“Sue” Open Thread


We won’t be getting to “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” on the blog until late in summer 2015, most likely. So here’s a place to record for your first impressions, once the song debuts tomorrow on Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour at 2 PM UK time.

114 Responses to “Sue” Open Thread

  1. dm says:

    Really looking forward to this- the closer Bowie gets to proper jazz, the more I like him (I know nothing about jazz, so I don’t really know what that means- Heroes is my favourite album and it’s always sounded how I imagine really unhinged freeform jazz to sound, esp blackout)

    He looks like US comedian Brian Regan in that photo…

    • col1234 says:

      Bowie “jazz” arc is basically “Take Your Tip”–“Good Morning Girl” [long gap] Garson’s solo on “Aladdin Sane” –“Subterraneans” & “Heroes instrumentals [huge gap] “Looking For Lester”–“Disco King”–this. probably forgetting a few.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        South Horizon is surely one.

      • col1234 says:

        absolutely. knew i was blanking on some.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        Also that Outside fragment where he sings “you die like diamonds”.

      • s.t. says:

        And “A Small Plot of Land”…kind of.

      • gcreptile says:

        Absolutely, A Small Plot of Land.
        I even like to call Black Tie, White Noise a fusion jazz album.
        On the one side, he included jazz elements to sound “avant garde” (i.e. Garson), on the other side, he absorbed jazz elements to make his music ‘blacker’.

      • spanghew says:

        Some of the horns on “Let’s Dance” and “Richochet.” Moments on Black Tie/White Noise (throughout).

        And of course, sometimes his sax playing.

        It’s been a surprisingly persistent, if subtle, thread throughout this career – in that I suspect “david bowie” “jazz” would yield very few Google hits (that aren’t to the new track anyway)

      • ric says:

        but ironically maybe not the Pat Metheny thing.

        meanwhile ‘Jazz Arc’ sounds very rude to English ears – one for the Profanisaurus

      • Doningen says:

        How about “That’s motivation” and “Volare” off the Absolute Beginners original soundtrack? Lightweight, yes, but definitely easy listening jazz.

    • fluxkit says:

      Some of the movement on a song like “Blackout” does feel that way, and I listen to a lot of classic free jazz like Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and I’ve just recently gotten into a bit of Albert Ayler. But most of that stuff doesn’t have the funky vibe that you can dance to. A little of Ornette’s stuff here and there does. Some of Miles Davis’ later bands give a bit more of that feel where improvisation and groove come together.

  2. Michael says:

    Apparently the Guy Garvey play is the radio edit, with the full version being played on the same station later Sunday evening on Stuart Maconie’s show, I think.

  3. stuartgardner says:

    A new Bowie track and a new episode of The Walking Dead on the same day? Somebody up there likes me.

  4. s.t. says:

    Just before I woke up, I was dreaming about listening to “Sue,” and my dream self was trying to conjure up some approximation of Bowie-Jazz. It sounded a lot more like DNA than Bowie, unfortunately, but I’m impressed by my dream effort.

  5. s.t. says:

    Disco King + Mass Production + Little Wonder?

  6. Deanna says:

    He sounds slightly younger than he did on TND…Like perhaps Heathen or something.

  7. Steven says:

    This is perfect

  8. Michael says:

    That’s gonna take me a few listens…

    Great to have him back.

  9. stuartgardner says:

    First impression — very Outsidish.

  10. s.t. says:

    Yes, his voice sounds good. It seems that the thin vocals of The Next Day were just a choice of style, rather than working with what he’s got.

    Pretty cool single. Though I think I just heard the US forgetting about him again. (God Bless UK fans).

    • s.t. says:

      On second listen, I don’t think he can get quite as powerful these days as he did with Buddha of Suburbia or Nature Boy, but he nevertheless sounds great.

  11. King of Oblivion says:

    Very strong voice. He hasn’t lost it, for sure. Clearly pursuing “Disco King” direction – not a bad idea at all.

