Bowibury, Album Open Thread: Week 4

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Some readers are listening to a Bowie album every day this month. If that appeals to you, here’s a place to talk about what you’re hearing. This is it: the last week.

Usual commenting guidelines apply: have fun; don’t be jerks, etc.

This week’s schedule is: Feb 22, Outside (and Leon, for purists); Feb 23. Earthling; Feb 24. ‘…hours’; Feb 25. Toy; Feb 26. Heathen; Feb. 27 Reality; Feb. 28 The Next Day and Blackstar for leap-year day.

93 Responses to Bowibury, Album Open Thread: Week 4

  1. ecsongbysong says:

    What a stellar set of records to listen to this week! Looking forward to hearing what folks think of revisiting them.

    But I thought I’d make a suggestion to fellow posters: maybe take a moment, if you’re so inclined, to wish our host a happy birthday tomorrow? I for one am pretty glad Chris was born — his work here has been a real joy to read, and the community he’s built is a great one. Thanks, sir. Hope the year ahead is the best one yet!

  2. Abby says:

    Happy Birthday Chris! Thank you for all you’ve done for us. I love this site.

    • Anonymous says:

      Happy birthday Chris. You´re doing a grand job in this pretty low period. We miss DB but r
      eading your blog gives me some energy.

  3. wytchcroft says:

    happy birthday!

  4. Peggy says:

    In honour of your birthday, bought the Kindle version of Rebel Rebel.

  5. Galdo. says:

    Hey. Happy birthday, Chris! Thanks for this wonderful blog!

    And I think everyone should listen to ‘Leon’. The best order is Leon Takes Us Outside / I Am With Name / The Enemy is Fragile. Wiil ‘Leon’ finally be released after all??

  6. s.t. says:

    May as well repost here:

    At the risk of sounding like a corrupted mp3 file, I will again note that, with respect to Bowie’s recorded output, the editorial apparatus of the compact disc leaves something to be desired. The later albums are mostly great, but they’re overstuffed. Surely Eno appreciated the merits of “constraint” on the creative process; he even took on the challenge of writing a 5-second piece of music that could be moving and meaningful.

    Well, probably against Eno’s protestations, Outside is one overstuffed release. Still, a testament to my fondness for the album is that I dare not try a vinyl LP length edit of the songs. I would gladly get rid of the segues, as well as I Am With Name and Wishful Beginnings. But every other song is essential. We’re talking 60 minutes of high watermark material here. A madcap celebration of the 1990s that nevertheless has the timeless feel of Bowie’s best work.

    Now, while I tend to also be against double-albums (Tago Mago being a rare exception), I am fine with bonus discs, or a double release of two distinct albums. So my preferred release format would have been my 60-minute cut of Outside on Disc 1, and “Leon” on Disc 2. Wishful Beginnings could have easily found a place within those larger experimental suites, perhaps somewhere in the I Am With Name piece.

    I am so happy that Leon finally got leaked in full. The music may meander, but there are countless moments of brilliance to be found, particularly in Bowie’s rambling. The “Enemy Is Fragile” suite is my favorite, just pure bliss from the Ramona’s exaggerated opening moans (“Life needn’t step on baby fingers…”) to the cartoonish yelps of “LEON, LIFT UP YOUR EYES!” at the end. It’s almost like a Bowie Beefheart album, just oozing with personality and a knack for the audacious. I still hope that Eno will take the lead on mastering an official release of Leon. Based on what Eno has mentioned recently, and the announcement of coming Bowie archival releases, it seems possible.

    • james says:

      I agree 100%. I’ve edited my mp3 copy to reflect this fact as well, with a second disc of the Leon suites and the segues as ‘bonus tracks’. I still have my old copy of hearts filthy lesson on CD, so was able to take the segue free version of I am with name from that as well. I considered my actions a little presumptuous and so felt unable to delete the two ‘duds’ from the listing, but despite their limitations melodically making repeat listening a chore they’re unarguably challenging music with Bowie embracing the experimentalism of his earlier career over how the music in question might secure him a deal with fucking Pepsi that’s for sure.
      I was wondering what other people thought about this in general. I’ve also reconfigured the track listing of ‘tonight’ –

      Bluejean,
      Tumble & Twirl,
      Neighbourhood Threat,
      Keep Forgetting,
      Dancing Big Boys,
      Loving Alien,
      Don’t Look Down,
      God Only knows,
      Tonight

      And also the unreleased Toy –

      Uncle Floyd,
      Afraid,
      Toy,
      Shadow Man,
      Hole in the Ground,
      Conversation Piece,
      In the Heat of the Morning,
      Let Me Sleep Beside You,
      Silly Boy Blue,
      The London Boys,
      Baby Loves That Way,
      I Dig Everything,
      You’ve got a Habit of Leaving,
      Liza Jane

      Toy wasn’t an official release (though was it Bowie who torrented it? It’s such a romantic notion, along with the Leon Tapes leak, so lets go with the myth and say yeah) so the track listing is fluid anyway. Toy’s far from essential but the newly written songs are minor gems and if Bowie had steered clear of the very early stuff like these lower Third revamps the label may not have balked at the idea so severely. Fun Fact! I think the version of afraid on Heathen isn’t that much of an improvement and if it’d been up to me I’d have put ‘When the Boys Come Marching Home’ in there instead. For me, that is the greatest of all the REALLY unnoticed Bowie material from the last two decades, that and ‘Untitled’ from Bhudda anyway. Let the flamewar commence.

      There’s only so much to work with regarding tonight, but burying the slower songs at the backend so the album has two more distinct sides; the first being the faster ‘Let’s Carry on Dancing’ while the second side is filled with the slower ‘Let’s Not Listen To This Side All The Way Through More Than Once In Our Lives Because Life Is Precious and this Iggy cover is the worst thing i’ve ever heard Bowie put out (at the 1984 release anyway) and oh my fucking shit is that a Beach Boys cover? Turn this shit off right now and put a prince album on so we can actually Dance’.
      I can’t claim that it improves the listening experience that much
      but I have always felt that Tonight, while it’d certainly be considered the worst Bowie album by many, might not have been so lambasted over the years if it hadn’t been followed up with Never Let Me Down – an album that, in my estimation, is Bowie’s all time low in terms of officially released canonical recordings.

      Brief alternate history; Bowie’s massively selling ‘Tonight, Today’ world tour (84-85) and the success of his Career spanning Best of (Nothing Changes – released 1987) meant that Bowie was feeling financially secure and comfortable enough to be unconcerned by his lapsed creativity and so barely troubled with entering a studio, beyond a couple of popular soundtrack contributions and a ghastly duet of ‘Heat Wave’ with Mick Jagger (who insisted Bowie only sing main vocal on the chorus), until the release of Tin Machine at the end of the decade mark his return to the scene with a new sense of vigour and purpose. Though Tonight is regarded as a passable failure in the following years, it is charitably kept buoyant in the mind of the fanbase due to it’s status as ‘an intermission or holding operation” to quote the NME.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Vinyl imposed a discipline that has been lost since the start of the CD era, and most late period Bowie albums reflect that. All of them sound much punchier when trimmed down to 40 minutes. The only problem is that it’s impossible to get any agreement on what the best 40 minutes of any album is!

  8. Happy Pisces day fellow fish [me the 20th]
    my vote for most unlikely [& yet perfect] Pisces: Mark E. Smith

    • billter says:

      I could do with a detailed explanation of why that is so, as I know very little of astrology outside my own sign (Libra).

      • Given that Astrology is more subjective art than a cut-dried science….to this interpreter Pisces suggests more a dreamy-mystic-behind-the-scenes [Kerouac, joe south] than stage-friendly lookatmeeee! rockstar personality–
        think Jagger, madonna [Leo] or even Libras like bolan lennon berry ferry glenn gould.
        [Bowie= a Cap. thru & thru: Ambition/achievement, T-I-M-E
        —sign of page, presley, barrett, parks]

        Re Smith– i dunno I’d have guessed to be a nutty-edgy Scorpio–think Manson, Young, Parsons, G Clark— maybe Libra, but then again, Pisces figures into the charts of many great generals. Super little book [likely free online] where these ideas are presented and expanded:
        Rudhyar’s ASTROLOGICAL SIGNS THE PULSE OF LIFE.

        fun little elemental list:
        Beatles= AIR Lennon Macca airsigns [think of all Paul;s bird-songs]
        Stones -FIRE glimmer twins firesigns [‘dont play with me…’]
        T Heads= EARTH david chris eno all tauruses/earth!
        VU: AGUA– Reed Cale and Maclise all Fishes!!

        ~have fun as i do with these notions but please take no offense, generalisations maybe seem brutal but exceptions oft arise in the human play of starstuff on earth

  9. AB says:

    It’s interesting how time has changed my perception of ‘Outside’, which struck me as an impenetrable album on its release, when I was 24.

    I’m on the verge of 45 now, and it seems relatively-conventional to my ears, and very tame by the standards of early 90’s industrial music. I suspect if the bloat had been stripped out to lessen digital listening fatigue, and the unnecessary cyberpunk narrative stripped away – since it’s largely-impenetrable – the album would have much more warmly-received.

    Particularly, having now heard Leon, which I love the first two movements of, the segues and character sketches seem even more irritating – a much-watered down version of a superior work.

  10. BenJ says:

    Happy birthday, Chris. Glad to see you don’t have a problem working with animals.

