Saturday, 11 July 2020

The Style Council







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The albums covered are:-

Introducing The Style Council (1983)
Café Blue (1984)
Our Favourite Shop (1985)
The Cost Of Loving (1987)
Confessions Of A Pop Group (1988)
Modernism: A New Decade (1989)
and Here's Some That Got Away

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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INTRODUCING THE STYLE COUNCIL (1983)

1. Long Hot Summer
2. Headstart For Happiness (early version)
3. Speak Like A Child
4. Long Hot Summer (Club Mix)           
5. The Paris Match
6. Mick's Up
7. Money-Go-Round (Parts 1 & 2)

Released some nine months before Café Bleu, this barely-noticed EP/album heralded Paul Weller's much-awaited new project, one that would bemuse and frustrate his devoted army of parka-clad Jam fans in equal measure. Instead of any fist-pumping, "la-la-la/oi" tub thumpers we got chilled-out late night soul-influenced material, upbeat, organ-driven stuff, punchy political funk and even a jazzy torch song. Fair play to Weller for diversifying so blatantly and, although it is a short album, it is a good one. Strangely, it was only released in certain countries, not the UK. Most odd, you have to say. 

Long Hot Summer is a beautifully languid number that does indeed evoke a hot summer evening, with its gentle percussion and understated keyboard lines. There are two versions of it here - the excellent, extended original and a "club mix" that is ok, but is just playing around for the sake of it, really. Headstart For Happiness is a song that appeared in a more bulked out format on the Café Bleu album - here it features just Weller, his sharp acoustic guitar and Mick Talbot's swirling organ breaks. It has a certain stripped-back, soulful appeal, however. 

 

The first single, Speak Like A Child, was the one that shocked all us Jam fans at the time, being a pastiche of sixties pop and soul that based itself around a late sixties organ sound and some blaring horns. I have never been a huge fan of it, to be honest, despite its catchy refrain and I remember at the time being irritated by the way Weller sings "I really like it when you speak an a-child..." What was "an a-child?" or indeed "rank and a er-file...." - a bit like when he sang "succumb-er to the beat surrender.." or "dangle jobs like a donkey's carrOT.." - Weller liked changing words' pronunciations to fit the melody. Back to the song, look, it was not a bad one, to be fair, and I am quite enjoying it again. 

The Paris Match was the first sign of Weller's obsession with the French capital that would would carry on until 1985 (he even sings the last verse in clumsy schoolboy French). It is another track that would appear on the next album, although its was done there with smoky brush drums and a real jazzy vibe. Although it is a bit jazzy here, it is more of a soulful song, with regulation drums, a cute organ solo and some melodious piano. I think I prefer this one of the two although it is a close one. I was a good song that exemplified just what a mature songwriter Weller had become. 

Mick's Up was one of three "Mick's..."  piano and organ-powered groovy, sixties-influenced instrumentals that appeared from this period (Mick's Blessings and Mick's Company being the others). They are all breezy, jazzy workouts that again made a statement in showing the carefree but musically astute side of the group. 

Money-Go-Round is a highlight of the album - a full-on piece of driving funk rock.Weller had been flirting with funk on The Jam's swansong The Gift album and this excellent number continues that on seven minutes of politically-motivated funk that rails articulately at the inequalities of big business. It remains one of The Style Council's finest tracks. 

I will proceed to talk about the group and their raison d'être in more detail in subsequent reviews as I progress through the career of this fascinating collective. 

** A few of the tracks that did not appear on any albums from the era were the 'b' side, Party Chambers, an energetic, organ-led and vaguely psychedelic but poppy tune; the atmospheric piano instrumental Lé Depart and the starkly soulful It Just Came To Pieces In Hands.

 

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CAFÉ BLEU (1984)

1. Mick's Blessings
2. The Whole Point Of No Return
3. Me Ship Came In!
4. Blue Café
5. The Paris Match
6. My Ever Changing Moods
7. Dropping Bombs On The White House
8. A Gospel
9. The Strength Of Your Nature
10. You're The Best Thing
11. Here's One That Got Away
12. Headstart For Happiness
13. Council Meetin'            

So, on to The Style Council from when they finally released a "proper" album, but to do so  I will go back to discussing them from the beginning. Formed in early 1983 by ex-Jam frontman Paul Weller and keyboardist Mick TalbotThe Style Council were a strange phenomenon. Often derided by the cognoscenti, in many ways they were an experiment gone wrong. In many other ways, they were an excellent group that produced some great albums with a soulful, often adventurous, ambitious sound and some biting, socially conscious lyrics. Maybe the group were too eclectic for their own good. 
                     
