Never Get Old.
Never Get Old (video).
Never Get Old (Vittel ad, edit).
Never Get Old (Today Show, 2003).
Never Get Old (Last Call With Carson Daly, 2003).
Never Get Old (Riverside Studio performance, 2003).
Never Get Old (Die Harald Schmidt Show, 2003).
Never Get Old (live, 2003).
Never Get Old (The Tonight Show, 2004).
Never Get Old (live, 2004).
Rebel Never Gets Old (2004).
Issued as a hook for Bowie’s first world tour in nearly 15 years, Reality became something else by the late 2000s: Bowie’s Last Album. With Bowie seemingly in retirement, there was a fair bit of fan resentment and bewilderment about this. Reality was really going to be the end? This was his Abbey Road, his Avalon? A “thrusty” (Bowie’s official adjective for it) album with a few covers? It would be as if he’d left the stage with Lodger, another oft-unloved record with which Reality has some affinities.
His return in 2013 loosed Reality from this trap. Now you can consider the record on more favorable terms: as an album whose songs were built to be blasted on stage, whose compositions were written quickly and fairly loosely, its tracks assembled like an Ikea table. The album of an older working artist, of a man used to himself, at an armistice with himself; someone happy not to take himself seriously (hope you’re happy, too). It’s the work of a man pissed off at the world but trying to keep it together for his kid’s sake. Not Bowie’s last album, but his latest album.
In interviews, Bowie hammered home that Reality lacked the thematic arc of Heathen, that there was “no through line” (he said this a half-dozen times) in the album, that it was just a collection of songs and a few covers pulled from a “Pin Ups 2” list. Yet as he said in the album’s promotional video, “going back on my word is part and parcel of what I do for you. Part of my entertaining factor is lying to you.”
There’s far more thematic structure in Reality than Bowie let on. Like Man Who Sold the World, it’s full of extreme figures—Picasso as a cock of the walk; a gluttonous rock star vampire (see below); a Dick Cheney stand-in—and diminished ones: disappointed wives and desperate husbands; various lonelyhearts. There’s death and scars and a long, shadowy sub-sequence in which David Jones buries David Bowie, one more time. And Bowie pulled all of this off lightly, even flippantly, as if he would keep doing it forever.
Some jokes, too. Take the Tezuka-eyed anime figure on the album cover: a record called Reality with a video-game avatar as its marquee artist. Another was the TV ad Bowie made for Vittel water (he had no qualms about this—“basic” TV was a primary means of promotion left to him, as radio and MTV wouldn’t play his new songs). Here he’s a chic brownstone owner (playing on the press’ current image of him) sharing house with his discarded personae. He walks off into the Soho morning, out for a coffee or a Bikram yoga session, leaving the old freaks back at home. He still looks great; he’s in on the joke.
For some time, Bowie had been planning a major world tour, his first since Sound + Vision in 1990, once his daughter was old enough to travel regularly. The Heathen/Low-dominated sets of the 2002 tour needed an overhaul: some more oldies, but also some new, uptempo material. The fast pace and smaller clubs of his “Five Boroughs” NYC shows in October 2002 invigorated him. By year’s end, he was “percolating” with new songs, making demos via his home setup at the time: a Korg Trinity and a Seventies ARP Odyssey, a Korg Pandora effects processor and a lifetime’s accumulation of guitars (“I was back at home with the baby and wife and doing daily things, and I started writing immediately,” he told the Miami Herald). He got Tony Visconti back in the studio in January 2003.
At the time, Visconti was often renting the small Studio B in Philip Glass’ Looking Glass Studios on Broadway, walking distance from Bowie’s Soho home. So Bowie could keep to a domestic schedule—Internet binging or neighborhood walks in the early morning, breakfast with his daughter, off to the studio around 10 or 11 AM and back home by 7 PM for dinner. He could try out something on a keyboard at home, play it in the studio a few hours later, take the file home and listen to it that night.
Bowie and Visconti demoed about seven tracks (top melody sketches and scratch keyboard, bass and guitars over a click track), then began some overdubs, mainly guitar, vocals and keyboards. “Inevitably we’d hardly redo anything,” Visconti recalled to Sound on Sound. “I always record things carefully in the first place because I know we’re not going to redo them, and so a lot of the demo parts ended up on the final version.” (Visconti said “the bulk” of Reality was recorded into Logic Audio, with the Looking Glass Studio B board mainly used for monitoring tracks.)
After a break in which Bowie wrote and demoed more songs, he assembled a small group for rhythm tracks (cutting eight tracks in about eight days). It was just Bowie and Visconti, drummer Sterling Campbell and bassist/guitarist Mark Plati, all cramped into Studio B, with its 12′ x 10′ isolation booth. While Bowie could have rented the more spacious Studio A, he preferred being boxed in to get “a real tight New York sound,” as Visconti called it (Visconti also said he could better judge bass-end tones in the smaller studio).