  12. dm says:

    Oh. Wow. I didn’t realise that he really was going to do a jazz song. Not a pop/rock song with some brass, an actual piece of jazz. Housemates and I were flummoxed. I loved it. I think he’s finally at that point that Scott Walker reached with tilt, where he really doesn’t care what anyone thinks. It’s quite exciting, really.

    • dm says:

      I think we can be sure that when he does release the next piper album there won’t be a “dancing out in space” in sight!

      • Deanna says:

        Aha, what do you mean by that? I ask because I hated “Dancing Out In Space”.

      • dm says:

        Proper* (he hasn’t announced any plans to work with Billie, sadly)

      • dm says:

        I’m not entirely sure what I meant. I guess that there would be no half-hearted attempts to connect with the casual listener (I also can’t really stand Dancing)

      • Em² says:

        Interesting you mentioned Scott Walker. First thought I had after hearing it was that Sue is placed in that challenging/ difficult listening hour territory as per Walker’s later solo albums are. Like Scott’s albums this one will require repeated listenings.

    • Scott’s late-period stuff was many things, but it was never this traditionally jazzy.

      • Den Belmont says:

        Yes, that is true. This is a different kettle of fish. I’d say it’s a real 50-50 collaboration between two artists. A fantastic listen, and new ground for Bowie. I doubt that this line will be followed for an entire album – since it’s a true collaboration, rather than Bowie utilising the orchestra for arrangement purposes. I imagine that an entire album between Schneider might dilute the impact of “Sue”, and that both will get back to their own projects after this. But who knows.

        Long-time listener, first-time caller, I’m Den….

      • col1234 says:

        welcome, Den.

    • gcreptile says:

      I think Bowie is still somewhat clinging to the mainstream. He needs that. Even while he was on hiatus, he never was so out of sight as Walker between Climate of Hunter and Tilt. Walker had to fail three times over to get to where he is now, Bowie, once his career was going, only failed once, in the late 80s.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Tonight came out in the mid 80s.

      • gcreptile says:

        I don’t think that Tonight was a total failure for what Bowie set out to do, i.e. riding the Let’s Dance wave. Obviously, it was an artistic failure, but he didn’t even try there. Walker failed when he tried to shed off his manufactured persona and released ‘4’ under his birth name and without covers, it flopped. Then he failed to restore his standing with the MOR road with his cover albums, then the Walker Brothers comeback failed after the first album and then finally, Climate of Hunter failed at bringing him back into the spotlight.

      • gcreptile says:

        I should add, Bowie’s failure was Never Let Me Down. He had a couple of hits in 85/86 but with that album, Bowie disappeared from the A-list.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Yeah, I know, I know reptile. I’m just trying to prise the lid off this old can of worms again, after it’s been debated ad infinitum on a previous thread, ie/ “what is David Bowie’s worst ever album?”
        It’s hard for me to mount a case for Tonight achieving this dubious honour, when even the man himself cites Never Let Me Down as his absolute nadir.
        However, as I’ve always argued ’til my face is bluer than Tonight’s front cover, at least on NLMD he (kind of) sounded like his old self again. There was a ghost of Ziggy in there somewhere. Whereas most of Tonight was just a dreary, awful exercise in sucking all the marrow out of the songs he’d co-written with Iggy years earlier, lumbering them with awful cod-reggae arrangements and lifeless Tina Turner duets.
        I also think NLMD would be remembered more fondly if it hadn’t been accompanied by an overblown tour with silly, embarrassing dance routines, the centrepiece of which was the most ridiculous song on the entire album. (Remind me again how the tale of the glass spider was supposed to be some kind of metaphor for parental responsibility???)

    • JoIsaza says:

      I didn’t know yesterday that I wanted to hear David Bowie belting out recitative over free jazz; wouldn’t have thought to ask. But this is fantastic.

