Guest review by Stephen Sheehan
an "elder statesman" in the rock music world releases
a new recording these days, the lazy mass media reflexively throws
around words like "comeback" or demonstrates that they
know simple addition by telling us which record number this is,
or wants to appear authoritative or "cutting edge" by
using that horrible cliché "return to form." I
promise that this review will have none of that so lets move
My credentials? Ive
listened to every David Bowie album since "Ziggy Stardust"
was brand new. I wasnt a fan at first and to this day "Ziggy"
is nowhere near my favorite Bowie record. But I know a great Bowie
record from one that isnt and Im enormously relieved
and proud to tell you that Reality is easily the strongest
and definitely the most listenable record Bowies released
since 1980's Scary Monsters. Its consistent and intriguing,
and the mixes of the songs reveal new details with every subsequent
examination, thanks to the production work of long-time collaborator
So what does a 56-year-old
rock star have to say for himself these days, especially one who
on the surface appears so normal compared to his many past incarnations
ranging from Aladdin Sane to The Thin White Duke? Overall it sounds
as though Bowie is feeling good about who he is, where hes
at in his life and career, and it also sounds like hes in
love with love. Where his previous release, Heathen, was
ominous and not an easy ride, the 50-minute Reality is upbeat,
filled with hooks, buoyant and highly enjoyable.
As on Heathen,
Bowie includes a couple of interesting and odd choices for cover
songs. This time its a balls-out version of "Pablo Picasso"
by Johnathan Richman and "Try Some, Buy Some" by George
Harrison. But the real winners here are the opener "New Killer
Star" with its classic T. Rex-y swagger, the poppy deliciousness
of "Days" that deserves to be a hit radio single and the
stunning jazzy closer "Bring Me The Disco King" that features
just Bowie accompanied by drums and piano. While most of the song
lyrics appear to be connected to some form of narrative or a sense
of linear progression, Bowie still throws out a curve ball here
and there like in "Fall Dog Bombs The Moon" which must
have been written using William Burroughs cut-up method that
Bowies been employing for more than 20 years: "Im
God Damn rich / An exploding man / When I talk in the night / Theres
oil on my hands / What a dog."
Compared to the few of
his peers that still release new music, Reality captures
Bowie's strengths as both a matured songwriter and an artist that
sounds permanently frozen in the crazy dance of wide-eyed and compulsive
adolescence. He might be content on certain levels at this time
in his life, but hes still short a few answers and isnt
embarrassed to admit it, sometimes overtly and sometimes woven into
a web of seemingly disjointed lyrical clues and multi-dimensional
production techniques. Another great thing about Bowie compared
to some of his peers is that he's still singing (and singing
well), unlike Lou Reed, Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan who are either
mumbling or sing-speaking at best.
If Reality and Heathen are any indication, Bowie could
be riding another artistic high similar to the trilogy he released
with Brian Eno from 1977 through 1979. And I suppose 25 years isnt
such an unreasonable gestation period considering the fruits that
have been borne.
Collectors: A limited
2-CD edition version of Reality features three extra songs
including an excellent new version of Rebel Rebel.
Posted Oct. 16, 2003.
Copyright © 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
it sounds as though Bowie is feeling good about who he is, where
hes at in his life and career, and it also sounds like
hes in love with love."