Trollheart's Album Discography Reviews: David Bowie - Music Banter Music Banter

Go Back   Music Banter > The MB Reader > Album Reviews
Register Blogging Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read
Welcome to Music Banter Forum! Make sure to register - it's free and very quick! You have to register before you can post and participate in our discussions with over 70,000 other registered members. After you create your free account, you will be able to customize many options, you will have the full access to over 1,100,000 posts.

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 01-14-2022, 06:44 AM   #11 (permalink)
Call me Mustard
 
rubber soul's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2017
Location: Pepperland
Posts: 2,290
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
the song is a mid-paced hard rocker whose melody owes rather a lot to Robert Palmer's “Addicted to Love”,

That's an interesting thought considering Addicted To Love was released five years after Scary Monsters.
__________________
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pet_Sounds View Post
But looking for quality interaction on MB is like trying to stay hydrated by drinking salt water.
rubber soul is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-14-2022, 11:16 AM   #12 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 25,816
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by rubber soul View Post
That's an interesting thought considering Addicted To Love was released five years after Scary Monsters.
Not in my private universe it wasn't. I choose to believe what I was programmed to believe! Ok ya got me.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 02-02-2022, 05:20 PM   #13 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 25,816
Default



Heathen (2002)

Seen as Bowie's comeback album after a patchy period from 1984 onwards, Heathen was his biggest selling album for almost twenty years, and features some star guests such as Dave Grohl, Jordan Rudess and the legendary Pete Townshend performing on some of the songs. Although frequently linked with the attacks on New York in September 2001, Bowie has categorically denied any such link, at least any deliberate link, advising that all the songs were written before the attacks. His denial has not stopped critics lauding it though as perhaps as big a musical influence on 9/11 as Springsteen's The Rising.

You don't often find cover versions on Bowie's albums, but Heathen has three, of which more as we get to them. For now, the album opens on “Sunday”, a nice gentle easing into the album, with deep synth backing and Bowie's clear and unmistakable voice as ever in perfect nick. It's a very understated opening, almost a prequel to the album, and there's some weird but very effective sounds which I think may be an omnichord in the background, keeping pace with the synth. The drums come in hard right at the end, and the song then fades out too quickly I feel: just as it was getting going. Next one up is one of those covers I was talking about. It's the Pixies' “Cactus”, with acoustic guitar, little reminiscent of the arrangement for “Starman” before it picks up and electric kicks in, dramatic organ getting in on the act too. I'm not that familiar with the Pixies' work, but the song sounds ok. I'm not sure why an artiste of Bowie's calibre needs to include cover versions on his albums, but there you go. Maybe he likes the band.

Things slow down again and get all Eno-atmospheric for “Slip Away”, the longest track on the album at just over six minutes, with a very Ziggy-like vocal, nice Waits-style acoustic piano, choral vocals backing the thin white duke. This comes across to me as a very Roger Waters-era Floyd song, like maybe something out of The Final Cut, and it has a nice gentle but dramatic feel to it. Pete Townshend shows up to play some fine guitar on “Slowburn”, ironically a more uptempo track, and indeed the first fast one (of his own) on the album so far. There's a soul/jazz feel to this, created in part by the Borneo Horns, consisting of Lenny Picket, Stan Harrison and Steve Elson.

“Afraid” has a kind of fifties rock guitar with some nice keyboard work from Jordan Rudess, and some lovely strings, and is the second uptempo track, very catchy. It's Dave Grohl then who straps on the strat for Neil Young's “I've Been Waiting for You”, a mid-paced hard rocker with Bowie in more “Diamond Dogs” voice, then “I Would Be Your Slave” bops along in a slower, more stately vein with some beautiful violin and viola (there are two violinists and one viola player on the album, and a cellist) and some programmed drums which really suit the song. Things change totally then for the last cover, “I Took a Trip On a Gemini Spaceship”, by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, a huge influence on Bowie's early career, and instrumental in the creation of Ziggy Stardust. The Borneo Horns are back in town, and there's some pretty good funky guitar too, lots of spacey sound effects and a very seventies disco feel to the song, though I think it may be from the sixties: can't confirm that though.

There's a slowing of pace then for the somewhat introspective (I know: one of my favourite words! Buy a thesaurus: I have one, but I don't like using it as it runs the batteries down!) “5:15 the Angels Have Gone” with some very “In the Air Tonight”-style moaning keyboards from Rudess, and some gentle piano. The pace kicks up a little then for the semi-balladic “Everyone Says Hi”, with some really smooth strings arrangements, Bowie's voice very soft and restrained in a musical postcard song, and “A Better Future” is a pleasant rock/pop song, with bright, happy keyboards, an infectious bassline and again Bowie singing in a sort of intoned way. The album then ends on the title track, and “Heathen (The Rays)” veers between downbeat synthpop and a guitar riff out of “Rebel Rebel”, with Bowie at his impassioned and tortured best.