  13. col1234 says:

    an “unofficial” stream of it’s up (at least for now), for those who missed it: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/46922754/Sue.mp3

    • stuartgardner says:

      Thanks, Michael.
      Very smart job of posting it using a stray title; it might be there for a bit.
      Do we know the musicians here? Is that Garson on piano?

      • Michael says:

        You’re more than welcome, though I can’t take any credit – it was posted by a user over at DBWW.

        I have no clue on the musicians I’m afraid, but I’m sure all will be revealed in time!

    • Galdo says:

      The funny thing is sites like ‘NME’ and ‘Consequence of Sound’ are using this video upload. It was supposed to go under the radar, but got the spotlight.

    • Galdo says:

      Jaffa Cakes are tasty, indeed.

  14. Mike says:

    I like it… probably won’t listen to it much though, if I’m honest.

  15. SoooTrypticon says:

    I’m hearing a little Zion and I’m liking it.

    On my first listen I was a little put off, not by the singing, but by the lyrics. Bowie as the jealous guy is not one of my favorite voices he chooses.

    Once I got a bit of distance though, it’s a lovely, galloping, and creepy piece. I’m not sure it’s about jealously per say… maybe with that “clown” lyric at the end… but there’s something else bubbling underneath.

    Between this, and some of the songs on “The Next Day” like “Heat” and “The Informer” which seem to share a narrative thread… it feels as if Bowie is writing a musical in fits and starts.

  16. Momus says:

    1. Listening to this, you can sense Bowie feeling that the successful populism of The Next Day has given him the right to be challenging and “ahead of the audience” again. This is my favourite Bowie — the one who leads and stretches and surprises.

    2. The brassy free jazz orchestra is a very New York sound. So it sounds as if Bowie is relaxing into being a proper New Yorker at last. Perhaps he’s the closest thing to a Sinatra the city has today.

    3. It’s so good to hear real instruments instead of cheap pads and presets! This is a retro sound, of course, but it’s also something that could sit well in a TV or film production. I do hope there’s an elaborate video.

    4. The jazz tendencies Chris has listed could also contain the long versions of the Absolute Beginners songs, the title track and That’s Motivation, which launched off into widescreen, punchy jazz numbers. It’s a cinematic genre, best suited to noirish pictures.

    5. The narrative structure of the lyrics makes me think of the Twin Peaks spin-off “Diane…” The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper. It’s a series of snapshots of the characters’ lives presented in the form of audio messages. One also thinks of the messages left on Ansaphones during 9/11.

    6. Scott Walker is writ large as an influence, of course. Bowie must be calling him “Scotch Walker” by now, because every time Bowie is readying a new Walker-esque recording, the man himself releases something much further out. It happened with Bish Bosch and The Next Day, and it’s happening again with the forthcoming Scott Walker and Sunn O))) collaboration. Scotched! And trumped, usually.

    7. But although this gesture may be “Walkeresque”, it’s also very Bowiesque to do something new and daring. This makes me remember — in the best possible way — the feeling of being stretched by him. Having my horizons forcibly and enjoyably widened.

    8. The symphonic changes and epic scale remind me of Sweet Thing, which I recently attempted to cover. It was like trying to scale the Matterhorn in plimsolls.

    9. I can also hear A Small Plot of Land from Outside. There’s even some drum’n’bass in the fast skitter of the drums!

    10. I agree that it’s more impressive than insidiously likeable (I feel the same about Scott Walker’s stuff), and I’m not sure if it’ll get multiple relistens. But presumably the purpose is to put something rich and strange on the compilation that’s coming out, and it’s certainly a success at that. Ambition, check. Vision, check. Sound.

    • dm says:

      A “Scotch Walker” is what you do when seething goes wrong in your life. You take 1/2-1 bottle of cheap scotch, listen to climate, tilt or drift and drink it down. It has got myself and friends through many a tough time.