This was the end of Plati’s work with Bowie. In the late Nineties, Plati had positioned himself as Bowie’s new right-hand man, and once Bowie and Reeves Gabrels parted company in 1999, Plati was ready to move up. But he hadn’t banked on the return of Tony Visconti to the fold, and the collapse of Toy (Plati’s baby) meant Visconti had the dominant hand. A source familiar with most of the musicians at the time noted Visconti had been gunning for Plati for a while and that Bowie had enjoyed the rivalry, as it bred good creative energy (he was an old hand at this, pitting Earl Slick against Carlos Alomar, Eno against Alomar, Reeves Gabrels against Mike Garson, etc.)
For Reality, Visconti recorded all the bass parts at the demo stage, often leaving Plati to have to trace over his lines (and Bowie preferred Visconti’s original takes on “The Loneliest Guy,” “Days” and “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon”). Visconti had looked a bit askance at Plati’s use of the Line 6 Bass Pod (a preamp that could let the player “dial up” the sound of whichever bass amp and cabinet they wanted), preferring to direct-inject his “very souped up ’67 [Fender] Precision” into the console.
Plati left before the Reality tour to take a gig with Robbie Williams, which he later regretted. He’d been used to Bowie fans, who were so devoted to the music that they knew every player’s name and backstory; now he was just an anonymous face backing a Star.
By February 2003, a good chunk of the record was cut, though Bowie and Visconti weren’t happy with the drum sound, ultimately driving up to Allaire Studios near Woodstock, where they’d cut Heathen, to play Campbell’s drum tracks over Allaire’s massive ATC SCM150 monitors, then mixing that reverbed sound into Logic Audio.
For lead guitars, they brought in Earl Slick (cranking out his lines through an “enormous” Marshall stack), David Torn (charged with providing “atmospheres” as on Heathen, though he also got some lead riffs, like “New Killer Star”) and Gerry Leonard (mainly incidental work and solo spots, like the “Spanish” guitar on “Pablo Picasso”). Bowie also was keen to get into the mix some old Supro guitars that he’d bought on eBay, including a 1957 Dual Tone retrofitted by Flip Scipio and another patched-up 12-string Supro (heard on “Never Get Old,” among other tracks). Bowie also played scads of Korg Trinity, retrieved his old Selmer baritone saxophone for a few tracks and tried his hand at harmonica again (not heard since “Never Let Me Down” unless I’m (likely) forgetting something).
By May, Bowie and Visconti had pasted together a record, mixing sounds from a wide palette. Mike Garson recorded both synth and piano parts (the latter in California, with Garson putting the finished pieces into a ProTools file). Bowie typically sang three lead vocals for each track—one right after the rhythm tracks were cut, one midway through the sessions and one towards the start of mixing. Visconti synced them up (he’d made sure Bowie had used the same mic, a Manley Gold, for all takes) so that he could make a neat stitching job for a last vocal, following a line Bowie had sung in February with one he’d sung in May. And Bowie was in strong voice—having finally given up cigarettes, he’d recovered at least five semitones.
You gotta stay young, man, you can never be old.
Mott the Hoople, “All the Way From Memphis.”
Unlike every other great genre of American pop, rock is all about being young or (if you are poor Mick Jagger) pretending to be young.
Wouldn’t that be fun, to age disgracefully?
Bowie, to the Sydney Morning Herald, 2003.
In 2001, the New York Press editor John Strausbaugh issued a manifesto, Rock ’til You Drop, attacking “colostomy rock” (the book had a cover photo of a wizened, grotesque-looking Mick Jagger): “Rock should simply not be played by 55-year-old men with triple chins wearing bad wighats, pretending to still be excited about playing songs they wrote 30 or 35 years ago…its prime audience should not be middle-aged, balding, jelly-bellied dads…Rock ‘n’ roll is not family entertainment.” (Bowie got a few brickbats, with Strausbaugh labeling him a “self-serving, egomaniacal, 52-year-old creep [conflating] all of rock ‘n’ roll with his own way-past-prime career”).
This was a sharper-pitched (Strausbaugh’s book is full of lurid Hogarth-esque descriptions of sadly aging musicians) version of an old argument: can a youth music grow old with dignity? Should there be some sort of Logan’s Run scenario where rock stars, after they hit 35, agree to kill themselves to spare us the sight of their aging? Bowie had avoided some of this by staying thin, keeping his hair and simply not seeming to age that much (even Strausbaugh admitted Bowie still looked hale in his 50s). But his sheer perseverance rankled Strausbaugh and other critics. Didn’t he know it was over? Wasn’t it a bit embarrassing, all the Internet Bowiebanc Omikron drum’n’bass business?