It's clear to see why this was his best-received album since 1984. It's a lot more commercial and accessible than the likes of Outside, Earthling, Never Let Me Down or Black Tie White Noise, or indeed the two Tin Machine albums. It's got some near-classics on it, and even though it's almost perfectly crafted music, it's evidence - if any were needed - of an artist who does this effortlessly and flawlessly, almost as an afterthought. A man who can create beautiful music that lasts the test of time hardly without thinking about it. It's instinctive, it's natural, it's second nature. It's David Bowie, and this is one great album that returns him to the top of the tree, where he belongs, and always has done.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sunday
2. Cactus
3. Slip Away
4. Slowburn
5. Afraid
6. I've Been Waiting for You
7. I Would Be Your Slave
8. I Took a Trip On a Gemini Spaceship
9. 5:15 the Angels Have Gone
10. Everyone Says Hi
11. A Better Future
12. Heathen (The Rays)

Rating: 9.0/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 02-02-2022, 06:36 PM   #14 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 25,816
Default

And back to the very start we go, 55 years back in time...


David Bowie (1967)

This debut album - the first time I've heard it - is said to be far different from even his first “real” album, Space Oddity and a world removed from his later material, but all of this goes to show how much of a constantly changing personality he became, both musically and emotionally, and how he could not only tap into the latest trends as his fame grew, but also set them. Even today, with a catalogue of almost thirty albums to his credit and nearly five decades in the music business, people are still copying him, finding inspiration in his style and remembering what an incredible influence he was on them. The term “musical chameleon” seems to have been coined for him, and it certainly suits him.

But back in 1967 things were a lot different, and the young David Jones, who had changed his name to avoid confusion with the Monkees' famous star, was about to not quite burst upon the scene, but deliver an album that was not quite like anything that the world had seen before. With a mix of music styles and themes that can only really be described as “eclectic”, it opens on a sort of folky tune which owes much to Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd. “Uncle Arthur” tells the tale of a Peter Pan figure who “still reads comics” and “follows Batman”; perhaps, the eternal child in all of us, which we mostly silence when we reach adulthood. As Kipling once wrote: “When I was a child I played as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things”. Yeah, but we all know that from time to time we love reverting to our childhood a little, don't we, even if it's only in the privacy of our own bedrooms or with a bunch of mates who feel the same, or if we're drunk enough. Uncle Arthur, it would seem, has no such hangups and, though we're not told his age (we do know it's over thirty-two), delights in all the childish things he did when he was so much younger.

The song runs on a simple guitar line with harmonica and flutes, ethnic in its way but very sixties rock and roll too, and already betraying in the lyric the tongue-in-cheek ideal Bowie would imbue much of his songwriting with. A real trip. “Sell Me a Coat” has more Beatles about it, driven on a trumpet or trombone, again quite folky and showcasing a voice which even now you could tell was something special. Nice strings arrangement and it's still uptempo though a little more restrained than the opener. The first single then, “Rubber Band” marches along on a tuba line, again sounds very Beatles to me. Very strong vocal from Bowie and some almost Mariachi style trumpet; though the song is upbeat the theme is very downbeat and it's a song of reflections and regrets. The line “I hope you break your baton!” delivered with venom at the leader of the band of which his girl is now part again shows the humour and quasi-sexual innuendo Bowie employed in his songs all through his life.

“Love You Till Tuesday” is probably the best example of a rock song on the album so far, but has a sweeping strings line too. Very brisk and breezy and upbeat with what sounds like xylophone and with another little sardonic nod as he admits at the end “Well I might stretch it to Wednesday!” Lovely piano and trumpet opening “There is a Happy Land”, a slower, more laidback piece which runs on an acoustic guitar motif and looks to the innocence of childhood, something of a theme to the album so far. Not really that surprising, as Bowie's many alter-egos down the decades always spoke of a man if not quite avoiding reality, then turning it to his own version of what he wished it to be. The relating of children's antics looks somewhat forward to Peter Gabriel's hit “Games Without Frontiers”, while “We Are Hungry Men” opens on a news report with various accents (Indian, Chinese) as Bowie worries about overpopulation of the world. A dark organ line runs through this, alongside the acoustic guitar and peppered by trumpet as Bowie asks “Who will buy a drink for me, your messiah?” Though it's a semi-comedic song there are dark overtones, as he references cannibalism and infanticide, and in ways again this also harks forward to his own dystopian masterpiece some years later, Diamond Dogs. The sounds of someone eating at the end just underlines the dark humour in the song.

“When I Live My Dream” is a simple fantasy, a soft ballad which envisages castles and princesses and dragons, with a lovely strings accompaniment again adding a real gentle sway to the song. I suppose the two songs are polar opposites, with one envisaging the end of the world while this basks in ignorance and dreams, the ignorance of someone in love. Reminds me of some of the material from the very first Genesis album, then “Little Bombardier” is a brass-driven waltz, very oldstyle with the very embryonic beginnings of the main melody from “Ziggy Stardust” as well as a nod to the theme from Alfred Hitchcock! Some lovely sweeping strings in the midsection, and the lyric betrays a link to paedophilia, or the suspicion of it anyway when he sings “Then two gentleman called on him, asked him for his name. Why was he friends with the children? Were they just a game? Leave them alone or we'll get sore: we've had folks like you in the station before!”