      I think this may be the first time Bowie’s been more challenging than the contemporaneous walker release. Soused is remarkably melodic and straightforward, really (also it’s brilliant)

  17. Galdo says:

    I was expecting something slower like ‘King’, this is not jazz influenced but a jazz song actually. Very diferent of anything he has ever done, even with all some incursions like ‘Disco King’, ‘South Horizon’ e etc…

  18. Ian says:

    Hmm. I’m not so sure about his voice (I thought he sounded stronger on TND), but I love the lyrics and the music. If Bowie were willing to stick to his lower register, I would happily take a whole album of this.

  19. gcreptile says:

    Interesting. Shades of Coltrane.

    To be honest, I already thought he would move to jazz after Reality. It’s, …well… age appropriate. And the least Bowie wants to be seen as, is someone chasing his younger self. He didn’t have to go jazz for The Next Day because it was his comeback album. The anticipation was so high, he could have done everything he wanted with it. He could have made his Tilt.

  20. Maj says:

    I listened to it once. I might listen to it one more time…but it’s not very likely it will get a third listen, at least not until it appears in my iTunes library.

  21. Nervous Ned says:

    Haven’t heard the track yet. But from the comments here and elsewhere I’m really looking forward to it now.
    I’d just like to say that after all those stern faced photos of David in New York isn’t great to see him with a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eye?
    Time to resume giving an interview or two David?

  22. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    Oh dear. Seems he’s forgotten to write a tune this time. What an irritating and chaotic mess. I suppose the alarm bells should have been ringing when all the comments on here started mentioning Scott Walker.

  23. Patrick says:

    Dontcha just hate it in the completist days before pick and mix downloads and digital when someone you followed bought out a “Greatest Hits” compilation with just one new track, so you had to potentially considering buying the whole bloody album just for the new stuff.
    Anyway while it’s better than the dire extras from TND, (except for the sublime “God Bless the Girl”) , can’t say I’m impressed. Sounds like a forgettable pastiche of 50s Jazz with the hoary hand of Scott Walker placed on one shoulder and a Comic Relief parody of pretension dangerously close to the other. Something good may well come out of this experimentation, but this isn’t it.

  24. TWDuke says:

    So, is this song about his relationship with Susan Sarandon? Discuss.

  25. Steven says:

    god I love it. I love it. I love how drum and bass-y it sounds. I love his vocal, love the lyric, love the brass.

    I follow scott’s career and there’s not an obvious analogue to this IMO – unlike with heat or whatever. It’s Bowie own sound this time, (anchored by those drums) and I cant ask for any more than that.

    Soused is a decent album – nothing on it touches this. I’ve heard Scott’s album a few times now and a few tracks on it actually have a surprisingly weak lyric – and a few ‘hey nonny nonny’ moments which just provoke eye rolling. I do like the album, but more as atmospherics than as a grand Scott statement. He’s not at full power.

    • s.t. says:

      Where can you get Soused?

    • Al Pachinko says:

      Think you’re right about “Soused” Steven, it’s something of a step down for Scott Walker. Never thought I would say it about the man, but it’s quite a predictible record. The collaboration with sunnO))) (who I’m very suspicious of, think there’s a real case of emperor’s new clothes – robes rather – with their cod profundity) seems to have lowered Walker’s normally deeper ideas has to the level of a fairly dull “none more black” type. Still on paper at least it was an interesting pairing, very “now” ha ha, if only Bowie would pull out such a left field partnership (Arcade Fire don’t cut it). He might have done it this time though, and with a fairly traditional offering too – interesting that he’s trumped Walker’s looniness by not trying to out-crazy him.

  26. Roman says:

    Really looking forward to the X-Factor version.

  27. Ramzi says:

    Does the fact that this is going on the compilation suggest that this is a more permanent direction? Would it make much sense to put a minor deviation on a career-spanning catalogue?

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      This is the DB I want to hear most. Much as I’ve liked recent albums, there hasn’t been much along these lines on them.

      I suppose “If You Can See Me” is Sue’s most obvious immediate forerunner, and that’s my favourite song from that album.

      I don’t know where this song will rank in the canon in the long run, but I’m loving it right now.