“Never Get Old” is Bowie’s response (did he read the book? you never know). Fuck you: I am the aging letch you hate, and there’s nothing you can do about it. “It’s a rather silly song,” he told Kurt Orzeck. “It’s kind of [about] a petulant 56-year-old.” To the Sun, Bowie added that “there’s the image of a petulant rock singer sitting in a half-darkened room saying, ‘I’m not gonna get old.’ I thought it was a funny image and I had to write it before someone else my age did.”
After all, this sort of “get off the stage, old man” warfare was in great part intra-generational: it was late Baby Boomers attacking early Baby Boomers. “Today we’re a generation of angry old men,” Bowie told Der Stern. He had a three-year old daughter for whom Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash, Lady Miss Keir and Trent Reznor would all be one great jumble, a collective past that would be as easy to pare and remix as he’d done for his latest album. But playing an aging, vain Baby Boomer egomaniacal creep was too juicy a role not to take on.
Singing “Never Get Old” was part of a growing cheekiness, a lack of reverence for his legend. Bowie had become grand enough of a monument that he could scrawl on it. Around this time he cut a remake of “Changes” with Butterfly Boucher, where he sang “look out, you rock ‘n rollers—pretty soon you’re gonna get older!” with gusto and happy irony. He recut “Rebel Rebel” as an aging rocker still playing at youth, then had it mashed up into “Never Get Old” for a tawdry single that would have made the likes of Strausbaugh retch.
“Never Get Old” is a bipolar song. The E major refrains are hectoring and bloated, with their set of whining guitars stuck in second gear. A grotesque rock star refuses to leave the table, instead filling his belly with more: cash, food, drugs, women (live, Bowie sang “never gonna be enough bullets!” while making a gun shape with his fingers: you’re never gonna be able to kill all of us). Underneath the latter half of the refrains is a grunting, moaning distorted bass figure: the gurgling stomach of the singer, or the factory work keeping his enterprise going.
He’s also feeding on his past. The winding verse melody is similar to that of “Karma Man,” while there’s a pun on old glories (“never gonna get Low“) and maybe even an Iggy Pop nod (“street of life” calls back to the “street of chance” of Pop/Bowie’s “Baby“). And not just his past. The last vocal tag, a soaring bit by Gail Ann Dorsey and Catherine Russell, mirrors the close of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Yet the verses and pre-choruses have none of this cheek. They’re built on tentative shifts up and down, like a man struck with doubts on a stairway. The verse starts on G major (“better take care”), sharpens the chord (“I think I’d better go better”) and in a breath makes it natural again (“get a room better take”) then moves down to F major (“care of me”). The second time round’s a lower descent, to E minor (..”history”). The pre-chorus does the same moves with C major (C: “forever,” C#: “this feeling that we’re going to be,” C: “living until the,” B-flat: “end of time”), then in a classic “really, Bowie?” progression, there’s a jarring shift from Bb to G# (“head hangs low”) to E-flat (“all over”) to E major to clear the path for the chorus.
These qualified, shaky movements, paced by a rhythm guitar (Torn?) that mainly nags at its G string, underscores a lyric marked by regret and loneliness. A man locks himself up in his room (painted blue, blue electric blue?). He goes to the movies, like the mousy-haired girl of “Life on Mars?,” hoping that when the star turns around for his close-up, he’ll acknowledge the little man in the stalls. The moon floats along with its stolen light (its airy progress the little piano break). The refrain is a lie.
A while ago, someone wrote on the “Space Oddity” post, arguing with my choice of words. I’d written “when Bowie dies” and the commenter took me to task: “surely you meant if?” It’s a wonderful protest, and a true one. It seems wrong to write that Bowie will ever die. He can’t die, he won’t die: we just won’t let him.
Recorded: (rhythm tracks, vocals) January-February 2003, (lead guitars, lead and backing vocals, overdubs) March-May 2003, Looking Glass Studios, New York. Released 16 September 2003 on Reality (ISO/Columbia COL 512555 2/ CK 90576, UK #3, US #29). A video for the song is included on the DualDisc version, one of the several supplemental editions of Reality, whose numbers also include the 2-CD version (with bonus tracks “Fly,” “Queen of the Tarts” and a remade “Rebel Rebel”), the “tour” version (which had a bonus DVD with the LP sequence performed live at Riverside Studio, plus “Waterloo Sunset” as a bonus (the Japanese CD also had the latter track)) and the SACD, which had Visconti’s Dolby 5.1 mixes for all tracks.
“Rebel Never Gets Old,” a mash-up assembled by Mark Vidler ca. March 2004, was issued as a single in the EU later that year (ISO-Columbia COL 674971) and also was available as an iTunes download.
Sources: Of particular help (to this and upcoming entries) was the marvelously detailed piece “Recording Reality” by Richard Buskin in the October 2003 issue of Sound on Sound. All technical details come from this article.
Top: Damiano, “Rainbow [Gathering] in Italia, 2002”; art for Reality (photos: Frank W. Ockenfels; design: Jonathan Barnbrook; illustrations: Rex Ray).
