A GUEST POSTING by MARK FRENCH
Well it wasn’t going to be a single disc across his full career was it.
To me and I’m sure/hope many of you, Bowie is GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), I am not smart enough to even begin to describe how brilliant, awesome, (and every other superlative you can think of) he is/was.
I wanted to focus on his later albums , which continued to show an artist never repeating himself and always exploring new. I’m not going to claim that any of them are individually as strong as the masterpieces of the 70s and early 80s, but I do believe they hide some individual tracks that are as strong as those of his earlier brilliance……
I was surprised by two things whilst putting this ICA together, firstly how ‘hard’ almost harsh most of these songs are and secondly what an amazing vocalist Bowie was, you always know it’s him but the range and scope is amazing
Hallo Spaceboy (Outside, 1995)
I’m not a true Bowie fan, in that I haven’t bought every album as soon as it was released, there have been ebbs and flows, but it feels as though a ‘Space’ track has always brought me back onside, from Starman, Ashes to Ashes and this track. After the pop albums and Tin Machine – Hello Spaceboy, was fast and futuristic, at his best Bowie was always futuristic and was there ever a more Bowie line than ‘Do you like boys or girls? Its confusing these days’
I’m Afraid of Americans (Earthling, 1997)
‘Earthling’ was described as his ‘Drum & Bass’ album, I was obviously already middle-aged by this point as I had and have no idea what ‘Drum & bass’ sounds like. What I do know is this is a pulsating keyboards driven song.
Cactus (Heathen, 2002)
A cover of a Pixies song and according to Wikipedia all instruments are played by Bowie except bass and features his only recorded drum performance and of course the drums are to the forefront and do not sound out of time/place at all. Starting with just vocal and acoustic guitar before bursting into a full band sound, I had to look the lyrics up online to find out that the word ‘cement’ is used frequently, Bowie’s pronunciation is unusual.
Reality (Reality, 2003)
Probably my least favourite of the later albums, I was fortunate enough to see the subsequent tour at Birmingham NEC ( sadly his final tour), although I managed to put one of my daughter’s off Bowie for life, by going as it was on her birthday which she explained to me was not acceptable parental behaviour, over 15 years later it remains a topic of conversation. The song itself always reminds me of the Ziggy album – high praise.
Battle For Britain (The Letter) (Earthling, 1997)
More ‘Drum and Bass’, with a great piano solo from Mike Garson and some classic cockney vocals from Bowie.
Looking For Water (Reality, 2003)
Guitar(ist)s have always been crucial to Bowie’s music and this is a great example with the guitar leading the way from the start.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight) (The Next Day, 2013)
Following his health issues on The Reality tour, Bowie disappeared for 10 years, the assumption was that he had retired and was living in married bliss in New York. And then without any advance PR a single was realised – such was the shock it was a main item on the BBC news. The album was joyously received. It is very much a pop album and this track (released as a single with a wonderful video) was the pinnacle,
Girl Loves Me (Blackstar, 2016)
Blackstar as an album is very difficult, given that it was released the day before Bowie’s death and was recorded during his cancer treatment, to assess objectively or to listen to purely as a piece of music, in a similar manner to Joy Division’s Closer. It is certainly completely different from any other Bowie album, with nothing that resembles pop or rock music. It’s a ‘jazz’ album, and to be honest is the only ‘jazz’ album I own or am likely to. I have regularly returned to the album over the past few years but with the exception of this track and one other I struggle to enjoy it, there is just too much jazz for my personal taste. ‘Girl Loves Me’ unusually for Bowie seems to have no guitar and is propelled by almost only drums and bass but not in a ‘drum and bass’ manner.
Outside (Outside, 1995)
The Outside album was to me a true return to form if you ignore the short spoken word interludes, which is easily done today. Bowie’s vocal is beautiful, managing to be calming, soothing and yearning at the same time.
Lazarus (No Plan EP, 2017)
With it’s opening line of ‘Look Up Here I’m In Heaven’ there could be no other album closer and listening again to the lyrics with the soulful saxophone backing – wow it really is an incredible way to end.