A slow, stately pace then for “Silly Boy Blue”, in contrast to the romping tempo of the previous, then back to folky, almost CSNY style for “Come and Buy My Toys” (again referencing children) , with some great fast acoustic guitar before “Join the Gang” explores darker territory, looking into peer pressure and the burgeoning mod scene, but with an almost bluegrass feel to it and some boppy piano. “You won't be alone” he promises, before winking “It's a big illusion but at least you're in!” The motorbike/scooter effects sound more like someone with a bad case of wind, if I'm honest, and I think that was intentional, yet another joke. A warbling flute and accordion open “She's Got Medals” before it marches along in again very Beatles fashion with an uptempo piano and organ. Interesting vocal harmonies, also interesting that at this early stage Bowie is already pushing female figures to the fore: talk about leading the way. This continues in “Maid of Bond Street” with a whirling piano and a bouncing rhythm. A short song, and it leads to the closer where dark pealing bells and rumbling thunder aptly usher in the very weird “Please Mr. Gravedigger” which features an acapella vocal from Bowie against falling rain, including a very funny sneeze and “Oh! Excuse me!” giving the real impression of the guy standing in the rain by a graveside singing this lament. Then we hear that he is there because he is the murderer of the girl being buried, and since he's inadvertently confessed his crime to the hapless gravedigger, it's time the guy went in one of his own graves!

TRACK LISTING

Uncle Arthur
Sell Me a Coat
Rubber Band
Love You Till Tuesday
There is a Happy Land
We Are Hungry Men
When I Live My Dream
Little Bombardier
Silly Boy Blue
Come and Buy My Toys
Join the Gang
She's Got Medals
Maid of Bond Street
Please Mr. Gravedigger

I really expected, this being his debut and so long ago, and so supposedly different from the material I know him for, that I would be very lukewarm in my reception of this, but I have to say I'm mightily impressed. There's nothing on this I don't like, and to think he was able to come up with songs of this calibre, and such a varied selection, crossing genres and styles at such an early age, marks Bowie already out as one to watch. An incredibly impressive debut.

Rating: 8.8/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 03-03-2022, 10:24 AM   #15 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 25,816
Default

Okay, time to get serious. Let's look into the famous Berlin Trilogy.



Low (1977)

After a debilitating cocaine habit was destroying him, Bowie decided to leave LA and head back to Europe. He wanted to go somewhere where he would not be recognised and could lead a relatively normal life while he tried to recover, and Berlin turned out to be that place. Thus he lived there for two years with Iggy Pop and Tony Visconti, crafting three albums over that period which would become known as his “Berlin Trilogy”. This was the first of those.

A snarling, punching guitar rocks things up right away as we open with “Speed of Life”, Eno's weird little synth soundscapes already making their presence felt in the background of the melody and Bowie's own sax making an early showing. It's a powerful little upbeat instrumental that gives you the sense of someone just going for it and doing what he wants to do musically, no longer constrained by any preconceptions or expectations. Most of the songs on this album are short, very short, and “Breaking Glass” is no exception, clocking in at less than two minutes with a striding rock beat and the genesis of his take on Krautrock; even his vocal sounds a little robotic here at times. Have to wonder if he's talking autobiographically when he sings ”You're such a wonderful person/ But you got problems!” There's barely time really to acknowledge this track though before we're into more Krautrock (I think: I know very little of the genre and am going a lot here on what others, people who know a lot more about this than I do, have written on the subject) with “What in the World”, another fast uptempo and basically cheerful track.

I definitely get the feeling (probably just me but there you go) of someone taking a deep breath after being underwater for so long that they believed they must drown, coming up for air and realising the world is a place they still want to live in. There's certainly an effort to suppress emotion in the vocal, to make it more inhuman, mechanical and deadpan, despite the boppy music. “Sound and Vision” is one of his great hits, basically mostly driven on the one riff and with a vocal that ranges from the falsetto to the baritone (maybe; I'm not that knowledgeable about vocal ranges either, but it goes from high to low) and there is actually very little to the lyric, making the song not quite an instrumental but not that far from it. Some snarly guitar and growling sax, then Bowie's voice comes in and asks ”Don't you wonder sometimes?” A sort of descending synthline also accompanies the main melody, perhaps representing high to low?

The kind of stabbing keyboard chords that would later characterise new wave and electronic music introduce “Always Crashing in the Same Car” with what sounds like horn accompaniment, but given the amount of weird instruments being used here (and with Eno in attendance) it could be anything. Nice sort of almost dreamy feel to this, following on from the slower “Sound and Vision” and keeping things basically mellow; a very low-key and relaxed vocal from Bowie. Kicking things up a bit more then with “Be My Wife”, some wailing guitar and chunky synth with a relatively simple lyrical idea. Another very new-waveish (as it would become) instrumental, with added harmonica, “Another Career in Another Town” could also be said to be semi-autobiographical, or at least descriptive of Bowie's attempts to kick his habit and make the music he wanted to.