It IS ‘never gonna be enough bullets’, isn’t it?
yes, you’re right! meant to correct that one but it slipped through.
This always reminds me of “Beat of Your Drum” with the strange manoeuvring of the verses and the boneheaded chorus.
Overall I like the album but I’m not that keen on this song.
The article has reminded me of how I felt when John Updike died. I was slightly flummoxed.
Made me realise that on some level I had felt that his brilliance at portraying the nature of human existence meant that he himself had transcended the normal rules of that existence.
Interested to see opinions on this album. I go back and forth, myself (I think there is one indisputable mis-step), but I think some of the material on Reality is fantastic, especially lyrically.
I really like this track for its strange harmonic movement; in lesser hands this would have fallen apart. And I love the nervy-sounding bass and guitar in the choruses. Good call on characterizing it as stuck in second gear; I think it very much adds to the effect.
A better album than Heathen. This track is one reason why.
I never heard of “Straughsbaugh,” but I suppose I’m better for it. The world is full of such complainers trying to make a career or get some attention by sniping at those better talented or more successful than themselves (this also seems to be what much of the internet is about). And was James Miller the same one who wrote the sensationalist trash “biography” of Michel Foucault?
no different guys. quote is from Miller (the rock writer)’s “Flowers in the Dustbin” (a book I greatly disagree with, but is well argued) http://www.amazon.com/Flowers-Dustbin-Rise-Rock-1947-1977/dp/0684865602
I agree with you 100% on that fluxkit. People like this strassberg sliced meat fellow, and was it John Goldman or some such forgettable jerk who wrote the damning posthumous biographies of Lennon and Elvis, derive their notoriety by standing on the shoulders of giants, and pissing down their backs.
Loved this entry. Already I know I’ll be giving this song and this album a second listen. Thank you!
‘bring me the disco king’ is the jewel in that album.
Summer of 2003 (southern hemisphere summer) this album was the soundtrack to many alcohol soaked nights – Pablo Picasso was a particular favourite! As the years passed by and it looked like been the last word from Bowie it seemed to me that he was announcing it with the last track “Bring me the disco king” with its lines about “stab me in the back let me disappear” etc….
“Soon there’ll be nothing left of me, nothing left to release.”
Big fan of Reality so I’m very much looking forward to the coming entries. The song is full of possible nods and winks to Bowie’s ‘personal history’.
The one that jumps out to me is Secret Life of Arabia. Both songs have a bounce to them and the line ‘I breathe so deep when the movie gets real when the star turns round, he looks me in the eyes, says he’s got his mind on the count down’ echoes ‘You must see the movie the sand in my eyes, I walk through a desert song when the heroine dies’. Also the ‘running down the street of life’ and ‘walking at the speed of life’ lines are pretty similar.
Also will forever hear ‘Biii-llly-Sheears’ at the end of this song now. Thanks a bunch.
I was terrified that you’d rip this album apart as soon as we landed here– it just seems to get so much hate. It’s actually my favourite Bowie album, but whenever I say that I also feel the need to duck for cover immediately after. I would never argue that it’s his best or most creative, because it’s not, but it still beats every other album by a mile for me.
The songs are by a man at complete peace with himself, and it shows. He’s not trying to make a big production out of it; he’s just writing some music because he feels like it. I love its confidence, its lack of pretentiousness. And the music is so simple yet so memorable.
The album is even more appealing after experiencing The Grand Return. It’s absolutely amazing how the general perception of him changed between `03 and `13. With ‘Reality’, he was entirely human; perhaps the most human he’d ever been in decades. A sort of immortal, ever-cherished human, but still a human who did things like talk about his daughter on the Ellen Degeneres show and won prizes in vending machines. Over the next decade or so, that all disappeared but I don’t imagine he changed much at all…the rest of us changed how we saw him and he somehow became some sort of god.
I don’t really like that view of Bowie, because I feel like it defeats the purpose of a lot of his music/writing, but that’s how we treat him now. ‘Reality’ is a nice checkpoint where we can look back and remember the probably-more-accurate view we had of him (for better or for worse).
And, of course, we get “Bring Me The Disco King”. That’s a nice bonus.
I remember that there was actually a contest where people were invited to mash-up any Reality Bowie song with any old Bowie song, and the winner would receive an official release. Obviously, “Rebel Never Gets Old” won, but I was really hoping you’d dug up more information on the whole thing. I’ve found that information on the contest is scarce; it’s hard to find proof that there was a contest at all anymore! Did anyone enter? (I didn’t)
I never fully understand this track before reading this. Thanks, because I would never understand the “joke”. That mashup is dreadful, though. I know ‘Reality’ isn’t the album Bowie will remembered for, but it’s so damn catchy and fun. A nice listen and one of my favourites.
