Continuing from last night’s post…
Favorite soulless-era Bowie – Let’s Dance
Albums in this era also include: Tonight and Never Let Me Down. This is one of the more electrifying and disturbing times in Bowie’s career (which says a great deal). Trying to shake off the drug-infused days of the Thin White Duke persona, Bowie made a startling decision by separating from long-time producer Tony Visconti in favor of Chic’s Nile Rodgers “so he could have hit singles.” What followed was the “be careful what you wish for” syndrome. While Bowie was scoring some of his most critical and mass appeal, he was also losing a part of his soul as he wondered if this was the sort of music he would be forced to play for the remainder of his life. The feeling began with Let’s Dance, snowballed with Tonight, and reached crescendo with Never Let Me Down and the subsequent Glass Spider Tour (more on this later). Personally, this was an electric time as my friends were finally getting into Bowie and, more importantly, I was in a band. I had a part in our creative control and I was going to be sure Bowie’s music was featured. Modern Love was a long-time staple and I was able to croon it in a way that I think would make Bowie proud. For me the other two albums had catchy hits, but it was some of the under-the-radar songs that I loved the most like the cover of the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows (on Tonight) and Zeroes (on Never Let Me Down). This era was popular heaven, but creative hell. Fun fact: Bowie played no instruments on Let’s Dance, it was a total singer’s album.
Favorite Bowie-joins-a-band-era Bowie – Tin Machine
Albums in this era also include: Tin Machine II. Preceding this phase was Bowie’s Sound & Vision tour where he famously “retired” his old catalog. The tour was to be a grand send-off to the soul-less period of his life and everything preceding it. Meeting guitarist Reevs Gabrels and Tony & Hunt Sales (Soupy Sales’ sons) led to a more democratic unit that was a primal scream towards the music scene at the time. Once again, Prisoner of Love and Under the God inevitably made their way onto set lists (and mix-tapes). Tin Machine II also had its share of favorites as I enjoyed tracks like Baby Universal and One Shot, but Amlapura, Betty Wrong, and Goodbye Mr. Ed stole my heart and held it at gunpoint. Most listeners weren’t ready for this album and judged it harshly. Thus the demise of Tin Machine.
Favorite 90’s Bowie – Earthling
Albums in this era also include: Black Tie, White Noise; Outside, and Hours. Like a phoenix, something magical arose from the ashes of Tin Machine. Bowie married Iman which heavily influenced his first solo album since the soul-sucking late-80s offerings. Most importantly, he was finally able to face his legacy and enjoy where his music was leading him – back to Nile Rodgers and a funky, house-type of music. His wedding also led him back to Brian Eno and the desire to dabble in mainstream music together. This provided the world with Outside. As much as I enjoyed those albums, there was something about his connection with Trent Reznor and subsequent Earthling album that jarred his fans in a good way. I wouldn’t say I’d been thrilled with the industrial music scene until this album. With its textural soundscapes, Bowie painted a scene of life nearing the end of the millennium. At this time, I’m Afraid of Americans (my favorite off the album) seemed to reflect a burgeoning worldview of the United States as political struggles escalated in the Middle East. Art imitating life imi… you get the idea. Once again a pioneer, Hours was the first full-length album available for download over the Internet by a major artist. Trend set.
Favorite 00’s Bowie – Reality
Albums in this era also include: Heathen. 2002’s Heathen was viewed by many as Bowie’s American comeback album. Mistakenly viewed as his response to the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the album speaks more to the decline of Western society and to world degradation in general. Although his reunion with Tony Visconti alluded to wonderous things, it was really Reality that grabbed me. Much has been bandied about regarding the title and the subject matter of the album that I think it’s best to leave interpretations to the individual listener. The Reality Tour that spawned from this album was one of two that I was fortunate to attend. Perhaps the most significant meaning for me was when my mom asked to have something from the concert. Yes, my mom – 18 years my senior – wanted a concert t-shirt or some other poignant reminder of this album. To this day, I regret that I didn’t have the cash to buy her the leather jacket available from this tour. So disappointing.
Favorite 10’s Bowie – Blackstar
Albums in this era (sadly, only) include: The Next Day. Ten years between album releases is far too long, especially for a visionary like Bowie. The Next Day (AKA the secret recording) came from out of nowhere as the general public had believed that Bowie had slipped into a quiet retirement. Surprise! I was as shocked as anyone else when this was released and watched the video for Where Are We Now until I became annoyed that it was the first single. In my heart and mind, after ten years, he should have stepped forward again with a much more upbeat song. I will admit I doubted the quality of the remainder of the album based on that song. I also felt awful as soon as I heard the remainder of the album and fell in love with Bowie’s music all over again. Foolish me doubting such an artistic visionary. As I listen to the album on Amazon and locate the song ratings, I’m positively gob-smacked (if I may borrow from my Brit friends) at what I see. So many great songs sitting at a low rating. C’mon people, pull your heads out of your musical arses! How Does The Grass Grow? and (You Will) Set The World On Fire hearken back to classic Bowie. I digress. Blackstar even though it was recently released has gripped me firmly and hasn’t left my daily playlist since its release. Maybe my feelings toward this album as it relates to The Next Day will change over time, but the genre-crossing, art-infused album has me hooked. Everything else aside, consider that these two albums came at a time where Bowie was fighting cancer. Not only was he dealing with the rigors of daily life as this disease ate away at him, he was also producing top notch music for millions to enjoy. I will certainly think twice the next time I feel a cold or the flu coming on and wonder if I can put in some work time.
More to come…