Plan

plan

Plan.

Starting life as a hard-hit snare and kick pattern played by Zachary Alford, “Plan” was toyed with throughout the Next Day sessions, with Bowie pasting in guitar dubs, shaker and cowbell (?) garnishes and organ drones that sound as though he’d heard a few Yo La Tengo records during his retirement. While Bowie would work the drum pattern into another track, “The Informer,” he also released the instrumental as “Plan” on the Next Day‘s “deluxe” release.

For what essentially was a studio sketch given a major-league promotion, “Plan” breathes well and creates an unsettled mood in its simple structure: its organ drones build in crescendo three times, at first dominating the mix to the point of distortion, then becoming the undertow of a guitar loop. The last organ sequence gets more overdubs (and seems to slightly go out of phase), with an eerie wailing quality, then it’s sharply faded as the guitar signals for another scene-change. “Plan” was aptly titled: a blueprint for a song that never would be.

Recorded: (drum track) 3 May-ca. 15 May 2011, The Magic Shop, NYC; (overdubs) spring-fall 2012, Magic Shop; Human Worldwide, NYC. Released on 8 March 2013 on The Next Day: Deluxe Edition.

Top: Michael Tapp, “Walking Rush Hour,” NYC, October 2012.

28 Responses to Plan

  1. humanizingthevacuum says:

    So it’s Bowie playing everything except drums?

  2. Mike says:

    Seems he found a nice use for it in the ‘Stars…’ video.

  3. Dave L says:

    Really nice little bit of cinema music …

  4. roobin101 says:

    You get just a hint as to what it must have been like working on a Bowie album back in the day. You do several days jamming over a set of chords then go away and six months later find out it was a song about a little girl with grey eyes or an unrecognised angel or even that the song had no lyrics all along.

    You can ‘hear’ lots of music in this, but of course it never arrives. This has tonnes of tension though, almost the opposite of The Stars…

  5. billter says:

    In my custom version of “The Next Day,” this is the leadoff track. It serves as a nice overture (much as it did in the “Stars” video).

  6. s.t. says:

    The Quietus preview of this album talked “Plan” up quite a bit, comparing it to Low era instrumentals, so it was doomed to disappoint me. Still, it’s a fine B-side, and works well as the intro to the Stars video. I think it would have been even stronger if were abbreviated and used as a lead-in to the track proper, “Informer.”

  7. Momus says:

    1. Releasing instrumentals is quite an odd thing for a certain kind of artist to do, and Bowie is that “certain kind of artist”: a singer-songwriter, basically, word-, story- and concept-oriented. Has Elton John ever released an instrumental? Has Rod Stewart? Al Stewart?

    2. Sure, there’s an entirely mainstream British tradition of “songs” like Apache, Telstar and Popcorn that let the instruments do the talking. Not to mention Jean-Michel Jarre over in France, or the “head music” of Germans like Tangerine Dream and Harmonia.

    3. The reason Bowie started releasing instrumentals in the late 1970s is basically Brian Eno. Even Eno, on his first two solo albums, had stuck to songs. It wasn’t until 1975’s Another Green World that he started integrating songs and instrumentals on the same record. This is the template Bowie is embracing, and it’s part of his embrace of Eno, who is basically bringing a German sensibility.

    4. It’s hard to remember how radical it seemed at the time to mix songs and instrumentals in this way. Low was greeted, both at RCA and in some parts of the press, as a record which Bowie had neglected — through sheer laziness and insolence — to finish. And it was astounding for me, at my first Bowie concert in 1978, to see the man come out on stage and play a slow electronic instrumental. It was a sharp poke in the eye to populism, a daring blow for an almost-elitist eclecticism.

    5. Of course, this isn’t the case. What instrumentals usually do is shift the focus from story to texture. Instrumental hit singles spotlight sonic innovation — the twangy guitar sound on Apache, the dry, percussive synth on Popcorn. To move towards instrumentals is to signal an interest in novelty and innovation; think of Revolution 9 on The White Album, and how it flagged its authors’ awareness of Pierre Henry and Stockhausen.

    6. Far from saying “I’ve got nothing”, an instrumental of this kind says “I’ve got links to this and that”, or “I’m interested in experimentation and progression of the medium”, or “I’m arty and restless”, or even just “Bloody hell, just listen to this without me jabbering away over the top of it!”

    7. It was an important move to make in the late 1970s, when the arrival of Punk and New Wave acts threatened to sweep away anyone relying on old formulae. Bowie-Eno’s “new music night and day” was a way for them to stake a claim to continuing relevance.

    8. And although the instrumentals on Low aren’t really saying “I’ve got nothing” or “Sorry, couldn’t finish this one!” — they’re more manifestos for a mild-mannered experimentalism — there is some nice play with the idea of hollowness and inner emptiness. The drums sound hollow, there are no voices, the titles allude to constant wanderings and travel and impermanence, because these are themes of Low’s lyrics too, schizoid themes of detachment, inner emptiness, and failed attempts to connect with others. (It’s worth remembering that Thomas Jerome Newton’s record The Visitor is also entirely instrumental, and also an attempt — doomed, because we know the family it’s intended for has died — at emotional connection.)

    9. I like Plan well enough, though it clearly doesn’t have the charm of something like A New Career in a New Town or Speed of Life. It seems to be part of The Next Day’s general strategy of light nudging: it serves to remind the listener of Brand Bowie’s forays into instrumentals in the late 70s. So we have the big, hollow drums and some strategic uncertainty in the chords, resolving towards the end into something tranquil (the angelic synthetic voices at the end, which evoke the otherworldly tranquility of Amon Düül).