A big, doomy church organ sound opens “Warszawa”, a very dark ambient piece. The album is basically divided into two sections, the first (originally the first side of the record) consisting of short, more or less straight rock pieces and short instrumentals, while the second side is devoted to deeper, longer and more introspective ambient instrumental pieces, mostly. In the fourth minute of “Warszawa” Bowie kind of chants something across the melody but I've no idea what it means, or if it's actually meant to be Polish, or indeed anything at all. It does add to the atmosphere, though I personally think the piece would have served better as a true instrumental. Nevertheless, it's more or less accepted that this is where Low really begins to come into its own, where Bowie, and Eno, stretch their musical muscle and engage their creativity to produce something really special.

“Art Decade” has a kind of ticking percussion, a version of which would surface three years later on Genesis's Duke album, though Collins would use a drum machine to recreate the sound. There's a really nice sort of climbing, rising melody in this, the soft percussion really complementing the melody, with some other odd little Enoesque sounds thrown in too, and a vague feeling of early Yes there too, as well as hints of Vangelis. Xylophone and vibraphone really get utilised in “Wailing Wall”, very soft electronic, again reminds me of Vangelis around his Mask period, and quite oriental in sound too. It's almost an exercise in expressionism in music. The guitar certainly wails in counterpoint, then a synth begins its own deeper moan, and all of this fades out and leads us into the closer.

Originally written as part of his aborted soundtrack for the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, “Subterraneans” has a dark, eerie and yet quite beautiful feel to it. Driven on what sounds like violin, a high, sighing synth line and a slow, measured bass, it's mournful and moving, with a low vocalise from Bowie occasionally sifting through it, more a kind of hum really. Some rather unexpected sax and a vocal line near the end places the final seal on the piece and brings the whole album to a very satisfying conclusion.

Track Listing

Speed of Life
Breaking Glass
What in the World
Sound and Vision
Always Crashing in the Same Car
Be My Wife
Another Career in Another Town
Warzsawa
Art Decade
Weeping Wall
Subterraneans


I had a few run-ins with this album originally. When much much younger my boss (a huge Bowie fan) lent it to me and I was somewhat underwhelmed. I guess at that time (I would have been maybe 17 or 18) I had no real appreciation of music and I thought of Bowie in terms of his singles, so I liked "Sound and Vision" and that was it. The album mostly bored me. Later, I tried it again for my Classic Albums I Have Never Heard journal and liked, and appreciated and understood it a lot more. Here, I'm sort of backing up the second listen, as it were, but in a more detailed way. Suffice to say, I now see why this is regarded as one of Bowie's most important albums, and I'm glad I took the time to listen to it and experience it as it should be.

Rating: 8.5/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018

Last edited by Trollheart; 04-01-2022 at 06:36 PM.
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 04-01-2022, 06:34 PM   #16 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 25,816
Default



"Heroes" (1977)

Second in the “Berlin Trilogy” and the only one of the three to be actually recorded in Berlin, about five hundred yards from the Berlin Wall, this album yielded Bowie one of his most famous and iconic and successful singles in the title track. It also featured the first contributions of King Crimson's Robert Fripp, and continued Bowie's exploration of Krautrock and ambient sounds and textures.

We kick off on what would become the first single, but be far eclipsed by the second, and “Beauty and the Beast” seems to me something of a predecessor to later tracks like “Scary Monsters” and “Fashion”, with a thumping beat and a sense of bouncy melody, the vocal somewhat harsh and almost metallic at times. Fripp's guitar growls and squeals here, lending the song a very rocky aspect, and it's far more uptempo than the previous album from the outset. High-pitched almost screaming backing vocals contrast nicely with Bowie's lower register, and though the song is a shade repetitive it's a good opener. Guitar also drives “Joe and the Lion”, reminding me more of elements from Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust. Bowie's vocal is a little more tortured here, kind of howling at times, more sort of odd backing vocals and a fine solo, and we're into the standout on the album, the title track and the one everyone has heard at one time or another. I really don't think I need to describe “Heroes”, so I won't. It's one of my alltime favourite Bowie songs, and if you don't know it, then get out from under that rock and go listen to it: you'll be doing yourself a massive favour.

“Sons of the Silent Age” has a vaguely Arabic flavour to it, opening for once on horns and not guitars, and reminds me a little of “Drive in Saturday”, a slow song that seems for once to capture Bowie's cockney London accent at the start, before he ascends into a “grander”, more classic Bowie vocal for the chorus, backed this time by a more Beach Boys style vocal. There's certainly a few smatterings of progressive rock in this too, and a kind of look back to the likes of Sinatra and Bennett in the almost lounge-like singing. By contrast, “Blackout” is an uptempo rocker, again guitar-centric, recalling the best of Mick Ronson, with a pretty anarchic vocal by Bowie, the lyric spat out in rapid-fire mode for much of the song. There's a real edge of funk to it, quite a danceable tune I would expect, though I wouldn't class it as one of my favourites on the album. A thick, pulsing bass introduces “V2-Schneider” with a great horn section and some echoing guitar, very much continuing the uptempo mood from the previous song. Seems to be an instru – oh no wait: he's singing the title, but that appears to be the only vocal on it, so essentially, yeah, an instrumental and it leads into the dark bassy piano of the ominous “Sense of Doubt”, definitely recalling the darker, later moments on Low, particularly “Warzsawa”, and again an instrumental, so that generally speaking the two albums seem to have followed the same pattern, that is, bouncy (mostly) uptempo rockers on side one, and darker, more atmospheric instrumentals forming the bulk of the second side.