  11. Ramona says:

    Love this week’s selection. The Next Day and Blackstar will be a challenge for me though.
    Our man Bowie pushing the boundaries with Outside and then exploring the ‘inside’ landscape of his own personal and courageous journey through the quicksand of life. I’m bracing myself for what looks to be an emotional ride this week.
    Happy Birthday Col. you’ve given all of us a cherished gift with this blog.
    Oh, Lucy is the cutest.

  12. comicalArchitect says:

    Listening to today’s selection, I wonder—will one of the promised posthumous albums be Outside’s long-awaited sequel, Contamination?

  13. Jaf says:

    Many happy returns Chris, your writing continues to surprise and delight, I hope you have a wonderful birthday.

  14. tj says:

    Happy birthday, Chris – may it be a beautiful day and a wonderful year ahead.

  15. MC says:

    Happy Birthday, Chris!

    Some notes on Outside. The week after David Bowie died, I put his music into saturation play. (I listen to him a lot anyway, as my wife can attest.) All DB, all the time, Blackstar included. The one album I couldn’t listen to was this one. I couldn’t make it past the one-two punch of The Heart’s Filthy Lesson and A Small Plot Of Land. It wasn’t their grim focus on mortality that did it; much of Bowie’s music is pretty death-haunted anyway. It was how they sounded: it was too harsh, too brutal for just then.

    Listening to the album yesterday, with some of my equilibrium restored, I reacted the same way I usually do to it. I find the prog/industrial/Scott Walkerish tendencies of the second half pretty indigestible, and Garson’s contribution becomes too much of a good thing by I’m Deranged. I enjoy the unhinged quality the segues bring to the proceedings, though Baby Grace is the only one that really resonates for me narratively or musically. Most importantly, though, I would say that 9 or 10 songs on Outside are Bowie at very close to his finest. I’ve sometimes engaged in what-if speculation on whether the album should have been reduced to those standout tracks only. I will admit now that at some level the Outside experience would be less rich without all the excess.

    What else can I say? Outside is a great-sounding record. Dense as it is, a lot of the aural clutter you find on many of DB’s other late albums is here stripped away. (I would credit this to Eno’s influence.)

    The album finds Bowiemusic at its most extreme and playful simultaneously. It’s interesting, if you compare Outside to the earlier dystopian albums, TMWSTW, D.Dogs, Scary Monsters, and Tin Machine 1 all seem to spring from a place of deep existential angst: After All, We Are The Dead, Ashes To Ashes, and I Can’t Read all give the game away. The saga of Leon and Nathan Adler et al, by contrast, suggests a new capacity for playfulness. Dark as the material is, with a grisly child-murder at its center, there’s an infectious love of life and art at the core of the record. Thru’ These Architects Eyes gives the game away – one of the most joyous things Bowie ever recorded (and with a lyric with seemingly little to do with the art-murder storyline, which may be telling).

    One of the most thrilling moments on record: the slow vocal build to the triumphant singing of the title line on Architect. Another: the wall of drums cascading in near the start of Spaceboy.

    MVP: Carlos Alomar on I Have Not Been To Oxford Town. One of the great failings of Tonight and NLMD is the lack of a proper showcase for Alomar, one of the greatest rhythm guitarists ever. This amazing track remedies that situation. And let’s not forget Reeves’ contribution to ASPOL, and Garson on The Motel.

    Now, I’ve been slow to get to Leon. I’ve heard pieces of it over the years (and I really think We’ll Creep Together should have made the cut on Outside). My feeling now is, I’d like to save my close listening to Leon for some future date, so I’ll have some new/old Bowie music to listen to.

    And with that, on to the last 2 Gabrels albums.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I think from “Leon Takes Us Outside” to “I Have Not Been to Oxford Town” comprises a genuinely great DB album.

      And the rest of it comprises a very good one.

      I have decided to get the new double LP issue of Outside. It’s divided along these exact lines.

      Doesn’t seem possible to get right now though.

  16. s.t. says:

    Cue the big screen dolls, tits, and explosions.

    Outside was in many ways kindred to Diamond Dogs, so it’s fitting that Bowie followed it up with something that’s close kin to Young Americans. Both are interesting genre fusions with no theatrical component, both pop with extroverted energy, both are much more introspective than they let on, and both are fairly short albums made a bit longer via some padding.

    Earthling is easy to listen to, so easy that it wasn’t until I read this blog that I was able to tap into the deeper emotional undercurrents of its songs. I don’t love the hyper-glossy/hyper-busy production style; I feel that the industrial/d’n’b/techno stylings would have worked better with a dirtier sound. But there’s no denying that this era was an ace time for Bowie. He was bravely/recklessly trying new things, and he just glowed on stage.

    Fast forward two years.

    What have you been doing to yourself? It’s the last thing you should do!

  17. Stolen Guitar says:

    Happy Birthday, Chris! You’ve given us a great gift with this blog, one that we’ll surely be never able to reciprocate.
    Got the book and have found it to be indispensable; trains, planes and cars (well, I’m English, and that’s what we call ’em) have found me dipping in to learn something new about a subject I’d previously thought I knew well. Thanks, Chris, for re-uniting me with my first great love.

    On which: I have undergone a complete 360 on Outside, segues apart, which I still find tiresome and distracting, from my initial apathy towards it on its initial release. And, yes, I can see now why younger Bowie fans dispute the oft-repeated mantra that Scary Monsters was his last great record. Of course, Blackstar has now totally skewed that particular argument, but, nonetheless, Outside is a terrific record, especially given the paucity of greatness both preceding and subsequently following it.

    As someone else has stated elsewhere in this blog, even Bowie’s bad patches can very often be of sufficient quality and interest to rank with many other lesser artists’ peaks. And, as for Bowie’s masterpieces, like StationtoStation and Sweet Thing, well, there is no adequate or equal work to be found anywhere else.

    My problem with his post-Scary Monsters output was that I had felt betrayed by him. His talent, as it seemed to me then, was so obviously much more worthy and capable of far better than the actual records he was making in this period. I was 20-years-old in 1980 and the horizon was, and certainly felt, limitless to me then and I guess I thought it was for him, too.

    But now, 35 years later, I can see how unreasonable and impossible that expectation was; how on Earth could anyone have continued to burn so incandescently and reasonably expect to keep the flame alive? That run of 70s records is unparalleled and will, I’m sure, remain so for the rest of my life, at least. How could he do anything but taper out? Yes, there were moments of isolated glory- Absolute Beginners, Loving the Alien, Slow Burn, Heart’s Filthy Lesson, to name but a few- but the general direction of travel was now clearly downhill.

    Outside was, I now believe, a glorious Indian summer, which I freely admit to having missed in my reluctance to face reality and acknowledge the truth. So, I hardly played the record and grimaced during the Outside songs when he played them on the subsequent tour. The Outside show was great, though, especially the re-energised Moonage Daydream. But, it’s a never-ending source of regret that he didn’t perform Teenage Wildlife at the Manchester show; perhaps that’s why I gave him such short shrift at the time…?!

    It was hard, and still remains the case, to not compare all the post 1980 recordings and performances to the great canon of the 1970s. I know it smacks of conservatism and sentimental nostalgia, but he’d really lodged an immovable presence in my head, and permanently scarred my retina with my first sightings of him in his magnificent glory. I’d never seen anything remotely like him before and, the Sex Pistols notwithstanding, I was never to see anything like him again.

    So, unfortunately for me, Outside was given an unfair hearing and found to be guilty, wrongly as I now see with hindsight, of…what, exactly? Not matching up to StationtoStation? Well, what could? Not being worthy of the man who made the astonishing transformation, whilst on tour, let’s not forget, from post-Ziggy guitar glam to plastic, soulful young American crooner? Who else has made such a radical and completely unexpected change of direction? I could go on…

    I had such high and utterly unreasonable expectations purely because he himself had set them at such an unattainable height. For example, Life on Mars?, as far as I’m concerned, does what no other three-minute single has ever done: it gives us a glimpse of paradise before the fall. Contained within its gorgeously harmonic aural landscape, and its oddly bewildering lyric that suggest both unending vistas of sunken dreams and comforting realities of mousy hair, lies the fantastical promise that anything and everything is possible. Its illusory transcendence transports me, still, however fleetingly and tantalisingly, to the places where my dreams and fantasies reside. Listening to Life on Mars? in 1970s Manchester took me to unknown places with unknown pleasures, and when the needle scratched at songs end, I realised that grim reality could be delayed, and thwarted, and kept at bay just as long as the song played. The fall, of course, always does come, but surely even the briefest glimpse of paradise is better than none at all?

    So, of course, how could Outside ever match that? It couldn’t and didn’t. But that’s not its fault, nor its creator’s fault. And now, with a desire to re-examine both his, and my own, past, I’ve grown to admire, though not yet love, Outside’s brave representation of an artist’s railing against the inevitable and unavoidable passage of time and its attendant attritional losses. Bowie’s Peter Pan-like, or Dorian Gray, if you’d prefer, appearance and existence was always going to demand a Faustian pay-off, but he certainly gave it a good go whilst he was able to. Outside is Bowie revelling in his postponed middle age and making hay while he still can.

    The slough between Outside and The Next Day, with its own little moments of greatness, is entirely predictable, given how exhausted the muse must surely have been at that stage! But, with Blackstar, even the Devil was moved to abeyance, standing back in admiration as he allowed his charge the necessary time to complete one last great act before the leaving.