I personally have a lot of love for Reality. For the longest time, I too had kind of gotten used to the idea that it just might be the last David Bowie album (a la Abbey Road, In Through The Out Door, Strangeways Here We Come or Avalon). So when The Next Day came along, it couldn’t help but feel like a spoiler of sorts! Isn’t that a weird, funny attitude to take? I don’t know if it makes any sense, but hey! There it is… 😀
Anyway, I think Never Get Old is one of my favorite “late-period” Bowie songs. I actually enjoy its cheek, its irreverence, its grim acknowledgment (disguised as a refusal) that yes indeed, all of us rock ‘n’ rollers – performer and spectator alike – are gonna get older, are getting older. A difficult balance to pull off, that queasily entertaining mixture of sprightly bounce and existential angst, but damned if Bowie doesn’t make it look effortless (once again).
Speaking of Bowie mash-ups, how about…5:15 Hermione Has Gone? (a hybrid of Letter To Hermione and 5:15 The Angels Have Gone) Just imagine…Hermione‘s scatted “doo-doo-doo” intro with acoustic guitar over 5:15‘s opening drumbeat.
I also had another completely lunatic, off-the-wall Bowie mash-up idea in my head for a while now. It’s a kind of warped Frankensteinian mega-mix by the name of Video Crime (This Is Genocide! Mix). Introduced by the famous Diamond Dogs intro (“This ain’t rock ‘n’ roll…This is genocide!”), it’s basically Tin Machine’s Video Crime over the beat of The Hearts Filthy Lesson, here and there throwing in the high female “My, my!”‘s from Beauty And The Beast, the “Keep cool!” from the live Diamond Dogs and – towards the end – the “We’re going to eat you!” chant from We Are Hungry Men!
I was in Plati’s East Village studio in 2004, commenting on ‘Reality’ (amongst other things, I got the sense that Plati took the Robbie Williams gig to challenge himself in a creative sense on what I took to be an unexpected (to him) offer to be a musical director rather than any resentment- he seemed totally at peace with himself and told me he preferred to work with young indie artists than massive pop stars), Plati told this poster (when asked) that it is him doing ALL the guitar work on ‘Never Get Old’. Just a little tidbit I remembered. I can’t tell you how patient that man was and his sense of zen rubbed off on me. Call me biased, but I’ve always felt Plati was under-appreciated and I was sad not to see him on the Reality Tour- tho’ he was at the MSG gig as DB’s guest so I strongly doubt any bad blood.
thanks: that’s very interesting. Agree Plati is an underrated part of the DB story
It’s a very good song on an outstanding album. I have to agree fully that the album, as much as I’ve enjoyed it over the years, just never felt like a proper “final album,” despite the haunting finish of Bring Me the Disco King.
Bowie’s voice throughout tends to remind me of Never Let Me Down, and my general read on Reality is that it’s a much better version of that album. There are some odd trilogies you can make up in viewing Bowie’s career. This would fit into a Heathen/Reality/Next Day trilogy, but could also be viewed as a Diamond Dogs/NLMD/Reality trilogy (if you sort of squint and tilt your head a bit). Either way, Reality is a good album, but made better through context.
Yes! I was waiting till Days to make this comparison (as it feels a lot like a rewrite of the NLMD title track to me). This album definitely sounds like he’s revisiting whatever muse originally inspired the better parts of that album.
Both albums tend to get a lot of hate but this one at least really doesn’t deserve it , and it’s good to see how many commenters here agree.
“…an album whose songs were built to be blasted on stage, whose compositions were written quickly and fairly loosely, its tracks assembled like an Ikea table.”
Perfect description there. Rocker Dad Bowie in full effect. And indeed that quasi-quote of Sound and Vision in the verses forces me to think about paint and think to think about blue quite a bit. Perfect thing to do when shopping for home decor with the wee one.
I like Reality quite a bit, but “Never Grow Old” is not a highlight for me. Its chorus is defiant and shameless, but in the most boring pub rock way possible. It’s the rebirth of Tin Machine.
What a jolly boring thing to do.
Sorry, it’s “War-hole,” actually.
Funny how Reality remained the “final Bowie album” for so long. It was more or less where it all started for me.
I had only really begun to explore music in my late teens. I think part of this disinterest was due to the fact that at school I only hung around kids who listened to either nu-metal or skate punk. I think there’s a pressure in school to only enjoy the music that your peers enjoy. I met them halfway by dismissing music entirely.
I had just enrolled to an art course at the local college and was surrounded by completely new people so, like in many teen college movies that were popular at the time, I saw it as a chance to ‘reinvent’ myself (albeit only into a quiet “arty type”).
One of the things I had set out to do was find music that I enjoyed. Thanks to the still recent P2P boom, this could be done on the cheap. I remember a friend mentioning Bowie so I downloaded a few MP3s from the Best of Bowie album.
Other notable artists I downloaded in those days included The Velvet Underground (“I’m Sticking With You” was featured on a Hyundai ad at the time), obviously a few Beatles tracks (listened through headphones as my mum absolutely despises The Beatles) and some Ryuichi Sakamoto (I have no idea how I got to him. Loved Forbidden Colours though).