    10. Instrumentals might token experiments, and a “plan” might be a manifesto, but this Plan is actually the opposite. Instead of looking forward and stepping into the unknown, it’s looking backwards, evoking past explorations. It’s like setting off on a hike into an unknown landscape only to find ourselves on a well-worn path. Which can also be a pleasure, of course. The unknown isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    • Anonymous says:

      Point 8 – is there any linkage here to No Plan, from Lazarus (Thomas Jerome Newton take 2), or is the naming just a coincidence?

  8. Deanna says:

    Bowie can stretch and break limits very well, and I imagine we’ll still get some of that out of him. But the one thing he absolutely cannot do is escape comparisons to his past work. Nothing he will ever put out (or has put out in a great long while) will be free of that, no exceptions. Most artists have that “problem” (is it a problem? I think so), but Bowie seems to be stuck with it in a particularly intense way.

    “Plan” has no vocals, of course, so it’s hard to find a thesis statement, so to speak. For whatever reason though I always perceive this track as an acknowledgement to these persistent comparisons. It’s got enough subtle hints to his other instrumentals to bring about comparisons on purpose, so as hard as the drum may try, it can’t hide any of it…especially at the end.

    If that makes sense, I dunno.

    I think the track was used extremely well at the beginning of the “The Stars…” video. It really screams “opening credit music!” to me now.

    • Steve Mallarmy says:

      Well, you only get to make your first big statement once, and then after that whatever you do will be compared with whatever you’ve done. That was the case even in Bowie’s canonical phase. If you look at contemporaneous reviews of Station To Station or the Berlin albums, for example you’ll see a lot of comparisons with Bowie’s previous work.

      I guess the difference is whether people think you are progressing/regressing within a still-building oeuvre, or whether that oeuvre is now finished, and whatever you’re doing is simply some sort of additional riff on it. The latter has essentially been Bowie’s problem since at least the mid-eighties, where almost everything he’s tried has been some kind of counterpoint to his 70s work. The Next Day does embrace that dilemma, making pretty explicit references to his past – I think it shares that with the ‘Toy’ project.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        I personally think it’s more interesting and useful to try to hear each bit of work by an artist – Bowie or anyone else – on its own terms rather than comparing it to some earlier bit of work, and then potentially blaming it for not being that work.

        It just strikes me as unfair that long-lived artists are expected to compete with their younger selves. It distorts one’s perception of the later work.

        And it takes only a conscious flip of a switch in the mind to avoid doing that.

        As for the instrumental, it’s likeable but it’s hard for me to hear it as anything other than a prelude to something else. Maybe because of that video.

      • Momus says:

        It just takes a conscious flip of a switch in the mind to stop hearing Plan as a prelude to anything else, Mr Tagomi!

      • Me Tagomi says:

        Good point…

  9. Nervous Ned says:

    I’ll defend it; Easily one of my favourites from an album that continues to disappoint me. It sounds effortless as opposed to more or less all of the other tracks, where I get the feeling that David is really straining to come up with a ‘hit’ album. Sure, I’m falling into the trap of appearing to know what a Bowie album should sound like. But I’ve tried and tried to like TND and it does little for me.

    • Michael says:

      Why would he want or need a ‘hit’ album though? I feel it’s more about responding to the tensions evident throughout his career of wanting to be both an artist and popular. Where an ‘arty’ phase would alternate with a more ‘commercial’ phase in the past, by TND you get them in one album (in as much as it is one album). Years ago someone said Scary Monsters seemed like a greatest hits album of new songs (in a good way) and TND is a bit like that too, although with even more conscious self-reference and quotation.

  10. Maj says:

    One of my fave Bowie instrumentals, to be frank.
    And it works really well in the Stars video, indeed.

  11. Nick says:

    There’s absolutely no evidence that Bowie was angling for TND to be a massive commercial success or to achieve “hit album” status. He’s said it time and time again that he feels the need to please nobody but himself.

    Plan is a wonderfully “metallic” track that’s stuffed full of menace and impending doom… pure Bowie.

  12. Nervous Ned says:

    Well, in my defence I did write ‘I get the feeling’. Evidence? Well, for a person who was not in the least worried about getting a ‘Hit’ he sure went to a lot of effort to attain the maximum amount of exposure for the album.
    And lets face it, with the exception of ‘Heat’ the album is hardly challenging. Nothing wrong with that of course, just not for me at this point in time.

  13. billter says:

    I agree that Bowie certainly put a lot of effort into pushing this album – it may be that he “feels the need to please nobody but himself,” but having come up with some material that pleased him, wanted to make sure that as many people as possible heard it.

    He may not be looking for hits – and what’s a hit record anymore, anyway? – but he’s after relevance, at least. It’s not easy for an older artist to get traction these days, and the marketing surrounding TND was perfectly calibrated – the surprise announcement and the videos, some gentle hype here and there, and the Bowie mystique did the rest.

    I don’t agree though that TND is not challenging. It’s very dark and loud; not avant-garde exactly, but not what we used to call “radio-friendly” either. If David wanted maximum market penetration at all costs, he would have done another Major Tom song, or some kind of sequel to “Changes.”

  14. MC says:

    A fragment, perhaps, but a strangely evocative one. One of the best bonus tracks, IMO.

  15. Reminds me of Blancmange’s “Sad Day” (from, what, 1982?) – the guitar does, anyway.

  16. crayontocrayon says:

    It would sit nicely with his other instrumental work. Expect ‘All-saints expanded deluxe collectors edition’ some time before 2020. I’m surprised it didn’t make the main album but perhaps that would be too typically Bowie and it didn’t turn out too well the last time he did it with Brilliant Adventure.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Every time it starts I think it’s “New Angels Of Promise.”

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