  18. nomad science says:

    HBD COL. This blog has taken my knowledge and appreciation of Bowie’s music to new heights and I can’t thank you enough for it. I have a birthday coming up in April and Rebel Rebel is at the top of my list.

    I don’t know what I can say about Outside, the album that was #1 on my reader’s poll. To me, it is a near flawless album, segues and all. It is more than the sum of its parts. Bowie does amazing things with his voice that have nothing to do with singing a melody. I love the meticulous, baroque arrangements and the balance of delicacy and aggression. The production reminds me of another album Eno played a part in (albeit a small part) and another favorite of mine, Slowdive’s 1994 album Souvlaki.

  19. snappyhapper says:

    Ooh, I wish I’d known about this sooner! As it happens, though I’ve been listening to Heathen, …Hours, Earthling and Outside on a loop for last two days, so I’ve inadvertently been taking part!

  20. Kilian Hekhuis says:

    I liked Outside when it came out. Though I didn’t care much for the naratives, the music was good, the concert was good, I was happy Bowie was still doing something he seemed to like. Listening to it years later (it’s one of the albums I don’t play often), it still stands, though it seems like Bowie entered his mid-life crisis and tried desperately to be one of the young’uns. Earthling, on the other hand, was not my cup of tea. I loathed jungle/D&B (and I’m still not fond of it) and wasn’t very partial to Bowie experimenting with it. I’ve grown into it though and find it quite listenable, even if it isn’t one of my favourites. That said, Outside and Earthling seem like Bowie’s last attempt to be relevant, the last time he tried to mimick or absorb the music of that day.

  21. Jasmine says:

    I just want to interject into the discussions to thank GAD, Garson, Slick, Russell, Campbell and Leonard for the Brit award performance tonight; genuine and heartfelt – Bowie’s band. Perfect tribute.

    A spotlight with no one in it, a montage of the man, his presence always there.

    Lorde nailed it & Annie Lennox & Gary Oldman spoke from the heart too.

    ‘I’ve got cancer, but I’ve got my cheekbones back’. Oh man, I’m in tears all over again, that was emotional. God bless you, RIP.

  22. s.t. says:

    There are many times when Bowie’s artistic trajectory threw fans for a loop. With the exception of Blackstar, my principal memory is from 1999, when I listened to Hours for the first time and wondered what the fuck had happened to my idol. Bowie’s shift from exuberant trend-rider to sad old man playing adult contemporary rock was really hard for me to take.

    Even now, I dislike most of Hours. Something in the Air is great, but the rest still come off as half baked (Dreamers, New Angels, Brilliant Adventure), or store-bought (though some of the remixes are nice).

    I now know that Bowie was pressured by his label to release an album at this time, so it’s understandable that it’s muddled and confused. What I’m glad to know is that there was some really great material from this time that wasn’t included on the album. Planet of Dreams, No One Calls, We Shall Go to Town, We All Go Through and (presumably, given the remake) Safe all would have made Hours a much more pleasurable experience for me.

    Even throughout the Heathen and Reality years, I wished and wished that Bowie would get his edge back. I like his more tuneful “neoclassicist” songs, but I missed the ambition and the fire of his best work. The Next Day certainly had some fire, but even that largely relied on a meat-and-potatoes rock formula. The lesson that I learned throughout these years was that Bowie was human after all. Who was I to begrudge the man for wanting to live his life, grow more reflective, more conservative, more nostalgic, and avoid the constant charges that the old guy was trying to hard? The lesson I learned was humility and resignation, not unlike those later albums, which can be quite pretty in their melancholy.

    But then Blackstar album came out, and everything changed. When I first heard this new batch of songs, I wept with joy, elation, and gratitude. Bowie’s fire and his edge were back, burning brighter than ever for all the world to see. And then instantly, all went dark.

    So it goes…

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with you s.t regarding Hours and Bowie’s subsequent “neo-classicist” years, which is why I get so ticked off with people who accused him of trying too hard to be down with the kids on Outside and Earthling (two great albums I might add), then criticised him in the same breath for playing it safe on later releases.
      “I just can’t get it right” indeed. I can see where all the angst came from. Very moving tribute at the Brits too. All involved including Gary and Annie did a great job.

  23. s.t. says:

    Oh, I hope my comment wasn’t eaten!

  24. billter says:

    So who will speak up for “…hours,” one of the less-loved entries in the Bowie catalog? I have a soft spot for some of the songs (“Thursday’s Child,” “Seven,” “If I’m Dreaming My Life” …even “What’s Really Happening.”) But I have neither the time nor the inclination to sit down and listen to the whole thing today.

    It was kind of a weird left turn in his career trajectory…like, while lots of middle-aged dreamers were imagining they were David Bowie, Bowie was pretending to be them. Was this Bowie empathizing with his audience, or condescending to them? I’ve never quite been able to decide, and today still may not be the day.

    • ecsongbysong says:

      I’ll speak up for it! Though I think you already have, and better than I could: I love what you’ve said here, and it sounds to me like praise rather than criticism. “While lots of middle-aged dreamers were imagining they were David Bowie, Bowie was pretending to be them” — isn’t that it precisely?

      I feel like part of the wonder of that record is the idea that this man existed in such a rarified sphere that it took an imaginative leap for him to express himself in quotidian language about mundane things. There’s that old story about Chuang Tzu waking from a dream in which he was a butterfly, and then not being sure whether he was a man who’d dreamed that or a butterfly who was currently dreaming he was a man. A quarter-century after singing about a man in the stars talking to teenagers through their radio receivers, Bowie had discovered in the internet a new medium he could use to talk to those same teenagers, older now, and he’d gotten it in his head to try to give them voice too in his music — with charming, often gorgeous, just as often deeply mixed results. In a way, this is another iteration of Thomas Jerome Newton, entranced and puzzled and seduced and lessened by exposure to mere mortaldom. To the extent that “falling to earth” is, in some Latinate way, “condescension,” the word applies, but other than that I find the tone entirely sympathetic, even envious of our ability to have experiences a starman will never know.

      Not that all that lasts, of course, given that “Hours” was also, until “The Next Day” maybe, the last of Bowie’s cuisinart records, a hodgepodge of concepts including the half-baked “Omikron” milieu and the crowdsourced “What’s Really Happening.” But I love unfocused Bowie: while all the press was trying to compare “Hours” to “Hunky Dory,” I found it much more similar in structure — haphazard, improvised structure, assembled from scraps, but structure nevertheless — to the infinitely-fascinating “Diamond Dogs.” Think you’ve got a handle on what “Hours” is about? As with “Diamond Dogs,” just wait ten seconds and you’ll find you’re wrong, and you’ll decide it’s about something else entirely.

      And most of all, as I get older and start facing the same sorts of existential questions Bowie was facing in his late forties — without, needless to say, having achieved even a fraction of what he did in the part of life that comes before that crisis in the middle — I find myself drawn more and more to his smart, sad, elliptical takes on the world. All this is to say, I adore “Hours.” I’ll defend it to the death.

  25. Galdo says:

    Back in 2013, I used to like ‘…hours’ a lot. I listened to it a lot. I was in process of knowing his discography. Now I find it a quite weird album. It has some ethereal daydreaming m.o.r. feeling I find myself still liking. I don’t even hate ‘The Dreamers’ and I like ‘Seven’, ‘Survive’ (especially the single version), ‘New Angels of Promise’, ‘Thursday’s Child’… But I guess it’s still one of worst albums he ever made.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Outside was always one of my favorite albums.

  27. Brian says:

    I encourage everyone to listen to this version of ‘Survive’ from the Heathen Tour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HE_KcQlbKo

    Sounds WAY better than the album version.

  28. sirsha says:

    Am I the only person wondering why Toy is on this list?

  29. Peter Benn says:

    To Date (from the last entry on Week 3):

    Tin Machine II (1991) – “Hallo humans can you feel me thinking? I assume you’re seeing everything I’m thinking”. It’s Tin Machine. Can’t say more than that – would I play it in full again = yes. More guitars reminiscent of Scary Monsters and a couple of non-Bowie lead vocal tracks.
    Tin Machine II was the second of Bowie’s albums to suffer from genital removal at the hands of the censors.
    For the American release of the album, the cover was altered to remove the genitalia of the four Kouroi statues – looks more disturbing!!!
    Summary – not brilliant, but good enough to play from end to end.

    Black Tie/White Noise (1993)
    * I Feel Free – finally made it! By that I mean it was short listed for Pin Ups (played live a number of times from 72 onwards), tinkered with for inclusion on Scary Monsters (on Vampires Of Human Flesh)
    * Black Tie/White Noise – I don’t like the video! Some ‘new’ R’n’B.
    * Don’t Let Me Down and Down – what!? Seems very out of place…has that ’80s sound (which I blamed on Nile Rodgers!)…but then after a bit of investigation, this is a cover..and the original music sounds the same!!
    Not wanting to be too harsh, this is the wedding album and this track is to/for Iman (from her suggestion to cover something from a tape she had).
    * Looking for Lester – sounds like it came from Absolute Beginners (maybe that’s the point?)
    Summary – Originally hit me as mixed up and lost…but, with more background (thanks to this site), it makes sense now, but may skip one of two tracks when playing as still not a fan of the title track and when ‘Don’t Let Me Down and Down’ comes on, it still makes me think ‘why has it got that 80’s sound?.

    The Buddha of Suburbia 1993 – “Shine, Shine, Shine”. This is one of the hidden gems in the catalogue. A really superb album – if you don’t have it, buy it, NOW!