A few months later I was browsing the local MVC and saw the new Bowie album on display. I had still never heard a whole album by him so I decided to pick it up. At the time it seemed logical to me to start with his most recent.
Needless to say I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the guitar sound, I enjoyed Mike Garson’s piano playing. I think the production really appealed to me as well. I would play it everyday for the next few weeks. Then I started blowing all of my money on his back catalogue. I was buying modern and classic Bowie simultaneously… Hunky Dory, Heathen, Diamond Dogs, Earthling, TMWSTW, Outside… All the while looking at his influences. Pablo turned me onto Jonathan Richman, Sister Midnight on the Reality DVD got me into Iggy, I bought a few Lou Reed albums…
Unfortunately I missed the tour. I wouldn’t have had the money for a ticket anyway.
“Ah well, I’m sure he’ll come around again…”
By virtue of being his latest album for longer than any other, Reality’s as much a starting point for a substantial, tending younger, part of the fanbase – as it was an endpoint for the rest .
That was absolutely the case for me, spinning Reality years after Lets Dance and Ziggy failed to stick (an assessment that holds, apologies everyone). The record starts of strongly, holds up better than you’d expect throughout it’s running time and ends with something sublime.
… which is probably a key part of why it works so well as an ‘in’ for me. Much as I love so many of his records they’re virtually defined by their inconsistency – God Only Knows rubbing shoulders with Young Americans, Modern Love on the same album as Criminal World, half of Tin Machine II with the rest of Tin Machine II. It Ain’t Easy making the tracklist over, well, all the bonus tracks.
Reality has nothing on it that’d make you want to throw the CD across the room, and some really lovely bits.
God Only Knows rubbed shoulders with Loving the Alien.;) Though perhaps you’re referring to Across the Universe. Completely agree on It Ain’t Easy — what a huge mistake, not to knock that out for Sweet Head or Velvet Goldmine.
Across is what I meant. Rookie mistake. Across is amazingly shit, i love it
Another layer to the joke is that out of all the ageing rockstars, Bowie is the one that may actually ever get old. Christ, even if it is in two decades or whenever, the day Bowie dies will be an immensely strange one.
Welcome to Reality!
Oh I like Never Get Old. Bowie whimsy, that. I suppose of all the ageing (well at this point surely properly old, and in same cases dead) rock stars I listen to it *had* to be Bowie writing this song.
As for the album, I don’t like it as much as Heathen, though it’s slightly less gloomy than that one, it has more humour…and lightness (of sound if anything else)…Chris has pretty much already mentioned that.
I don’t quite know why only rock should be for so called young ones. What struck me while watching the Jimmy Stewart-starring biopic of Glenn Miller’s life was…his music was very much the sound of the young people back then…nowadays? Few of those young people are still alive. Miller didn’t get to grow old but his band carried on and the music very much became the music of old people. It happens, whatever. I think all the boomers should just get over themselves and be happy they’re still alive. 😉
A great entry on a great song. How I wished the Vittel add was expanded upon to be a proper video…
But then that super creepy “Reality” short film was made for the dual disc… and was pretty cool. Some very Lynch moments in the Disco Trees.
The album itself is a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some terrific songs suffer from less than “thrusty” production, “Big Car” chief among them. (Although there is a live version from the Atlantis gig that I love). And the squelchy “Days” fairs much better in the acoustic version played during the tour. (I wish there was a “Never let Me Down” mix of “Days”).
I’m excited to see you walk us through this album (:
On a side note, Col, I noticed your review for “Nothing Has Changed.” Could you confirm whether “Let Me Sleep Beside You” is the same as the leaked “Toy” track, or has it been reworked further?
I’ll A/B them when I get a chance & let you know.
(This review’s on the tumblr (http://bowiesongs.tumblr.com/post/101692571103/nothing-has-changed-a-review), but I might do an open thread for “Nothing Has Changed” if you guys would like that.
Atlantis gig? Bowie did a concert underwater??
Madre D. Dios, the legends are true.
Oh, it’s a fantastic show… but the guitar on “Big Car” is extra snarly (Gail?), and Bowie’s vocals are a bit more manic. The whole song just feels great here. The bootleg is called “Live At The Atlantis,” and the show was broadcast from Nassau in the Bahamas.
Ah, that clears that up. I thought you were possibly referring to a gig in Atlanta, Georgia and it was a typo.
Thanks! I wonder if it will answer some if the questions regarding the two versions of “London Boys.” Visconti taking over the reins held by Plati…
An open thread sounds like fun. I’m glad the reverse track order works as well as it does in you review.
Maybe it’s just because I was anticipating Heathen and therefore never really thought about it, but this starting to feel like the beginning of the end. Sigh.