      And might I just mention, in case DB reads this stuff, that even though I availed myself of an MP3 of Sue yesterday, I have every intention of buying the single when it comes out. Fair’s fair.

    • StevenE says:

      I suspect it’s a one-off (well, this and the b-side) but we’ll see.

      I’d be thrilled with an album of this – we’d probably end up with a record not a million miles away from Sylvian’s Manafon, only livelier.

      Kate Bush’s last album didn’t shy away from jazzier influences (though not as full on as this), particularly in Misty. I’d love to see both make full on jazz albums, or something with evan parker, beresford, tilbury. Though both are making some of their best material late in life, I’d quite like to see them make a record with a new team behind them. This is a good sign, for Bowie, on that front.

      The completely counter-intuitive d’n’b-ness of the track reminds me how tragic it is that Bowie and Derek Bailey didn’t overlap in the 90s. Bothmade forays into drum and bass in ’96. I’m trying to imagine Earthling (one of my favourite albums btw), by way of Bailey’s Guitar, Drums n Bass. It would have worked amazingly.

  28. Vinnie says:

    New Bowie that’s lovely – Great!

    It’s been about twenty years since Outside – why not revisit some of those styles?

    I like it more than most of “The Next Day.”

    Here’s hoping a new album is coming soon. It can sound like this and I’ll be fine.

  29. Rufus oculus says:

    I had to turn off the track after five minutes or my partner threatened to divorce me! What is the point of the new compilation? To attract the casual fan? And you put this track as the lead song. I expect buyers will skip this track if not the whole first CD to get to the “good” stuff on the second disc.

  30. col1234 says:

    “Sue” personnel,as per DB’s website:

    David Bowie: Vocals

    Maria Schneider Orchestra:

    Maria Schneider: Arranger, Conductor
    Donny McCaslin: Tenor Soloist
    Ryan Keberle: Trombone Soloist

    Jesse Han: Flute, Alto Flute, Bass Flute
    David Pietro: Alto Flute, Clarinet, Soprano Sax
    Rich Perry: Tenor Sax
    Donny McCaslin: Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax
    Scott Robinson: Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet

    Tony Kadleck: Trumpet, Fluegelhorn
    Greg Gisbert: Trumpet, Fluegelhorn
    Augie Haas: Trumpet, Fluegelhorn
    Mike Rodriguez: Trumpet, Fluegelhorn

    Keith O’Quinn: Trombone
    Ryan Keberle: Trombone
    Marshall Gilkes: Trombone
    George Flynn: Bass Trombone, Contrabass Trombone

    Ben Monder: Guitar
    Frank Kimbrough: Piano
    Jay Anderson: Bass
    Mark Guiliana: Drums

    This is the first female arranger Bowie’s used in his life, unless I’m forgetting someone.

    • I recognize Jay Anderson from some ’80s Zappa records. The rest are all new to me.

    • Al Pachinko says:

      While big-band jazz may not be my thing, the more I listen to this the more I appreciate the remarkable performances from the band. Bowie is the obvious focus and will get all the praise, but the band really play their asses off – the solos are fantastic, but also when they’re just churning away underneath the vocals. Great to hear a large group so in tune with each other, they must be playing together for some time. Definitely going to check out more from Maria Schneider and co.

  31. Rufus oculus says:

    I presume the vinyl record sleeves are supposed to remind you of old jazz 78s. The Colombia version is just lovely.

  32. sidthecat says:

    I never thought I’d hear him sing like that again. Reminds me strongly of “A Small Plot of Land”, which makes me think he’s having another crack at his own version of film noir.

  33. SoooTrypticon says:

    Oddly enough, it appears that the version being passed around is at the wrong speed. Bowie’s site just posted the song, and it sounds quite a bit different.


    • Maj says:

      You know, I don’t know if the Soundcloud version really is that different from the one I heard before or if it’s the second listen factor (or both), but I actually like this version. The other one made me pissed off I spent money on a pre-order of something I won’t wanna listen to.
      Do hope this is what will land in my iTunes the day it comes out.