    Leon (1994?)- play and listen = excellent. Not found it yet? Try harder – it’s a must have.

    1. Outside (1995) – born of the Leon suites, seems to be structured into ‘songs’ (maybe to please the record company?), but still excellent – although…Strangers When We Meet just seems to be stuck on the end and hence out of place Ah Ha! Just checked my vinyl and it’s not there! It is just tacked on the end of the CD.

  30. s.t. says:

    Not much that I can say about Toy, except that Bowie exercised good judgment in scrapping it as an official release. Shadow Man and Liza Jane excepted, the songs are pleasant but forgettable.

    So instead I’ll conjure a dream self-covers album that Blackstar-era Bowie might have recorded with Donny McCaslin & Co. shortly before he passed.

    1. That’s Where My Heart Is
    2. Bleed Like a Craze, Dad
    3. You Can’t Talk
    4. Girls
    5. Pleasure Man / Hey Man Get Papa
    6. This Is Not America
    7. All Saints

  31. MC says:

    Does any other artist have two successive albums with the same songwriting/producing team that sound so utterly different, not only in terms of genre, but in terms of tone, mood, haircut, everything? That’s Bowie for you

    Back in the late 90’s, I found Earthling an exhausting listen, with a few bright spots. Hours for me at the time was a refreshing contrast, with a couple of songs to rank with DB’s finest. Over the years, my opinion has modified somewhat. If there’s any DB album that I’ve changed my mind about because of this blog, it’s Earthling. I still find that, like Hours, it has a massive Side 2 problem, but the faults of the back half of Earthling (repetitiveness, lack of melody, kitchen-sink clutter) now seem less wearying than the issues that bedevil the latter part of Hours (weak melodies, thin production, will-this-do slackness).

    Reading the PAOTD entries on Earthling three-odd years ago, I gained a new appreciation of Dead Man Walking, a song that just never did much for me, and I grew to admire the nutty twists and turns in Law, which had always struck me as a skull-pounding throwaway. On this latest listening session 2 days ago, I enjoyed them all over again (while still finding both Telling Lies and The Last Thing You Should Do real chores to sit through). What really surprises me about Earthling is how well it’s aged, for the most part. Things like Little Wonder, which seemed dated the minute they were released, now seem remarkably sturdy and inventive, while still screaming 1997. Maybe it’s just that, to these ears, the nineties were a damn good period (for music, anyway).

    As much as I enjoyed the change of direction with Hours in ’99, I recognized its flaws. I have a friend I used to discuss the album with a lot, as it seemed another in the list of Bowie albums that were frustratingly not-quite-there, that could be great records with some cosmetic changes, just as I felt Outside could be reduced to 10 or so songs to its benefit. My friend thought sequencing was the problem, so he came up with an alternate track order. I don’t remember the precise sequence, though I know his version began with New Angels Of Promise (one he liked a lot better than I ever did), and had as its penultimate song The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell, in what we deemed the Queen Bitch/Sufragette City/Jean Genie placing. I think he felt that the strict demarcation of middle-aged longing and regret songs in the first half, with the “art” songs in the second half was the big mistake, that it hobbled the album and hurt its flow.

    I get what he meant, but over the years I’ve come to feel that track selection is the bigger problem, especially since I’ve come to know the B-sides of the period. Hours would definitely have benefitted from the inclusion of things like We All Go Through and No One Calls.

    Listening to Hours again yesterday confirmed my long-held feelings about it. Indeed, Side Two seems like a weary slog. People knock The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell, but I’d hate to think of the second half without it; it’s a jolt of energy, with a truly monstrous riff – the last Bowie-Gabrels blowout.

    On the other hand, my massive soft spot for Side One still holds true. I still maintain that Survive and Something In The Air rank with DB’s greatest: how passionate and wounded these songs are. Seven and Thursday’s Child are flawed by weak production, but they find Bowie the balladeer at nearly his peak. The best songs on Hours touch emotional depths that give the lie to the album’s easy-listening rep. Like Space Oddity, the record marks an uneasy transition to a new Bowie phase.

    Great Moments In Gabrels Dept.: the solo in Looking For Satellites, the dialogue between guitar and vocal in Survive’s masterful bridge.

    Underrated Bowie Vocal Bits Dept.: the ecstatic cry of “Sateliiiiiite!” in Looking For Satellites, Also, “I’ve danced with you too long” in Something In The Air.

    Next: Un album maudit

    • claws-on says:

      “the ecstatic cry of “Sateliiiiiite!” in Looking For Satellites”

      I’m sure it’s mentioned in the blog entry for this song but I love the way Bowie calls back to his backing vocals on Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” on this track.

  32. billter says:

    Before I heard “Toy,” I had a lot of fun imagining what it might sound like. But once I heard it, it was almost completely disappointing. “Uncle Floyd” is an interesting variant, and “Shadow Man” has some ambiance; but for the most part, professionalism strips away whatever ragged charm the old songs had.

    “Toy” is perhaps best thought of as the album that had to die so “Heathen” could live, like the twin that gets resorbed in the womb. Bonus, if you listen to them back-to-back now, “Heathen” sounds even better.

  33. fingers says:

    Until yesterday I hadn’t listened to “Hours” or “Heathen” since 2011 so I was hoping to find something in them that I hadn’t found before. Unfortunately they both sound so utterly dull, especially considering the preceding 2 albums (which I love to bits) so it’s very unlikely I’ll be listening to either of them any time soon! They certainly aren’t Bowie’s worst albums (Tonight & NLMD of course) but it really was a hard slog! On the bright side I finally managed to bring myself to listen to Blackstar again today for the first time since he died (I’d listened to it incessantly that weekend) and it sounds ever so good…

  34. MC says:

    I first listened to Toy two years ago, while it was being covered on the blog. I would agree with the general consensus that a lost treasure it is not. It’s far from DB’s worst album, but I would venture that it is his slightest album.

    With one glorious exception: I’ve come to regard Uncle Floyd a stone-cold masterpiece. I always loved Slip Away; to these ears now, it seems like a first-rate single edit/remix. There’s still room in my esteem for both versions, but UF is stunningly audacious. If Toy had been released at the time, I think listeners would have felt that, as opening track, it prepares you for a much more ambitious album than what you end up getting.

    As for the rest, Afraid is pretty great as well, though I would say the Visconti reworking with strings on Heathen is narrowly superior. Toy (Your Turn To Drive) washes over you pleasantly, and Shadow Man is the one remake that comes close to UF’s melancholy power. (I’m also partial to the original.)

    This leaves all the other remakes, and, well, I can’t work up much excitement for them. The other one I rather enjoy is Let Me Sleep Beside You, just because it works up a good head of steam. I enjoy the Beatlesque guitar arpeggios – a nice touch in the arrangement.

    This brings me to what struck me as I listened to the album today: much like Pinups, its main virtue is the showcase it provides for Bowie’s crack touring band. Even on inferior cuts like Baby Loves That Way, for instance, I found myself enjoying Earl Slick’s work in the outro. Garson is in good form throughout, particularly on the title track.

    On the other hand, I’m baffled by a lot of the vocal choices. The Do You Want To Know A Secret? harmonies don’t do You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving any favours, and what’s with the “Jimmy Jimmy Jim” stuff on Silly Boy Blue: they make this inferior take on Bowie’s greatest Deram song even more superfluous. Then there’s DB’s hushed baritone delivery of almost every song. I buy the notion that DB is commenting on his distance from the material, but his singing merely depletes the songs’ energies.

    In the end, I don’t know who this album was for. It’s pointless for fans familiar with the originals, and people unfamiliar with the old songs would wonder why DB is singing in that low voice throughout. It does seem possible, though, that Bowie needed to make this album (and perhaps Hours as well) to get to the amazing Heathen, tomorrow’s listen (one of the ones I’ve been looking forward to most).

    Toy’s unsung hero: Mark Plati. Say what you will about the album, but even listening to it on Youtube via my laptop speakers, it’s a remarkably rich-sounding recording. Kudos

    • tarff26 says:

      Agree with MC. Uncle Floyd is a masterpiece and I only wish that Bowie had stuck with the Toy version on Heathen. It’s such a beautiful song.

  35. s.t. says:

    What if Heathen had directly followed Earthling?

    Just a thought experiment to get me to imagine hearing Heathen for the first time, free from the baggage of Hours. I can’t say for sure, but I think I would have loved it immediately.

    The shift from genre-clashing technocrunch to simple traditional rock songs still would have been a surprise, but a nice one. The songs are well realized on Heathen. They’re simple yet powerful, chasing their melancholy with warmth, grace, and some humor. Not every song is strong, but they all cohere well, and the whole really satisfies as an “album.”

    Plus, Bowie hadn’t been nearly as generous with his singing on Earthling. His vocals here are often thrilling, from the solemn Walkeresque incantations of Sunday, to the soaring chorus of Slip Away, to his doomed cries in Slow Burn, to his plaintive croon in I Will Be Your Slave. Conventional song structures, sure, but magnificently performed.

    And the cover songs are great! The levity of Cactus and Spacecraft are especially important for the balance of the album. There’s so much to like, even the initially cloying Everyone Says Hi.

    …but, as it happened, it took about a decade for me to get past the baggage of Hours, to finally appreciate Heathen on its own merits. Not unjustified, of course. I was sensitive to Bowie’s artistic trajectory, to the narrative that he was laying down with each release. So the clear evidence of dodgy taste and judgment from 1999 made me suspicious of his continued reliance on tried-and-true rock sounds and song structures. I feared that he was settling into a holding pattern, one that many elder statesmen of rock succumb to: tasteful, bloodless approximations of their classic sound.