Another instrumental then, but as different to “Sense of Doubt” as it is possible to be, and segeuing directly into that, “Moss Garden” features a koto, a Japanese string instrument that sounds to me something like a cross between a sitar and a mandolin, and is very pastoral and relaxed, with obviously a very oriental feel, almost giving you the image of sitting in a garden (duh!) listening to the birds and the grass and just drinking it all in. There's also an ethereal high synth line floating above everything with some wind effects thrown in too, and this track then fades in to the last of the three instrumentals, “Neuköln”, which is perhaps the most ambient of the three pieces, almost expressionism really, with a dark synth line and squealing sax throughout the track, a deep sense of loneliness and melancholy pervading the whole thing. We end then on “The Secret Life of Arabia”, where we again hear the vocals of Bowie, a mid-tempo song with some good backing vocal work. It's a decent song, but I tend to agree with David Buckley, one of Bowie's biographers, when he says the last, haunting, droning notes on Bowie's sax that end “Neuköln ” should really be the final sound on the album, and this sounds slightly out of place in a way. It also fades out in a rather unsatisfying way.

Track Listing

Beauty and the Beast
Joe the Lion
“Heroes”
Sons of the Silent Age
Blackout
V2-Schneider
Sense of Doubt
Moss Garden
Neuköln
The Secret Life of Arabia

Like I said, basically a continuation of Low – possible even to dub this Low part II – but no weaker for that. The addition of Fripp works well, and Bowie is certainly at this point getting to grips with the saxophone parts. The album (or at least, the second side) drips with the shadow of the oppression of the Berlin Wall, and you can only imagine what it must have been like recording in the lurking presence of that massive, dominating symbol of the Cold War at its worst. It would probably have been a mistake to try to make this a more upbeat album than Low, so generally speaking Bowie doesn't try, but continues the themes explored in the first of the Berlin Trilogy.

Rating:8.9/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 04-11-2022, 10:03 AM   #17 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 25,816
Default

All righty. Let's finish off this Berlin trilogy, shall we? Yes. Yes we shall. And here is how we shall do it.



Lodger (1979)

The last of the so-called “Berlin Trilogy”, this album is viewed as one of Bowie's least accessible and least successful, despite its high chart placing, at least in the UK. It would also spell the end of his association with Brian Eno. In recent times it has become recognised as one of Bowie's more underappreciated albums, and attitudes towards it have changed. Speaking of changing, this album would see the beginnings of a new direction for the Thin White Duke, as he explored world music and more political themes.

I must admit, the opener “Fantastic Voyage” puts me in mind of nothing more than his later hit “Absolute Beginners”. Nice song, quite laid back with a cool little piano line, and a very reserved and more soulful vocal than much of the previous Berlin albums. You can hear the political elements in his lyrics already here as he talks about ”shooting off missiles”. I can detect the kind of Bowie that we would know by the time albums like Let's Dance and Tonight rolled along. A lot less experimental, I feel, which is odd, given that the page for this album says it was full of experiments – oh, well “African Night Flight” is totally experimental, very industrial with metallic sounding keys and a rapid-fire (and I mean rapid) vocal from Bowie, spoken almost in a murmur at times. Kind of almost an embryonic Madness at times! The world music influences are clearly evident here, with added African chants, but I can't really say I like this track. It certainly stands out, anyway. Next up is “Move On”, which has a very rocky beat, almost fifties rockabilly at times, Bowie dropping into the lower vocal register for this. Apparently it's “All the Young Dudes” played backwards in parts: yeah, I can hear it, in the chorus I think. Africa gets namechecked again.

Reggae gets the Bowie treatment next in “Yassassin” (possibly presaging young pretender Gary Numan's later “I, Assassin”?) with a very eastern flavour running through it; you could imagine Bowie standing in the desert doing that Egyptian dance while singing this. Maybe. Krautrock returns for “Red Sails”, very upbeat and rocky with a real emergent new wave feel to it, some excellent guitar. Very catchy tune, like this one a lot. “DJ” was one of the four singles taken from the album, and again I hear “Fashion” in here with what sounds like bits of the Bee Gees (don't ask me which bits!). I know this song all right, good single, kind of sounds more like Ziggy era to me really. Another good one too, good sense of funk in the guitar while the synth seems more in the new-wave mode of things. Great vocal performance from the man, and then “Look Back in Anger” kind of passes me by but sounds like a decent pop song, while we probably all know his ode to being a man in “Boys Keep Swinging”, with its faux-fifties feel and crazy chorus.

