that is surreal, unsettling, almost psychedelic – and not just more of that grumbling pseudo-authentic billy bragg shit, that’s not been relevant since New Labour (and that’s generous).

        also thought Kero Kero Bonito’s album was incredible. Missed them live last weekend because I had to dog sit. 😦

        – Chris, sorry if i’ve derailed your blog comments a bit!

      • StevenE says:

        If anyone cares about this at all – I’d recommend following Champiness’ Friday Night link. Amazing tune, which Sophie’s done an incredible remix of that’s probably in the related links.

        Don’t know how to hyper link, but if you’re bored and want to hear something more interesting that Kirsteen Young, I’d recommend

        Serious Thugs, UR Not a Baller

        Serious Thugs, Link Ting

        Hannah Diamond, Attachment

        Danny L Harle, Broken Flowers

        and A. G. Cook’s Beautiful, which is a banger TBQH

  5. Simon says:

    Don’t forget Tina Turner and Lulu in the cupboard 🙂

  6. zappuccino says:

    Oh blimey; there’s Dana Gillespie too. You may have to knock that cupboard through to the pantry.

  7. Galdo says:

    This is kinda forgettable. I’d prefer this was a ‘Reality’ post. The Rustic Overtones collabs were way more interesting. I don’t know her music, so I’m not judging her just because of this track. Maybe she’s better (or not) than this – I hope so.

  8. Galdo says:

    What was that cupboard thing?

    • col1234 says:

      oh, i’d thrown in a line about Bowie’s collaboration with women being few “a small cupboard”, only to be reminded that i’d forgotten like 12 duets with DB and women. so it was a completely wrong assertion I scrapped.

  9. crayontocrayon says:

    I really like the fact that Bowie has done so many collaborations, even if they aren’t all the best songs (this certainly isn’t). Scott Walker referred to Bowie’s generosity with other artists and really it should be viewed in terms of Bowie giving someone a helping hand rather than trying to add to his own legend.

  10. Mike says:

    I thought it probably came from that… but what is Isolar? It’s obviously an important enough word to name two tours after it, yet I’ve never been able figure out its meaning.

  11. zappuccino says:

    “Isolar” is an anagram of “Sailor”, and is Portugese for “to isolate”. Beyond that, I have no idea.

  12. Maj says:

    Hm. I should like a piano playing singer lady (god knows I listen or have listened to a LOT of them) but this is really doing nothing for me. Thanks for letting me know of its existence though, from a purely completist point of view! 😉

    Also grrrl gets some bonus points for giving Morrissey cold and using salacious language around him. Right on.

  13. Zak says:

    This would be a lot more popular if you said it was Kate Bush.

  14. NiggyTardust says:

    Just wanted to ask: between the end of Reality era and begin of The Next Day, approximately how many songs are gonna be on this blog? I’m sure the author won’t omit Scarlett Johansson and David Gilmour collaborations, but I don’t know how many more are there.

    • col1234 says:

      not many. a handful, pretty much. in the blueprint I have for the blog schedule, it’s about a month’s worth of posts between end of Reality and start of Next Day.

      • Galdo says:

        I thought and I wish there was more songs. Maybe if Bowie releases another another album in 2015, the blog won’t end on ‘Sue’. And there was a time when I thought it would end with something like ‘Heat’ (an epic end for me).

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