    Which ultimately was not true, at least not entirely. I think there was an over-reliance on simple rock songs in his pre-Blackstar albums, but he changed his lyrics and his tone quite a bit. And then there’s his final album, which shattered that holding pattern for good.

    The truth is that Hours/Heathen/Reality/Next Day were projects—not diary entries—but they allowed Bowie to deal with a certain period of his life. I can go back and listen to those projects now and appreciate them for what they are, without worrying about the larger narrative.

    • billter says:

      I find it pretty easy to imagine, as “Sunday” sounds like a direct segue from “Earthling.” “We will be moving now from drum’n’bass to something a little more grown-up and serious.”

      Except that from there, going straight to “Slip Away” would have made sense. “Cactus” not so much. I am baffled by the presence of all three covers on “Heathen.” They’re all kind of fun on their own, but make no sense in the context of the album. The remaining songs would have made a perfectly good record, maybe with “Shadow Man” added back in.

      In another era, “Cactus/I’ve Been Waiting for You” (Pixies cover/cover of Pixies cover of Neil Young) would have been a non-LP single, and that would have been a treat. As is, these songs sound anachronistic on “Heathen,” as does “Spacecraft.” The former would have been more at home on Tin Machine II, the latter on “Earthling.”

      • s.t. says:

        True, though one could also argue that Rebel Rebel doesn’t fit with most of Diamond Dogs, yet it really livens up what could easily be an overly dour album. This is how I feel about those covers (though of course they don’t compare to Rebel Rebel!).

      • col1234 says:

        i hope i made this case in the entries, but IMO the covers are *essential* to Heathen. and i’m The Guy Who Hates Bowie Covers

  36. MC says:

    Numbered in honour of Momus:

    1) I mentioned before that Outside was the one Bowie album I couldn’t listen to the week after his death. The one DB record I couldn’t approach at all was Heathen. In 2002, it was the 9/11 album. Listening to it today, it sounded like the Last Bowie Album, before the fact. Given what we know of Bowie’s passing, Sunday seemed even more eerie, uncanny. Everyone Says Hi seemed more tinged with sorrow, and Heathen (The Rays) seemed more haunted.

    2) Heathen was the highest-ranking post-Scary Monsters album on my album poll (#9), just beating The Next Day, which made it in 10th place. It’s not perfect; there are a couple of dullish tracks, most notably Slow Burn (still too much of a mere Bowie pastiche for my taste), but it flows incredibly well as a listening experience. For me, it’s the most consistent Bowie long-player since…well, you know which album. Part of this is due to Visconti’s return to the fold, but it goes deeper than that. My response to art is primarily emotional, and no latterday DB album has such an emotional impact on me in toto every time I listen to it (with the possible exception of Blackstar, obviously a special case, which we’ll come to in a few days).

    3) And why does the album affect me so much? Part of the reason is because musically and thematically it achieves something like the Platonic ideal of a Bowie album, the near-perfect fusion of the glam era and the Berlin/Scary Monsters period, without sounding facile or synthetic (Slow Burn maybe excepted). At the same time, it’s one of Bowie’s most nakedly personal albums. It’s Bowie embracing his past the better to capture the moment, the nervously backward-looking start of the 21st century, while acknowledging simultaneously his personal perspective as an internationally-renowned icon and a concerned husband and parent.

    4) While PAOTD was covering Heathen, I posted that the album is, for me, the 21st century’s answer to Hunky Dory. In this latest listening session, I found myself comparing tracks. Everyone Says Hi has been cited by some as a possible sequel to Kooks; I would say that the nearest equivalent to the tormented Quicksand is I Would Be Your Slave, and Cactus this album’s Queen Bitch.

    5) It’s worth remembering how diverse the songs on Hunky Dory are, within the dominant mood of introspection. The same holds for Heathen, with the weird, exuberant covers colliding with the somber Slave. It’s a lot like the wild contrasts on Side 2 of HD: the daft Fill Your Heart pitted against the scarifying Bewlay Brothers. It’s the Many Moods Of Bowie.

    6) Now, does Heathen have any songs that compare with, say, the masterful Life On Mars? Certainly not, though I would say Slip Away comes close enough for honour. But it’s the cumulative impact that’s important, the journey from Sunday to the title track. Hearing it today, I was entranced all over again. And I would respectfully disagree with s.t’s comment about a lack of edge. As on Hunky Dory, there’s plenty here to ruffle the smooth surfaces: the jabbing, agitated guitar on Afraid, coupled with one of DB’s most aggressively off-kilter vocals; the unsettling robot “breathing” on Slave, the metal machine rhythms on Heathen (The Rays).

    7) And I always hear something new when I listen to this record. Today, I found myself really enjoying I’ve Been Waiting For You, a track I’ve often found a bit stodgy. I found the attention to detail in the mix really stunning, while still appreciating the clarity and aggressiveness of the guitar sound.

    8) What a phenomenal album this is, one I never get tired of. Hearing it today was still emotional but a pleasure nonetheless. And what a comedown the followup was…but more on that tomorrow.

  37. nomad science says:

    I like to imagine that the concept of side 1 of ‘hours…’ is the long-haired singer/songwriter/entertainer Bowie breaking up with the short-haired weirdo/outsider Bowie, embodied by the Pieta presented on the album cover.

    For a long time I thought if this album as the Tonight/NLMD of the 90s, but I’ve actually come enjoy the very artificial-sounding production and the weird vocal effects. The sound is very much of its time, but as MC said about Earthling above, I feel like ‘hours…’ has aged well. The Outside trilogy never came to be, but to me Outside, Earthling, and ‘hours…’ comprise a y2k trilogy of sorts.

  38. s.t. says:

    When I first heard Reality, I thought it started strong but soon got dull, and that its production was too slick and busy. Now, I don’t know what I was thinking!

    New Killer Star and Pablo Picasso were punchy ways to kick off the album, but the truth is that Reality’s second side is far stronger than the first. As long as one politely waits out the Harrison/Spector cover, the streak from She’ll Drive the Big Car to Disco King is incredible. And while post-TM Bowie pretty much always had too much flanger effects, synth pads, and general sonic goop for my taste, Reality is in fact the cleanest and sharpest sounding of them all. I was so suspicious of Bowie’s judgment at this point, that my own had become quite clouded!

    Reality is the Earthling to Heathen’s Outside. A more energetic (but no less introspective) and clarified take on a more ambitious earlier sound..and also an album for his touring band. Some of the songs on the first half are not so successful to my ears, but at its best it is the perfection of his no-nonsense late period aesthetic.

  39. comicalArchitect says:

    Scattered thoughts on Heathen:
    The moment in “Sunday” where the drums come in ranks with “I can remember/Standing by the wall” and “Is it nice in your snowstorm” as one of Bowie’s most epically beautiful moments.

    Does anyone else see “Everyone Says Hi” as a predecessor to “Days” in specific and to Reality in general?

    In other news, I’m working on a secret Bowie-related project. Will give more information when it’s finished, which should be in a couple days.

    • s.t. says:

      I think that the song Never Let Me Down was a point of reference for both Days and Everyone Says Hi.

      Ooh, secrets secrets never seen! Color me intrigued.

  40. MC says:

    I used to think of Hours, Heathen, and Reality as a kind of “Twilight” trilogy, the sound of a veteran artist looking back and taking stock. The unearthing of Toy, the surprise release of The Next Day, and everything that’s happened since have obviously complicated that picture somewhat. Now it probably makes more sense, given their shared producer and personnel, to regard Heathen, Reality, and TND as a series, with Hours and Toy as preludes, and Blackstar a final shift in a new direction.

    But when you listen to the three albums successively, they’re pretty distinct in identity, for all their commonality of sound. We’ll get to The Next Day tomorrow, but Heathen takes the self-consciously backward-looking themes and aesthetic of the previous records to new heights, while Reality seems more of an attempt to engage with the present tense (with the title being the giveaway). Listening to it earlier today, it struck me more than ever just how much it draws from the then-current upswing in guitar rock, particularly amongst the fashionable New York bands of the time (The Strokes, Interpol, etc.), where its precursors drew primarily from DB’s past. And so, the autumnal tendencies of Heathen, Toy, and Hours are largely suppressed on this album. When they emerge, it’s often in the guise of self-parody (as on Never Get Old or the title track). The exceptions to the rule would be The Loneliest Guy (which always seemed to me a minor-key Heathen outtake) the eminently likable Days, and the magisterial closer. Bring Me The Disco King.

    I think most of us would agree that the latter is the album’s standout track. For me, it’s the one major song on Reality. Not that it’s a bad record by any means; even the relative duds, like the over-busy Pablo Picasso cover, aren’t really dislikable. It’s just that even the album’s highpoints don’t register that strongly for the most part. The stripped-down rock tracks like Fall Dog Bombs The Moon are real growers, and they do reward closer attention. Disco King aside, I think my favourite song on the album may be one that I barely noticed for years: She’ll Drive The Big Car has a nice slow build, and a terrific vocal arrangement, the album’s best.