When the news broke that Bowie had a heart attack and was seriously ill, Sky News covered ‘the crisis’ on-the-hour-every-hour with the relish of an impending mega-celebrity death-story. The background music to their coverage was Never Get Old.
I’m certainly not a “precious-precious” Bowie fan who can’t roll with criticism or ‘slagging’ of his hero. Anything but, in fact. However I did feel that their choice of music was heartless and deeply cynical. For a brief while it looked as if Bowie was on his way out, and I was genuinely surprised at how a British media flagship was treating what seemed to be the end of Bowie, in such a disrespectful snide manner. I’d always assumed that the UK would properly mourn his passing.
I’ll get down off my high-horse now.
(I love this song and I actually dig the mash-up. It was the first song I ever bought on Itunes!)
Wanna add what I didn’t have time for last night… the release of Reality for a long time was a special Bowie time for me. It was the first time I was anticipating a new Bowie record, as a fan of his. The excitement…what was it gonna sound like, what is he gonna wear etc.
And then there were the events, most notably the live cinema broadcast. I went to see that with mum (who’s exactly between Bowie & his missus age-wise)…and in many ways it was probably a better experience than the actual physical Prague gig less than a year later. He was healthy and full of live for one, one could actually see Bowie’s face, those who wanted could get headphones w/ a translator, bc. apart from music there was also an interview.
It pretty much made us feel closer to him than an arena gig.
The actual album then was totally OK, I was actually kinda relieved he didn’t try to like…I dunno make a techno Chinese opera or something.
I’m actually fond of erm…seasoned artists’ later work, and I have no problem with them…just enjoying the fact they’re a) still alive, b) able to write good songs, c) able to make a living doing something they thought seemed like a good job when they were 15.
I can’t say I feel a deep connection to many of the songs on Reality but I sure played the living daylights out of that album and I do really like most of the songs, Never Get Old being one of them.
Excellent intro to an album that’s always puzzled me. I’m with dm as far as not understanding the hate Reality gets. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the performances, the arrangements, or the production.There’s no obvious pandering, trend-chasing, or trolling for hits. It’s certainly not “pretentious” – which may be why it failed to stick with me. I generally like my DB music with a healthy side-order of pretension. It’s not at all surprising that the songs were dashed off so quickly; I assumed that most of them were Heathen cast-offs, actually. With one notable exception, even the highpoints are fairly minor Bowie. (Whereas Hours, flawed as it is, for me has more than its share of standouts.)
A minor work can still be enjoyable, of course, and Never Get Old is certainly a lot of fun. Over the years, before The Next Day was unleashed, I settled into the idea that Reality would be the final word from DB, and I sort of grew to like the notion of him signing off with lighthearted songs like this one puncturing the autumnal mood of the previous albums (with the closing number appropriately capping things off). I am glad we got to hear more, though.
The affinities with Lodger become more obvious with some of the other songs, but it’s something I felt too. To me, this album was like Lodger to Heathen’s “Heroes.” The former was always something of a favourite of mine, though, with a streak of mania that Reality mostly lacks. Better songs too, which is where the latter really falls down – the paucity of top-shelf songwriting.
similarly, Reality can be seen as the Earthling to Heathen’s Outside – an album for the live band of the predecessor, both of which have generally been more successful in standing the test of time
Yes, good point!
I don’t know if we’ll have a post about it today – ‘Tis a pity she was a whore is already available online.
The drums have a real 90s thing going on with them– as with Sue, it has a mild aftertaste of Earthling.
I listened to it twice so far, and at first I was slightly underwhelmed. One of the immediate deal breakers when trying to get into an artist is if I can’t hear their voice. That drives me insane. And this… is kind of on Janet Jackson level in terms of voice clarity. It ain’t no Visconti production.
Buuuuut, looking past that because this is David Bowie, I hit replay and gave it another shot. The best is extremely catchy, and besides being hard to hear, his singing does fit. It may not be a belter (I shamelessly love those), but it works for the song. I would comment on the relative strength of his voice compared to Sue or TND, but I can’t really tell. It’s a bit too muffled.
What’s up with that poor dazed and confused saxophone? It makes for an interesting layer, at the very least.
A lot of people said they didn’t like “Sue” upon first listen… I did, but perhaps I need to play this a few more times to really get into it.
(It also vaguely reminds me of his cover of “Love Missle F1 Eleven”, which oddly enough I heard for the first time on Saturday)
I don’t know exactly why, but this is closer to ‘Outside’ than ‘Earthling’ for me.
Funny Deanna, I was gonna say that the drums sound straight out of “Day In Day Out,” but are used in a way similar to his acid jazz material.
After listening to it another 34234 times today, I’m inclined to agree with you, actually.
A lot of Bowie’s later work suffers for his use of static, unchanging drum loops. The first minute of the song ends up sounding like the last minute, so there’s no sense of progression.
This song just sounds like someone stuck in traffic.
Sounds a lot like Momus IMO, with Earthing drums under it.