“Repetition” is, well, repetitive, but intentionally so, and sung with zero emotion, again intentionally as it's about domestic abuse, very hard-hitting musically, and again “Red Money” gives me that “Fashion” feeling, very uptempo, great guitar, and it sounds a little familiar. I see now this is because it appeared in a different form on Iggy Pop's The Idiot. Indeed.

Track listing

Fantastic Voyage
African Night Flight
Move On
Yassassin
Red Sails
DJ
Look Back in Anger
Boys Keep Swinging
Repetition
Red Money

In a similar way to how I don't get why people rate Station to Station so highly, I'm not quite sure why this album gets so much hate. It's not perfect by any means, but it's not the bottom of the heap either. In fact, I pretty much like everything here. It's different, yes, but a good different and points the way to Bowie's next adventure, which would expand on the world music themes but at the same time lean in perhaps a more commercial direction, unsurprisingly giving him more hit singles.

Rating: 8.2/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 04-11-2022, 11:35 AM   #18 (permalink)
Call me Mustard
 
rubber soul's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2017
Location: Pepperland
Posts: 2,290
Default

Actually. Lodger is my favorite album of the Berlin Trilogy (and third favorite Bowie album overall) as it's easily the most consistent. He got airplay in the States but, honestly, he didn't really break into the top 40 mainstream here until Let's Dance which might tell you about the taste of the American public
__________________
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pet_Sounds View Post
But looking for quality interaction on MB is like trying to stay hydrated by drinking salt water.
rubber soul is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-12-2022, 12:10 PM   #19 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 25,816
Default

The Next Day (2013)


Note: This was originally written on its release, so some of what I say about Bowie's comeback and so forth rings a little hollow and tragic, but what can I tell you? My TARDIS was in the shop again, and I didn't know what we were facing down the very short road.

When this hit, nobody had any clue that we would only have three more years of this extraordinary artist on this planet. Everyone, myself included, believed Bowie finished when he released his last album, Reality ten years previous to this. An intensely private man, it was just naturally assumed that the Thin White Duke had retired, and who would blame him, after a star-studded career spanning five decades (six now) and over twenty albums, many of them becoming icons in the world of rock, tons of hit singles and almost reinventing music single-handedly? Surely the guy must be tired, approaching his sixties?

But little did we know that for the last two years Bowie had been secretly working on a new album, a comeback album that would show any critics that he was far from finished, and delight his fans with new material and a fresh approach. Criticism has been levelled at the artwork for the cover, and though I've read the explanations I do have to agree mostly: sure, it "subverts" the classic album Heroes, as Tony Visconti, producer and spokesman for Bowie points out, but still, it does look ... what's the word? Oh yeah. Crap.

Happily though, what's under the cover bears no resemblance to the artwork, and this album brims with freshness, energy and a new purpose. The title track kicks it off, with an uptempo rocker which sort of reminds me from the off of "Diamond dogs", with its striding, swaggering rhythm and its somewhat dark lyric - "Here I am, not quite dead/ My body left to rot in a hollow tree" - and some screaming guitar, Bowie's vocal rising and almost desperate as he recounts the story of apparently the capture and trial of some unnamed despot, lyrically similar to Dire Strait's "The Man's Too Strong". There's great energy in the song, almost a carnival atmosphere, a joyous celebration of liberation, while "Dirty Boys" is just, well, dirty. Thick, sleazy baritone sax from Steve Elson and snarling guitars in an almost Waitsesque discordant melody; much slower than the opener, smoky and grinding with Bowie at his bad-boy best.

The tempo then picks up for "Stars Are Out Tonight", a boppy, almost pop song with a great hook, a driving bass line from Gail-Ann Dorsey and some sparkling piano almost sprinkled over the tune. Rising strings orchestration helps to build the atmosphere as Bowie blurs the line between the stars in the sky and celebrities - "We will never be rid of these stars/ But I hope they live forever". But it's the krautrock of "Love is Lost" that for me takes the prize as standout - and there are many contenders here. The deep, moody feel of it contrasts starkly with the previous track, and indeed most of the others so far. A droning synth leads the melody with great basswork again from Dorsey, and snapping, growling guitar cutting in from time to time courtesy of Gerry Leonard. I think Bowie himself plays the keyboard here, and it certainly holds court over everything else, its powerful, insistent almost church-organ sound anchoring the melody. The only complaint I have about this song is that it's not longer; at just under four minutes it seems over far too quickly.

Another contender comes in the shape of the first ballad, and indeed the lead single released off the album. With a beautiful, wistful laidback feeling recalling the classic "Life on Mars" and "Five Years", it's a beautiful piece of music with a slow, dreamy feel and Bowie's voice almost cracking with emotion as he asks the question that titles the song, "Where Are We Now?" Bass this time supplied by Tony Levin, it's understated but certainly experienced, and the orchestration is just lovely, with some fine piano from Henry Hey adding a delicate touch to the song. Just superb. Many of the songs on this album are written as if Bowie is looking through someone else's eyes, seeing the world from their viewpoint, and "Valentine's Day" is certainly one such, with the chilling opening line "Valentine told me who's to go" in the tale of a high school shooter. A tricky subject to tackle, given recent events, but Bowie was never one to play it safe or shy from controversy, and the clever title could confuse many (as it did me initially) into thinking the song was a love song written for February 14th.