    I’m completely with s.t. that Reality is the Earthling to Heathen’s Outside. For years, I was also fond of comparing the album to Lodger. While it totally lacks either Earthling or Lodger’s manic inventiveness, it shares with the latter a striking lunar detachment in noticeable contrast to its impassioned precursor. This is remarkable when you consider that many of the songs are fairly explicit responses to 9/11 and the Iraq war – a fascinating example of Bowie defying expectations. No Tin Machine hand-wringing on these protest songs, though it’s possible that a little of that ham-fisted Crack City rhetoric would have made something like Looking For Water more memorable, at least. (I think I agree that putting the Love Missile F1-11 cover on the album would have added some needed zip.)

    That same detachment finds its ultimate expression, of course, in Disco King, DB’s sad but dry-eyed accounting of his past. What a closer – amazing to think it was Bowie’s Last Song for so many years.

  41. billter says:

    Watching a Bowie video just now it occurred to me…after having his eye damaged in his youth, did he actually *see* the world differently? Was his vision physically affected? I don’t remember hearing this question addressed, though my memory is quite porous.

  42. Kenneth Holzman says:

    I’m going to sound off with a very dissenting take on late-era Bowie, a period which I particularly enjoy.

    I don’t like Outside. There are a few undeniably brilliant tracks (most strikingly “Hallo Spaceboy” and “Strangers When We Meet”), but most of it is the sound of Bowie and Eno frankly trying too hard. The “narrative” is a jumbled mess, and the sound matches it. I find Outside to be easily both the least interesting and least listenable of Bowie’s nineties albums, far less enjoyable than either Black Tie/White Noise (a flawed but ultimately better record) and The Buddha of Suburbia (truly under-rated, and sonically unique in Bowie’s catalog). It reminds me of Diamond Dogs, a few gems buried in needless concept and unrealized ideas.

    Earthling, for me, is a better record as well. It contains a few stellar moments (“I’m Afraid of Americans” is as good as anything he ever did, to my ears) and no true duds. However, the production puts it squarely in the middle nineties.

    More than just liking Hours, I love it. “Seven” – particularly in demo form – is (for me) one of Bowie’s most affecting tracks. “Thursday’s Child” features a gorgeous vocal and arrangement. “The Pretty Things are Going to Hell” is a fierce and convincing rocker. Maybe it’s because I was 35 when it came out, and experiencing a bit of my soul searching myself, but Hours really resonated with me, and I still find myself going back to it often. It’s not a perfect album, but it has considerable charms.

    Heathen and Reality continued this winning streak (for me, anyway), and are (to my ears) even better. Both are among my favorite Bowie albums. In my opinion, Bowie was on a great winning streak prior to his retirement, a streak which The Next Day continued. I hear a lot of people damning these records with faint praise, but to my ears, and in the context of my life, they hold up incredibly well. I think it is one of the joys of Bowie fandom that he gave us so many perspectives, so much material, with which to identify and relate, and fans can all love Bowie while disagreeing about which is their favorite. For myself, I find a lot to admire and emulate in this penultimate chapter as the starman falls to earth and learns to live with the past – both his own and society’s. Especially when combined with the various live releases from 1995-2004, there is a fascinating story here of how to reconcile and embrace all one’s past selves, and move forward in a convincing and compelling manner. I love this period of Bowie’s career, unabashedly and unashamedly.

  43. Andy says:

    I always loved Bowie songs on the radio but never owned a record til Rykodisc started the reissues; I was 16 or 17 and loved the box set and was in the store every Tuesday a new set was released. I went right up to Scary Monsters and stopped, though I had always loved Modern Love especially and Let’s Dance more or less. I didn’t really want to wade through for second-rate pickings, I guess, after that amazing run.
    I did pick up again with Tin Machine and BTWN (the latter of which I had a fair regard for), but after digging Earthling (strong tunes in first half marred somewhat by pointless trendy sonic clutter) and trying to like Outside (hey, Oxford Town is good!) Hours sunk it for me entirely–I checked out. I think I listened to maybe a tune or two for a second from Heathens and the Next Day but was not impressed.

    So, (preamble over:) I was already surprised and impressed by Blackstar by the time he died, and between those two things, went back and relistened to the four records preceeding Blackstar (plus Leon). I have only listened to Leon once but so far I loved two of the movements–it has the balls and intrigue Outside should have had. I was able to appreciate, to some degree, and in moments, Hours, Heathen, and Next Day. But I did not feel I had missed anything particularly. I would grab on to something, thinking, not bad! but then over time it would just seem okay.

    As I listened and relistened, however, Reality grew stronger as the others grew weaker. Persusing the song posts here, I was suprised to find it a bit underrated. Maybe I’m too much of a melody slut, but it really seems far and away his best showing during that period. And not even a bad song. I think if you gave that record a visual cover as good as that of Heathens, instead of the garabge it posesses now, it would be much higher rated! Seriously. But I’ve also always liked Try Some Buy Some, the Harrison version, and think Bowie’s version is fine, so maybe it’s just that I’m out of step. I usually am. The Bells is my favorite Lou Reed record, easily. But I can see why I’m alone there, and I can’t see why the respectable but largely bland Heathens or Next Day should get more love than the sparkle and verve (and hooks) of Reality, which seems to be for a lot of people the record Disco King is on and not that much more.
    Anyway, that’s my take.

    TL;DR Reality is for me the obvious superstar between Earthling and Blackstar, by quite a long shot.

    • s.t. says:

      The Bells is also my favorite Reed record!

      I’m about even on Heathen, Reality, and The Next Day. To me they all sport different strengths and weaknesses, and which one I prefer depends on my mood on a given day.

  44. Andy says:

    No, I’ll go futher–without raising it to the standards of Scary Monsters–recognizing that at the end of the end of the day it is just a nice, harmless pop record, breaking no particular ground–I would say that Reality is the best thing between Scary Monsters and Blackstar, easily. Maybe other records tried to do more and therefore deserve more respect (and to be honest I think time has actually been *kinder* to the jungle trappings of Earthling, but the songwriting tanks in the 2nd half), but it’s the most consistent and enjoyable record for me, and so in the end delivers more. And I think Looking for Water and Disco King give it enough coolness cred anyway.
    Speaking of that sort of thing, am I the only one who wishes Bowie made a whole record as great as “Seven–Beck Mix #1”? I wish he had been a little (lot) less MOR minded and more into crap like that.

  45. s.t. says:

    Now we are entering some difficult territory. Not just because we’re nearing the end of it all (I teared up a few times while listening to The Next Day) but also because we don’t have the benefit of a decade plus distance to really absorb and critique the newer songs.

    My opinion of TND has shifted a few times. Listening to it just now, though, it sounded fantastic. Not much on Reality actually rocked, except for the title track. That song was perhaps the starting point for many of Bowie’s musical ideas on this album, from the simple high energy rock’n’roll to the intentionally strained sing-shouting vocals.

    While I tend to favor more outre stylings over rock staples, the fact of the matter is that The Next Day has a great flow to it; it maintains a momentum of hip shakin high energy, compelling drama, and some of Bowie’s best lyrics ever. Perhaps most notable is the grand return of his nasty side, which was missing in action ever since Outside.

    I listened to the LP in its original form (no bonus tracks), and I have to say that I enjoyed almost all of the songs, even some that I know are lesser works. Heck, I was nodding my head to Boss of Me, which I had formerly named my one hated track of the album. When it gets going, it’s great to hear Bowie wail against that huge beat. If You Can See Me throws 70’s prog in your face with a similar smirk, but adds some nightmarish imagery for good measure. The only real point of deflation seems to be You Can Set the World on Fire. From the stiff Kinks riff to Bowie’s creaky vocals, it just fails. The rest soars, though. I never appreciated the album’s flow before today.

    Given the length and secrecy of Bowie’s hiatus, we’re not sure what was happening when he was writing these songs, but you really get the sense that he was raging against the dying of the light here, using haughtiness, high drama, and gallows humor as armor to steel himself against the encroaching inevitable.

    Speaking of raging resistance, I found it interesting that Tony Visconti mentioned that he and Bowie were unimpressed with the current popular sounds as they recorded The Next Day, and so they looked backward for inspiration. In contrast, Blackstar was inspired by newer acts like Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips (and of course Donny McCaslin). It’s certainly no coincidence that his final album was more musically adventurous than The Next Day, but perhaps it also reflects a deeper acceptance of inevitable change that Bowie had spent some time resisting.

  46. comicalArchitect says:

    Thoughts on The Next Day:
    This is arguably Bowie’s darkest album; over half of the songs deal with violence or destruction in some way (not what you’d expect from a “comeback album”). In that way, it’s also secretly one of Bowie’s most thematically consistent albums, for which it deserves to be commended.

    Favorite track: not Stars, not WAWN, not even Valentine’s Day, but Dancing Out In Space. Seriously, can we TALK about that song? It has one of the catchiest melodies Bowie ever wrote, and the lyrics (“to the city of solid iron”, “girl you move like water”, “something like a drowning”) are remarkably and beautifully poetic.

  47. MC says:

    Of all the Bowiesongs I listened to the week after the great man’s death, the ones that made me the happiest by far were the selections from The Next Day. Just hearing the grinding guitars in the intro to the title track, the wistful “As long as there’s sun” passage in the Where Are We Now? outro, and the “teenage sex” bridge in I’d Rather Be High brought me back to that exhilarating time 3-odd years ago when there was suddenly a new Bowie album, and the years stretched ahead of us all.

    And now? Listening to it today, I’m happy to report that it still sounds great, life-affirming even. I’ve come to regard TND as the end of the line of dystopian Bowie albums, beginning with The Man Who Sold The World in 1970. Like Outside, though, despite the mostly unrelieved grimness of the lyrical subject matter (as comicalArchitect points out), a remarkable joie de vivre still keeps bursting through. It’s in the joyous interplay between the musicians, the palpable excitement in the vocals, even the general what-the-hell attitude that surely led to the inclusion of something as daft as Dancing Out In Space.