Not the slightest clue on the lyrics yet, but I like where Bowie’s going – between this and Sue he seems to be mining a rougher, harder seam than TND suggested at.
Quite a few people have been saying that this new song sounds like me. Don’t hear that myself, but I obviously love the idea that He would copy me after I’ve spent a lifetime copying Him!
This song always reminds me of Peter Gabriel, and so does “New Killer Star”. To be more precise, I’m strongly reminded of “Games without Frontiers”… Could it be that David spent the first years of the new millennium playing PG’s third album over and over again?
What an album! Melt is really the only PG solo stuff I can stand- very much an art-pop album in the vein of Scary Monsters (although presumable both were recorded ignorant of the other). It’s brilliant and nearly perfect (except that Mark Chapman song, which to me feels utterly trite)
There’s some crossover between the two artists via Phil Collins and Eno, Kate Bush and Lindsey Kemp, and Bowie has worked with more tenuous connections before, so it’s a shame they never got together. I feel they both could salvaged their Dodgy Eighties with each others’ support.
I think David made his feelings on the matter clear when he declined to scratch Pete’s back a couple of years back…
Well yes, I clearly remember when “Melt” came out, I thought: “So PG is doing a Bowie now”… But I never expected Bowie would end up imitating PG. (If that really is what Bowie was doing. It certainly sounds that way to me…)
I watched a fair bit of Gabriel’s most recent concert movie. As someone who loves a fair bit of his music, it is breathtakingly shit.
@StevenE That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
dm – “Snapshot Into The Light” can’t be a Mark Chapman song. I bought the pg album in June/July of 1980 and no one heard of Mark Chapman until December 8, 1980. But pgIII is an amazing album in a year of amazing albums. It’s still my favorite of that year as it’s managed to grow in stature with each play over the decades.
Surely it’s a Lee Harvey Oswald song?
Fuxi – Bingo. The elephant in the room. There were plenty of songs about the Kennedy assassination by UK acts. My favorite? “Seconds” by The Human League.
Well, this is a HUGE improvement on the last one. I’m so relieved it’s not just more of the same.
OK i really love it.
Seems like no one’s talking about it online though. It’s not seemed to pick up quite the traction of Sue, perhaps because of Sue. Which again I liked, though maybe not quite so much.
If this really is a demo, I’d love him to put out an album like it, of things knocked off quickly, though in a very different thread to Tonight.
I always felt that “Never Get Old” was, musically, a re-write of “I Have Not Been to Oxford Town” (which is in itself possibly a re-write of the The Rave-Ups’ “Positively Lost Me,” which was featured in the 1986 film “Pretty in Pink.”)
I happen to like all 3 of those songs, by the way, although (unusually for me as a die-hard Bowie fan) I think “Positively Lost Me” is the best.
I don’t know who will see this comment now, but there’s something worth noting about this song – and the whole Reality album – that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere. (Forgive me if this isn’t new.) As this post wisely notes, on its own terms Reality seems like an album with “tracks assembled like an Ikea table.” And on its face, it is. But much like Reality’s album cover is a false copy of the real photo of Bowie hiding in the CD booklet, I’ve wondered if the advertised tracklist might be equally false, possibly obscuring a more “real” one presented in the liner notes.
Reality’s liner notes give the lyrics to the songs in a different order than the official tracklist. “Never Get Old” is first, the most unreal statement of the album. Lyrics to every subsequent song are presented in a different order than the tracklist would suggest (except for “The Loneliest Guy”), ending with “Reality,” whose lyrics sit behind the CD tray, outside of the liner notes entirely. This creates a kind of bookending that the official tracklist lacks: there’s more of a journey, from embracing the false to struggling for the real.
I’ve listened a bunch to the songs in the order that they’re presented in the liner notes, and to my ears it makes the album a good deal more compelling, sonically as well as conceptually. There’s a bunch of neat effects: the off-kilter (but not jarring) transition from “Never Get Old” to “She’ll Drive the Big Car,” the roar of “Pablo Picasso” after a sequence of slower songs, the beauty of the underrated “Days” folding into “Bring Me the Disco King,” and the desperation of “Reality” grabbing us back to attention at the end and closing out the album on Bowie’s humorless laughter. Who knows if Bowie intended any of this, but would him toying with whether there’s a “real” tracklist be such a surprise, on this of all albums? Like the man said at the time (as quoted in this post): “Part of my entertaining factor is lying to you.”
Track Order from the Liner Notes:
Never Get Old, She’ll Drive the Big Car, New Killer Star, The Loneliest Guy, Fall Dog Bombs the Moon, Try Some Buy Some, Looking for Water, Pablo Picasso, Days, Bring Me the Disco King, Reality
I always had the feeling Never Get Old should’ve been the first track on the album! Thanks for sharing this.
A brilliant analysis, particularly in the juicy details of Mark Plati’s rivalry with Visconti and resulting departure, which I had never before heard about.