    • Hmm… this sounds sped-up.

  34. Mike F says:

    I love Outside and I like jazz but I don’t like this. He’s singing off key on this more than anything else I can recall. Bowie often sings sharp for a line or two for dramatic effect and I love it. But here the off key singing is painful and relentless. An interesting misfire.

    I saw the track listing for the singles compilation. This is the lead off track! How often do you skip track one of a singles compilation? I am sure the record company is less than thrilled with this.

    • Mike F says:

      Oops! My comment was in reaction to the Jaffa Cakes version which sounds awful. The SoundCloud version sounds much better. I wish I could edit my comment.

      Now that I can hear the track properly, I would say he’s not off key, he’s being deliberately difficult with his melodic choices. I could grow to like the SoundCloud version. Daring and edgy stuff. Good job David!

      • s.t. says:

        Am I the only one who thinks the Soundcloud version sounds unnaturally high pitched? I feel like the Jaffa Cakes one sounds closer to the Bowie of “The Next Day.”

      • Deanna says:

        The one on Bowie’s site is *definitely* sped up. I don’t know why/how they could mess it up like that, but it’s too fast.

  35. Simon says:

    Philosophically, it’s interesting for me think about how I’ll think about this track in 3 months time once it is familiar. At present, there are big things about it that I really like, but it’s pretty impenetrable and unfamiliar at present. The tone of it and its uncompromising differentness are fantastic. Question is, will I ever hum it on my walk to the bus. Er, probably not.

    I’m so familiar with every note of the back catalogue, I can’t imagine there’ll be a song where I don’t have that intimacy – but this is a leap.

    Still only 3 or 4 listens in, so it is like a tricky jigsaw at the moment (where most of the pieces are sky).

  36. Roman says:

    The good – Bowie’s still capable of causing a shock/surprise. His voice in in fine fettle.

    The bad – It’s terrible. It’s a cacophony of noise; a splatter of discordent wailing.

    I have zero musical talent, but I genuinely feel that if I had Visconti, a jazz orchestra and a studio at my disposal for an afternoon, I could come up with something similar (not as well sung of course!).

    Bowie said that when he came up with the riff to Rebel Rebel, he immediately thought, ‘Thank you god’. I wonder what he thought when he came up with this . . . this what? . . . this melody? This riff? This tune?

    Also, with regards the lyrics – I dislike Bowie in story-teller mode. Richard Ford, Alice Munroe etc, are short story writers. Pop stars aren’t. Things like Repetition, Shopping for Girls, She’ll Drive the Big Car and so on, I find silly and way beneath Bowie’s ability as an artist. The same with this pointless murder story; assuming that’s what it’s trying to be.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I’d be generally in agreement in principle on ‘story’ songs. When I heard the claim that this was going to be a murder ballad I was a bit trepidacious.

      But I find the song to be an incedibly powerful psychoscape (if you will). I love it.

      • Roman says:

        I have to say that I’ve never ‘got’ artists such as Tom Waits and other types of jazzy, drunken sleazy New Yorky-type of crooners that lots of people love and think are really cool. So that definitely colours my dislike of the new single. It’s just not my bag.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        Yeah, me neither actually. I feel this is a bit different to that stuff though.

    • MC says:

      Roman, something troubled me about your post about Bowie’s “storytelling” songs, and I’ve figured out what it is: wouldn’t things like Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust count as narrative songs in DB’s oeuvre (as opposed to the more impressionistic lyrics of the Berlin era, say)?

      • Roman says:

        That’s an interesting point MC. I’ve never thought of those songs as ‘storytelling’ songs before – but obviously they are. Of course there’s lots of others too that follow some kind of narrative arc, such as Diamond Dogs, Panic in Detroit, Young Americans. But I suppose I see those songs, thematically, as very “Bowie” stories. They might tell a vague story but they’re usually more about an atmosphere and are often very open to the interpretation of the listener. For example Space Oddity is about an astronaut who refuses to come home. Or is it about taking drugs? Or about isolation, depression, a drug overdose or simply choosing to be a loner? Ziggy tells the story about a doomed Rock Star, but when most people hear Ziggy on the radio, they aren’t thinking of a Rock Star from Mars but rather it just captures a private moment for them or the right vibe for something personal – going out, working out, anger, ambition, whatever.