    This listening session confirmed for me something I’ve felt since the first reviews of Blackstar were posted. I think it’s disappointing but understandable that so many felt the need to knock TND while praising Blackstar. It was probably inevitable that the former album would fall victim to the general cultural exhaustion with guitar-bass-drums rock once the first flush of excitement over Bowie’s return had passed. For me, though, the rock Bowie is creating here demonstrates, as indeed he did many times over the course of his career, that there’s more to rock than simple meat-and-potatoes. Songs like Dirty Boys, If You Can See Me, and How Does The Grass Grow? twist the guitar-band blueprint into wonderfully off-kilter shapes. Hearing them again, I was reminded of how weird they are.

    Then again, if you want meat-and-potatoes rock, the album offers that too, in the form of the possibly parodic Boss Of Me. It’s the essential paradox of the album form, especially when you’re dealing with an artist as eclectic as Bowie. Depending on which songs stand out for you, you could perceive TND as an eccentric Lodger followup. or as a basic sequel to Reality, and both could be true.

    More than any other DB album, TND is a veritable decades-spanning grab-bag of Bowie ideas, both lyrical and musical, yet it holds up remarkably as a unified collection of songs. One reason for this is actually the adherence to the rock-band sound carried over from Reality, which stands as the sturdy foundation from track to track. Hearing the record today, it occurred to me how in his late years, Bowie became a more traditional kind of rock singer-songwriter as opposed to the protean, endlessly transformative artist praised so effusively in the weeks after his death. What you see in the trajectory from Hours to TND is the constant development and refinement of a particular, traditionalist approach to making music that’s more in line with how most veteran rockers work. That being said, it’s remarkable, as I posted earlier, how distinct from each other this group of albums actually is.

    So, even as TND revisits and refines the guitar dynamics and some of the lyrical preoccupations of Reality (namely war, death, gluttonous excess, the 70’s), it also pushes things in a different direction. This record marks the return of the exuberant experimentalism of the Outside-Earthling phase, within the rock-guitar framework, in tandem with the bleak, doomsaying DB persona which last reared its head in the Leon saga. But what’s different about TND is how it works to conceal how grim its subject matter actually is. Valentine’s Day is a near-perfect pop-rock song with an irresistibly bright, jaunty vocal. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die is seemingly a “Gimme your hands!” ballad in the vein of Rock & Roll Suicide. Closer attention to the words in both cases delivers quite a sting in the tail.

    Listening to the album yesterday, I found myself once again in awe of its consistency and flaw. I would still rank Heathen higher just because of its cumulative emotional power, but I think the first 8 tracks on TND must count as the finest, and longest run of great songs on a Bowie record since…dare I say, Scary Monsters. (Only Outside comes close in that regard). The album stumbles a bit in the middle, but the closing one-two punch of Lonely and Heat packs things up on a scary high note.

    Some highlights before we go:

    The crazed touch of John Lydon on “They know God exists for the devil told them so…” in the title track

    The luxurious sweep of the acoustic guitars in Stars

    Gail Ann Dorsey’s wailing intro to If You Can See Me

    The thudding desperation of the last “What have you done!” in Love Is Lost

    The return of The Electrician at album’s end

    Great Moments In Sequencing Dept.: how the sax intro to Dirty Boys wrongfoots you in the best way possible after the rocking title song

    An endlessly fascinating album, deceptively simple in its rock attack, but with seemingly endless layers, and a wonderfully discordant, unhinged streak: could it be Bowie’s Exile On Main Street?

    And so, on to Blackstar…

  48. Gb says:

    I agree about TND having a bouncy vitality about it that I love, and that I missed, especially in TND and also Dirty Boys. I absolutely loved Heathen, in particular the title track, but alot of the later albums are so filled with existential angst and impending death that its good to know that it wasn’t all that there was. Its one of the reasons “Tis a pity” is my second favorite song from Blackstar….its comforting to think Bowie still had it in him, still have that sort of frenzied, almost erotic energy to him even in his last months.

  49. Matthew says:

    I must admit that this last week or so it has been difficult to motivate myself to listen to some of these albums. For instance I need to be in the right mood for ‘hours’ or else it brings me down, too melancholic. Toy, like Pin ups, the originals are mostly better but enjoyable none the less. Never having heard Leon before it’s going to need many listens but I might end up prefering it to Outside.

    The other albums are a mixed bag for me except Earthling, just too tiring to listen all the way through.

  50. verdelay says:

    TND. Insert your image of Bowie [here]. I remain convinced that the album and its plethora of bonus tracks was intended as a pick’n’mix for Bowie fans to construct their own version of the record. Bowie perfects his neoclassicism here, offering 24 tracks ranging across various incarnations (late 70s and 80s-heavy) with which the listener can do as they please. There is no ‘canonical’ album in this view, just the space in which you, the listener, can construct your own version of Bowie’s vision. Truly an album for the playlist era, nevertheless there remains an uncanny coherence across the extended set, both in sound and lyrical theme, so whatever incarnation your version of TND takes, it is almost guaranteed to hold together well. No mean feat. Fact is, you’re spoiled for choice as the selection is brimming with stone-cold classics. My 12 track version is a thing of wonder and I never listen to the ‘official’ version – that was just a sop to convention. On this basis, TND easily made my top 10 Bowie albums list. It is an extended work of genius, even if a handful of the songs don’t rock my boat. You don’t need them, and that’s the point.

  51. Matthew says:

    So to Blackstar, my first listen today since…. well you know. I’ll stick by my original assessment that Lazarus is the standout track, for me one of Bowies best ever performances. Blackstar itself so much to unravel. Is it me or is the citadel behind the village reminiscent of Labyrinth?

    The other tracks I’m not familiar enough with to judge though not keen on Sue (either version) at the moment and the whole album is too tangled up with events to listen to of itself. Time is needed to seperate out these threads, much time.

  52. s.t. says:

    So, the final post. Where the fuck did February go?

    I can’t say too much about the new album. I listened to it on repeat for a few days when it leaked, but once I heard news of David’s passing, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it until yesterday. I still only have a few scattered thoughts to offer.

    My reaction to the “Sue” single was mixed. I instantly loved the growling, churning instrumentation, and I liked that Bowie was trying for a more operatic vocal approach than he did on The Next Day. But despite the theatrical ambitions, his voice sounded older than ever. And the lyrics he sang just seemed odd to me, inappropriate for this grand cacophony. However, I was smitten by “Pity.” It had a B-side quality to it, but it was an amazing B-side. The weariness suited his older voice well, and the music was exhilaratingly intense.

    With the Blackstar LP, everything seems really well considered. I much prefer the new version of Sue. He owns his aged voice to the benefit of the song’s character, and the band is a joy to listen to. Bowie had remained a defiant fan of drum ‘n’ bass back in the Heathen days, so I love the idea that he put it into his final work. “You thought I gave this shit up? Think again!”

    The album’s sound is fresh and unique, but I quite like how it also seems to neatly reference all of his post-Tin Machine works. I hear hints of Outside in Blackstar, some Black Tie in Pity, some Earthling in Sue, a touch of Heathen in Girl Loves Me, some Hours and Reality in Dollar Days, and some Buddha of Suburbia in the closer. If his death doesn’t get people to dig into his deeper catalogue, I think at very least Blackstar serves as a solid summation of later-day Bowie sounds that casual fans and classic purists can appreciate.

    I guess the lyrics aren’t for everyone, but I love his brash and irreverent take on bleak themes. He seems to be channeling later day Nick Cave as much as Scott Walker and PJ Harvey.

    And in a similar spirit are those videos. Lazarus is so hard to watch; he used his own impending death from cancer in his last piece of art. And yet despite it all, he’s hamming it up for the camera, doing a little dance and furiously writing his letter. It’s wonderful to see him giving his all, including his humor and distance, for his last gift to us. The blurring of the lines between authenticity and artifice have never been as powerful or as moving as it is here.

    Miss you David.

  53. Andy says:

    I have but one quibble, really, with Blackstar; not even that. I just find the vocals that open the record, “in the Villa of Ormen,” a bit boring and feeble–all half-baked monkish mysticism. Which isn’t really surprising in terms of what has interested him over his life, but as a sonic component and performance does nothing for me. In fact it’s why, before the album’s release, I had shut the song off before even getting to the delicious middle. I can’t really hear the song, which I still like, without wishing that he had done that part in more of a Thin White Duke style, full of dangerous, mocking confidence. (It doesn’t matter to me how it might change the meaning of anything, although in any event I always like it when the sonics contradict or complicate the content.)
    In any event; to have a new Bowie record where I only take issue with one single aspect! Well, I suppose the nadsdat seems a little adolescent and uninteresting to me, but it’s fine and easy enough to get used to. Some of this album is just fine to me, but not in a boring or bland way, and there is so much to love. ‘Twas A Pity esp (“Man she punched me like a dude”). I love him singing about dropping his phone in the toilet (?) and “ain’t that just like me?” I love the humor and verve of it. This was a man going out swinging, with a mischievous grin, never letting the melancholy settle into stasis.