It's a mid-paced rocker with understated guitar and a calm vocal for the most part from Bowie, the guitar getting a little more histrionic near the end, the tempo kicking up then for "If You Can See Me", with an almost rushed vocal, the song quite frenetic in its composition, sounding a little like an Arabic chant or something at the opening, then throwing in some almost progressive rock influences (reminds me of Arena at their best), not too much in the way of pausing in the vocal. The melody too stays pretty constant, not changing too much until the middle eighth leading to the chorus. It's not one of my favourites, and truth to tell there are songs on this album I'm not totally gone on; it's not perfect, but it's a whole lot better than a lot of albums I've heard recently. The good definitely outweighs the bad in my opinion.

Seeing through the eyes of another again, Bowie this time inhabits the body of a soldier as he bemoans his fate, wishing he were at home. "I'd Rather Be High" couldn't have a more simple title and will certainly appeal to a section of the younger listenership, who would agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments, but even at that, there's more of a message in the song than just the wish to be stoned. As Bowie sings he talks about "Training these guns on those men in the sand", and while I originally believed this to be a reference to soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, Visconti has confirmed it's actually a soldier in World War II that he's singing about. No matter: it's probably a sentiment universal to those who have to put themselves in harm's way. Great military drumbeat from Zachary Allford, and a sitar-style guitar riff running through the song, taking us into "Boss of Me", with the return of that dirty baritone sax from the second track. It's a little jazzy for my tastes, but not a bad song. Much better though is "Dancing Out in Space", where Bowie revisits his sixties persona, allying it to an eighties britpop rhythm and melody, a very busy song with elements even of country in there, reminds me a little of the Waterboys or even Bon Jovi at times. Yeah, sue me, you don't own my head!

Maybe David Byrne is a better comparison; it's sort of hard to make it though because there's quite a lot going on as I said in this track and it kind of changes as it goes along. Great little track though, and it's followed by "How Does the Grass Grow", which comes in on distorted guitar and borrows just a little from the main riff in Floyd's "Echoes", with a kind of staccato rhythm for the verses then an almost Elton John feel in the la-la-la-la chorus. Great bit of guitar there from Gerry Leonard, kind of crashing through the melody. Things stay mostly fast for the rock-and-roll, almost "Rebel Rebel" intro to "You Will Set the World on Fire", with some great vocal harmonies and a hook to die for. One more beautiful ballad before we close, with the gospel "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die", a real triumph for Bowie, almost spiritually uplifting in its power, and again a sense of "Five Years" in the melody I find. One of his most arresting vocal performances on this song, and I love the way he doesn't have to make every line rhyme with the previous: real poets or lyricists don't feel that need. If the lines are good enough and evoke the right feelings and images, why should they have to rhyme?

Wonderful performance by Janice Pendarvis on the backing vocals, really makes the song come alive. We close then on the dark, doomy, almost claustrophobic "Heat", a slice of musical dystopia on which Bowie is backed by minimal instrumentation and makes his voice the main instrument, almost crying the vocal, the band mirroring his melancholia in the melody that backs him. The song virtually screams in torture at you, like some inmate of an asylum trying to break out of their cell by sheer force of will. It's a bleak, angry, desolate and powerful ending to the album, taking you by surprise after the uplifting nature of the previous track.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Next Day
2. Dirty Boys
3. The Stars are Out Tonight
4. Love is Lost
5. Where Are We Now?
6. Valentine's Day
7. If You Can See Me
8.I'd Rather Be High
9. Boss of Me
10. Dancing Out in Space
11. How Does the Grass Grow?
12. You Will Set the World On Fire
13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
14. Heat

I admit, this album took a little getting into, but each time I spun it I got to like it more and more. There are still tracks on it that don't appeal to me, but as I said they're very much in the minority. It's also great value, from a purely financial point of view, with fourteen tracks, and more if you buy the special editions. There are some great classic Bowie moments on the album, some new influences and some great imagery, but then, you'd expect nothing less from this man, would you?

It's certainly been worth a ten year wait, and while I'm not one of those who could point to Bowie's Berlin period and tell you all about it, or own all his albums, I know enough about him to know that this album is going to rank right up there with the best he has done in his long and successful career. Like the twelfth track says, this album is quite likely to set the world on fire, and even if it doesn't, there's one inescapable conclusion that nobody can miss: the Thin White Duke is back.

Rating: 9.2/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 04-28-2022, 08:18 AM   #20 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 25,816
Default


Hunky Dory (1971)

Notes: From what I can see, this was the first album on which Bowie produced, albeit as a co-producer. Weirdly, though the mega-classic “Life on Mars” was released from this as a single, it didn't chart until 1973, a full year after Ziggy, when it hit the number three slot. It's now of course recognised as not only one of his best and most well-known songs, but one of the greatest songs of at least the seventies, if not the century. (Certification needed? Suck it pal. Everyone knows this song! Oh look! Someone over there is using an uncited source! Quick!)