        I think the difference between these ‘narrative’ songs and his ‘storytelling’ songs, is that the storytelling ones are not open to interpretation in any way. They’re a story – usually involving social commentary. For example, a story-song about an under age Thai hooker listening to a Michael Jackson song is NOT code for the Stations of the Cross (or anything else). And that just bores me. I don’t need a pop star to tell me that racism is bad, beating your wife is wrong, war is evil and that being poor can really suck.

        I think Bowie should leave social commentary songs and politicised posturing to artists such as Dylan, Bruce and a hundred others. They do it so much better than him.

    • Al Pachinko says:

      I remember in an interview ages ago Bowie saying “I’m not a guy who gets up on stage and tells you how my day has been”, before going on to say that he nevertheless loves many artists who do just that (think he was referring to Tom Waits and Dylan). I think this is at least part of why his “narrative” songs seem so awkward – when he’s trying to be a regular guy shopping at Aldi no one really buys it. “She Drives the Big Car” (great song, one of Bowie’s finest choruses, but just awful lyrics) seems terribly forced, although the blank reportage of “Repetition” for me adds to the falseness of the whole endeavour and makes it work. I agree with Roman that a lot of Bowie’s best narrative songs work when they’re more open to interpretation, and can work as metaphor. For me though when he gets abstract and highly obtuse he’s at his poetic best, and counts as one of the finest lyricists in rock.

      • s.t. says:

        There has been a shift in his writing over the years. Take away the computer-scrambled verbiage of his mid 90’s albums, and you have a fairly steady progression into conventional material. He got more topical, not just on world issues, but also taking down contemporary nemeses (Teenage Wildlife, Pretty Thing and Lucy Can’t Dance) or offering straightforward biography (Jump They Say, Buddha of Suburbia).

        ‘hours…’ started an exercise in everyman character studies, taking his “People on Streets” sketches of the 80’s to “People in Suburbs.” It continued on Heathen, with a little more success. Then, with Reality, he made almost an entire album full of songs about or inspired by post 9/11 New York City. It flirts with maudlin sentimentality, but I’d say it mostly succeeds because, as on Heathen, the author demonstrates a real emotional connection to the characters. Still, Disco King aside, it’s worlds away from the lyrics of 70’s Bowie.

        The Next Day was a bit of a return to cryptic theatricality, but retains a strong feel of traditional narrative/commentary. He seems to have absorbed Scott Walker’s quasi-topical approach to Tilt/Drift/etc, minus the fragmented, absurd touches. And now, even though Sue is more sprawling and challenging in structure than anything on The Next Day (and features an awkward Walkeresque line: “Oh folly, Sue”), it’s a fairly conventional narrative, in line with the character snippets of God Bless the Girl, You Will Set the World on Fire, and I’d Rather Be High. Slightly more oblique than Valentine’s Day, but not as oblique as Heat.

        While I do prefer his more expressionistic lyrics over his more conventional ones, I think he’s gotten better over the years at doing character sketches that work (certainly a great leap from Please Mr. Gravedigger). God Bless the Girl is emotional propaganda, but Who the Hell Cares Because It Sounds Great!
        Similarly, Sue is not Bowie at his lyrical best, but the gestalt of the song works. Really well, I’d say.

  37. MC says:

    Haven’t gotten to know the track yet, but I’m inclined to like it. I admire the sheer perversity of having this be the lead-off track of another career-spanning compilation, so kudos to DB for that! I think he’s headed into the “I’ll do whatever the fuck I want”phase of his career, and why not? It’s not like he can compete with the likes of Katy Perry for the number one slot on the pop singles charts.