    • Andy says:

      Oh, also–I’ll raise the specter of the old cliché–it’s not only the best and most successfully artistically adventurous record since Scary Monsters, it’s solid all the way through, which I don’t quite find Monsters to be, even if the earlier record hits greater heights. I guess I’m saying, in short, he got in what is for me the first real artistic successor to Monsters in a way people either never thought he would or convinced themselves was happening every time…

    • Gb says:

      “I was looking for your ass” never fails to make me laugh….sometimes in the midst of tears.

  54. Brian says:

    I’m not sure when I read this, may have been on this blog, but I remember reading about how in the 70’s Bowie got a lot of compliments from his band for being able to get a song right often on the first attempt. I then read later that 90’s Bowie’s approach was that they would perfect the songs on the road and that the album recordings were like blueprints.

    I have to say, this change in approach seems to be the root cause of why his 90’s and 00’s albums haven’t been received well.

    Whereas his 70’s albums were perfect even if you never heard them live, his 90’s and 00’s albums take effort to ‘curate’. I’ve swapped extras with actual album tracks (‘Conversation Piece’ for ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’), swapped live recordings with originals (‘Heart’s Filthy Lesson’ from the “Earthling in the City” EP for the original), or just deleted bloat/filler all together.

    I never had to do any of those with his earlier albums. I haven’t commented on any of these later albums since my criticisms would mainly just be how I messed with each album. I will say that once I got them to how I wanted and under 45 minutes they’re all very strong albums (well, hours… becomes not bad) This takes me to the last Bowie album, Blackstar.

    TND was a step in the right direction, but I feel that he may have had some idea he would like to play them on tour eventually. Not so for Blackstar, I think the album excels because he knows he has to get them right the first time, so we get one of the strongest albums he ever made. ‘Slip Away’ is/was my favorite post 70’s Bowie songs, and Blackstar is an album full of songs of the same level of quality.

  55. MC says:

    Some provisional thoughts on Blackstar:

    1) I completely understand why some of my fellow commentators have had trouble listening to the album. For myself, hearing Blackstar took on a new urgency after DB’s passing, perhaps because I only got to hear the first three tracks prior to Jan. 10th, courtesy of Youtube

    2) And so, after getting my hands on the CD, I listened to it pretty much daily for the next few weeks, looking for answers. What’s amazing about the whole Blackstar phenomenon is how what seemed like Bowie’s most gnomic set of lyrics since Station To Station on Jan.11th suddenly took on a new clarity, in much the same way that the video for the title song was suddenly transformed from a spooky meditation on mortality with a daft humourous streak (and dance moves!) into something else altogether. Speaking personally, I’ve watched the Lazarus video a number of times, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to look at the Blackstar clip since Bowie died. I’ll get back to it eventually.

    3) Is it reductive to label Blackstar Bowie’s farewell album? Certainly, not every song is about death and dying. Bowie was always somewhat preoccupied with death anyway. And yes, Lazarus was meant to evoke Thomas Jerome Newton’s POV. Yet it’s hard to escape the sense that the album was intended as a personal memento mori, from the funereal CD packaging, to the videos, to the concept of a Blackstar itself.

    4) Listening to Blackstar in its entirety on Monday, for the first time in about 2 weeks, my reaction was the same as usual. It’s an incredibly emotional album, but the feelings of melancholy and sadness it generates are of a different order than say, Heathen’s. It reminds me of what Chris wrote in his posts on the latter album about the difference between taking stock at mid-life, and facing up to the reality of old age. In its darkest moments, Blackstar achieves a starkness in words and music that approaches something like terror.

    5)And it’s a conspicuously dry-eyed record, closer in spirit to Disco King than Uncle Floyd. Yet, as on all great Bowie albums, there’s a range of moods within it. It has two sentimental moments of great cathartic power that get me every time: the beautiful outro of Dollar Days, and predictably perhaps, “This way or no way/You know I’ll be free.”

    6) Similarly, despite the shivery aura around this album, it contains within it a real range of feeling. There’s all the oddball humour, for instance: the backing vocals on the title track; the trilling falsetto on the title line of Tis A Pity She Was A Whore; of course, “Man, she punched me like a dude” in the same song; “I’m cold to this pig and pug show” (?) in the ballsy, audacious Girl Loves Me.

    7) And of course, there’s Bowie’s new band. McCaslin and co. smoke on tracks like Pity and Sue. The latter is a particular highlight, considering how dubious I was when I heard it was going to be on the album. I’ve had mixed feelings about DB’s penchant for remakes, but Guiliana’s drumming alone pushes the song to a whole new level (and I love the original). The band rival the fire and precision of Alomar/Murray/Davis while sounding completely different otherwise. On this last listening, I found myself wishing that Black Tie, White Noise had been recorded live in the studio with a hot combo like this one.

    8) I also contemplated the album’s link to Station To Station. The albums don’t really sound that much alike, but the basis for comparison is obvious: small number of long tracks, with an epic title song with cryptic, mythopoeic lyrics. Taking it further, Tis A Pity could be a frenzied, late-period riposte to Golden Years, Lazarus a bottomed-out Word On A Wing, a plea for deliverance with no god in sight. The revised Sue could be a dissonant death ballad like TVC15, Girl Loves Me a dirty-Nadsat equivalent to Stay’s desperate pick-up spiel, and Dollar Days a minor-key revisiting of the doomed balladry of Wild Is The Wind.

    9) With a more epic climax, the latter could have been the album closer. Instead, one more track. I Can’t Give Everything Away is for me the relative weak link on the album, but it’s a fascinating closer. It’s a teasingly unresolved song, and it gives the album a surprisingly open ending. It also has Blackstar’s most obvious case of pastiche. Many people have commented on the New Career In A New Town harmonica; also, the backing track always reminds me of the wall of synths on Thursday’s Child.

    10) Did I say that the title song is an absolute masterpiece? It’s too soon to talk about rankings, but it would certainly place high in my personal Best-Of-Bowie lists in years to come. As would the album. And what a contrast to The Next Day: pared down and fat-free where TND is sprawling and almost amiably uneven in places. Did Bowie sign off with a great album. Most definitely.

    I look forward to talking more about Blackstar in the year ahead. Cheers, everyone.

  56. This is... that was... says:

    Blackstar: an album designed to haunt you forever. Many earworms and memorable lines. Considering this was his farewell I admire that wicked sense of oportunity. “Yeah, my last last album will be like my holy ghost, coming to visit you when I’m not around anymore”… Genius.

    • Jasmine says:

      You’re right about it being a haunting album and the tunes are real ear-worms. But I just don’t get that Bowie intended it to be his last; there are more demo’s out there and some of the lines are true Bowie-isms – open to much interpretation.

      Best example I have right now is from Dollar Days and is this:
      If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, It’s nothing to me, It’s nothing to see

      Evergreen has several meanings and although I cried when I heard it thinking ‘oh he can’t come back to England’, I’m starting to wonder…
      It can mean plants, always self-renewing, continually up to date and also is a banking mechanism and Bowie didn’t like his ex-business managers much. The next verse I think is telling:

      I’m dying to
      Push their backs against the grain
      And fool them all again and again
      I’m trying to
      We bitches tear our magazines
      Those Oligarchs with foaming mouths come
      Now and then
      Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you
      I’m trying to
      I’m dying to

      I don’t know but think it was standard Bowie word-play? Does any one else have a view on that?

    • verdelay says:

      My view is that it is likely Bowie knew he was dying but didn’t know how long he had left. A month? A year? Blackstar is preoccupied not only with death itself and his own legacy (the two singles), but with the domestic and emotional realities of having a terminal illness. ‘Pity’, ‘Sue’, ‘Girl’ and the final couplet all struggle with the notion of acceptance in some way. Everyday life continues, but the world has taken on a different hue. Blackstar as an album is, at its heart, an account of that time in his life. I take both ‘Pity’ and ‘Sue’ to be about the shock of a terminal diagnosis, and ‘Girl’ to be an account of the side effects of whatever therapy (or pain relief) he was undertaking. This is all speculation, obviously. Sue is particularly gnomic, but hints at these themes to me. I doubt very much that when the record was in the can Bowie would have thought to himself, ‘well that’s that, then, legacy sorted’ and settled down to die; far more likely that he moved on to the next thing. But he must have known that his life would at some point be overtaken, and that Blackstar might well be his last roll of the dice.

      And what a roll.

      Double six.

  57. Stolen Guitar says:

    Blackstar is the last masterpiece. To have made a record like this, in the midst of dying, a record very specifically about death, is really quite remarkable.

    I can’t really say why, well, apart from the obvious fact of the album’s release and its author’s death very closely corresponding, but this whole record really moves me like no other since his 70s output. It always reduces me to tears at any given point during its playing and I can’t stop playing it, too. Yes, his death has affected me profoundly but it’s more than that. I think I’ll always want to play this record, long after this prolonged period of grieving has passed.

    Every song is great and worthy of being his last, if, indeed, that will prove to be the case, mark on our consciousness. And Lazarus defies belief; could there be a more apt and fitting requiem than that? Especially when allied to its heartbreaking video?

    I think Blackstar would have been highly regarded, regardless of his passing away; it was a welcome return to form and proof, not that we here ever needed it, that our David Bowie was very different to all the rest. We always knew that, and so did he, but this was him reminding us that class is permanent. Christ, it’s even made me go back to his loss of form period to see if I was wrong about Tonight and Never Let Me Down. Well, I wasn’t but it’s made me marvel even more that those two records and this last one were all made by the same man.

    Ironically, I think he does give everything away on Blackstar, and, for that, we should all be grateful.

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