In retrospect, this should have been the album to break Bowie as far as I can see, with future classics such as “Oh! You Pretty Things”, “Life on Mars” and of course the opener, “Changes”, which pretty much describes his attitude towards trends and convention. With a lovely opener piano line from Rick Wakeman, it alternates between a slow, almost melancholy, soul style and a more uptempo, poppy chorus with that famous “Ch-ch-ch-changes” prefacing each lines of same. It's a great opening track, and of course was a single. You can hear here how Bowie's voice is developing, becoming stronger, more self-assured and confident, and the low sax break at the end (delivered by the Thin White Duke himself) just underlines this. Another piano line, almost honky-tonk this time, brings in “Oh! You Pretty Things”, with a definite sense of gospel in it, again a slow verse with a fast, joyful chorus, kind of marching along in a Beatles vein, though it's probably debatable that John, Paul, George and Ringo would have been singing about the “Homo Superior”...

The first flash we get of Ronson's brilliance on this album is in the opening to “Eight Line Poem”, where he delivers a soft bluesy intro, low-key and understated but really powerful, joined by Bowie on piano and a really soft vocal, almost inaudible at times, at others rising to a height of passion in a few words. Sounding a little like something Roger Waters would later produce, both on his own solo work and with the latter years of Pink Floyd, it sashays along gracefully, only the barest riffs from Ronson touching the edges and taking the short song out as it began. A masterclass of minimalism, that still manages to grab your heartstrings and pull them till it hurts.

If there's anyone who needs a description of “Life on Mars”, please go back to your home planet. There can't be a person on this Earth who has not heard the sublime opening piano line from Wakeman, leading into the soft, cultured vocal from Bowie, the big crescendo for the chorus as he unleashes his powerful passionate voice, and the stabbing, staccato piano that dots the borders as the song goes along. Vocal harmonies with Mick Ronson, the explosive yet gentle percussion piling in - to say nothing of the abstract lyric and Ronson's fine solo - all go to make this song the deserved classic it is, and it's a mystery to me, writing in the twenty-first century of course, when it's easy to be wise with hindsight, how this was not a hit on its first release. I particularly love the descending piano at the end which runs into a faraway ringing telephone. I do have an issue with the sublime strings used here, which add another dimension to the song: who plays them? There is no credit that I can find for them, and I think that's criminal and a real oversight, as they are very much an integral part of this classic slice of seventies rock.

After that amazing song, “Kooks” comes across as a pretty ordinary pop song, somewhat in the mould of Syd Barrett or The Kinks. There seems to be violin here too, but again I can't find any credit for it anywhere. The song is a midpaced, bouncy one with some very sprightly piano, and it's okay, but it's no followup to “Life on Mars”, but then, what could be? “Quicksand” comes in very low and gentle, acoustic guitar impelling it forward, then some nice piano and those mysterious strings come back to whip up the tune into something of a fervour. Bowie's voice, originally soft and gentle rises in concert with the music, and again there are some great vocal harmonies here. Excellent work by Wakeman, and whoever is playing the violins should definitely be given credit, I don't know why they're not.

“Fill Your Heart” sounds like something out of a Broadway musical, and I see it's a cover of an old song, so maybe it was. In a musical that is. It sounds very old and kind of out of place here though. Not crazy about, have to admit. Even Bowie's vocal on it sounds strained. Less crazy about “Andy Warhol”, at least the beginning, with a lot of weird phone sounds and voices. It does develop though into a nice uptempo acoustic number but I feel it's a bit basic and maybe not worthy of him. Much better is “Song for Bob Dylan”, with a lovely slow southern boogie-style guitar from Ronson and fine piano from Wakeman, Bowie emulating Dylan's vocal style and Ronson adding some sweet blues and slide guitar too. “Queen Bitch” returns somewhat to the rawer hard rock of The Man Who Sold the World and gives Ronson his head; he doesn't waste the opportunity. There's a touch of the Mariachi to the closer, “The Bewlay Brothers”, with a nice slow acoustic guitar. Goes through some ch-ch-ch-changes (sorry), and it's overall a pretty satisfying final track.

TRACK LISTING

Changes
Oh! You Pretty Things
Eight Line Poem
Life on Mars
Kooks
Quicksand
Fill Your Heart
Andy Warhol
Song for Bob Dylan
Queen Bitch
The Bewlay Brothers


This, then, is where the hits start to come through, and again I can't really understand why it was Ziggy and not this album that was his commercial breakthrough. There are certainly some duff tracks on this (and few if any on Ziggy) but they're outweighed by the truly great songs, with an instant classic into the bargain. It's not a perfect album, to be sure, but it certainly shows Bowie coming on in leaps and bounds from the previous albums, however good they may have been. It's the start of something truly special, which would culminate in the release of probably his most famous album, and the creation of his most famous persona, a year later.

Rating: 8.8/10
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is online now   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Similar Threads



© 2003-2022 Advameg, Inc.