  38. sidthecat says:

    Roman, I agree with you about “storyteller” songs (God forgive me, I felt relief when Harry Chapin died) and I like Mr. Bowie’s lack of linearity, but I like the story arc of this song – the heightening rage and madness of the lyric.

  39. Brendan O'Lear says:

    First impressions are never reliable. I disliked Ashes to Ashes on first hearing but quite liked Tonight (yes Chris, I know I deserve to be banned for that). I hated Baal and it took me over 30 years for me to come to love it. I doubt I have 30 more years for this one to grow on me,
    For now I’m reminded of the scene in 24-Hour Party People where Tony Wilson goes to watch a young, upcoming band playing jazz.

  40. Al Pachinko says:

    Well it seems Bowie’s back to wearing musical costumes again, which should prove interesting.

    Although I’ve got to say that while it may be an adventurous move for Bowie to make at this point, musically it feels quite conservative. This is big-band, at times almost cartoon, jazz, so while he may be “doing jazz”, it’s not exactly the more out-there Ornette Coleman / Eric Dolphy end of the spectrum one might have hoped Bowie would explore.

    Don’t see too many parallels with Scott Walker, who never did jazz, and who is more explicitly experimental in terms of form. Here, Bowie doesn’t really do much to push the musical genre he’s working with (apart from adding those fantastic dnb drums) – he just dressed up his song in a well-rendered jazz costume. And with really only one strong melody line (the verses), this feels like a strangely under-written and off-hand track, which for a seven and a half minute number with a cast of thousands is a little odd. However, I could end up loving it for all of these reasons, and the more I listen to it the more I find to enjoy.

    I think everyone’s agreed though that this is a great sign that Bowie’s doing whatever he damn well feels like, and it bodes well for some very interesting times ahead. I don’t feel like there’ll be more in this style, but I do hope it signals Bowie’s break with the worryingly MOR sound of the last few albums which, as others have commented on here, is a sound he’s really run into the ground.

    Lyrics are great though (he’s on a run after TND), that opening line’s a killer.

  41. dba says:

    Great, Sue leaves me – after quite a few listens – with the same feeling I’d had when I heard a long long time ago for the first time f.ex. Repetition, Baal, Small Plot Of Land, Nature Boy or even parts of Heathen: Wow, what is this, quite irritating! Crap? Will it grow? Is it just boring? Some of those songs grew, some didn’t, that’s the fascinating part with Bowie’s musically output.
    I’ll have to give Sue a moment until it’ll get its (guaranteed) place in the bowie canon. But the most I love on it: The old Bowie-feeling is back again!
    Right, musically this is absolutely nothing new – its simply jazz in its “uncommercial” form. It’s only “new and dangerous” terrain for Bowie.

  42. Momus says:

    Is no-one else hearing the sneaky quote of Warszawa around 4:30?

  43. nekrot zar says:

    I’m waiting for the man to sing the best he can do…. he’s nots just another voice in our era, he’s Bowie… so the fact it should be jazz fits me well; i still love his voice; he’s one of the greatest!!!!!!

  44. nekrot zar says:

    & don’t forget the Sales Brothers… they should be part of next a Bowie-project; i’m so happy!!!!

  45. Warszawa and Drowned Girl too

  46. roobin101 says:

    I’ve only just heard this. My belated initial reaction is if for some reason Bowie made Earthling with this band then the 9 minute epics. It’s also good to hear something like his old voice back. This is good.

  47. Arachnid from Uranus says:

    I’ve been a Bowie fan since 1969 and loved most of his output. But this time he’s let the team down. It’s a jumbled mess without a tune. Get with the programme Dave or just leave us in peace.

  48. s.t. says:

    New song “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” is out. Pretty crazy. It’ll take a few listens to soak it up.

  49. StevenE says:

    least now we have a video we can be confident of listening to it at the right speed.

    I’m not actually that hugely into the video itself, and yet think the song works better with visuals.

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