As far away from The Jam as it was possible to get, really. This album was a brave mixture of soul stylings, contemporary jazz and a bit of rap influence thrown in. Some of the tracks are jazzy, piano-driven instrumentals like the beautifully bassy groove of Me Ship Came In! or smoky jazz like Blue Café. Others feature guest artists like Tracey Thorn on the lovely, late night shuffling jazz of The Paris Match and various guest instrumentalists on the rap-influenced A Gospel and the catchy The Strength Of Your Nature

There is an argument that paints Mick Talbot's jazz instrumentals, Mick's Blessings, Council Meetin' and the infectiously bopping, brass-enhanced Dropping Bombs On The White House as lazy and pointless and experimental ventures like A Gospel as embarrassingly indulgent. While it holds weight to an extent, personally I find the instrumentals provide a brief, breezy airiness in between Weller's undoubtedly convincing, credible numbers. The diversion into rap was possibly ill-advised but rap was everywhere in 1983, so they were just mining a contemporary seam. How all this went down with many of The Jam's fans is, to be honest, pretty badly, many washing their hands of Weller at this point.

  

The hit single My Ever Changing Moods is stripped down to a soulful piano-only version (I actually prefer the "full band" version), while the other hit, You're The Best Thing features a different mix here, with saxophone to the fore. The Style Council often recorded different versions of the same song. 

Headstart For Happiness and the violin-backed Here's One That Got Away are both jaunty, upbeat poppy numbers which again shows this material is just nothing like anything The Jam put out, and all released just a few short months later, the sea change was really quite remarkable. Just listen to the evocative, late-night jazzy vibe of The Whole Point Of No Return for proof. Going Underground was only three years previous.

 

Where the Style Council had a problem was in the image they carefully created, swanning around in Paris in gaberdines, pictured sitting at cafes pretending to read “Le Monde” and drinking cappuccino, wearing dark glasses and so on. After Paul Weller’s gruff “man of the people/no bull” persona in The Jam, it all seemed very pretentious, contrived and more than just a little silly. It garnered a lot of ridicule, which was a shame, because the music was good. A brave experiment that deserved more credit.

On a personal level, I remember one sunny October afternoon, sitting in Paris's Tuileries Gardens with this album on my headphones. It was perfect for the occasion and that is something I will not forget. An album doing its job. 

**  Regarding non-album material from the time, as I said earlier, My Ever Changing Moods is preferable, for me, in its delicious full band form. Then, of course, there is the wonderful Motown-ish pop of A Solid Bond In Your Heart, a song that had begun life at the end of The Jam's career and was one of the group's best stand-alone singles.

There was also the easy to sing along to tones of Shout To The Top; the piano-driven funk of Big Boss Groove (a number which they performed at Live Aid in 1985); the moving and haunting bleakness of the self-explanatory Ghosts Of Dachau; the sublime white soul of The Piccadilly Trail and the extended political funk/hip hop groove of Soul Deep which lent its support in no uncertain terms to the 1984 miners' strike.

Finally, we had the very groovy, almost funky organ of Mick's Company and the gentle acoustic ballad of Spring, Summer, Autumn - a track that very much looked forward to Weller's early solo material nearly ten years down the line. 

  

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OUR FAVOURITE SHOP (1985)

1. Homebreakers
2. All Gone Away
3. Come To Milton Keynes
4. Internationalists
5. A Stone's Throw Away
6. The Stand-Up Comic's Instructions
7. The Boy Who Cried Wolf
8. A Man Of Great Promise
9. Down In The Seine
10. The Lodgers
11. Luck
12. With Everything To Lose
13. Our Favourite Shop
14. Walls Come Tumbling Down
                          
This album was The Style Council’s high point. A collection of mainly highly politicised songs that see the jazzy piano instrumentals and smoky club torch songs of Café Bleu jettisoned in favour of a more full band, rocky sound, slightly more akin to how The Jam may have progressed had they stayed together, certainly in the case of the rousing Walls Come Tumbling Down and the non-album single Shout To The Top.

Kicking off with the pertinent Homebreakers, the tone is set - 1985’s Britain under Thatcherism is a miserable place to be. They were not wrong. All Gone Away, despite its tuneful lilting acoustic backing, and Come To Milton Keynes continue in the same vein, then Internationalists raises the tempo, musically, with some poppy funk, although the cynical, world-weary message as the same. A Stone's Throw Away is another cautionary, sad tale about police and government brutality. Weller’s voice is so soulful but pointed on all this material.

 

The Stand Up Comic's Instructions is a monologue delivered by Lenny Henry, as a bigoted Northern working mens’ club “concert secretary”. The depressing thing is, in 1985, dinosaurs like this still roamed the earth. Even more depressing is that, in 2020, they seem to be making a re-appearance. 

A Man Of Great Promise (dedicated to deceased poet Adrian Henri), the Boy Who Cried Wolf and Down In The Seine are all a bit of a throwback to the previous album - breezily Parisian. The Lodgers is another Style Council anti-Thatcher classic as is the melodic, infectious With Everything To Lose (later impressively and intoxicatingly re-worked as Have You Ever Had It Blue). Luck is a bit of a cousin to Shout To The Top, with a slightly Northern Soul stomp to it. 

The unique appeal of this album is that it message is so strong, so powerful, such a protest yet the music is uniformly so tuneful, often so light, so melodious. Weller has never sung better, either. Nobody else ever made political protest so musically enjoyable.

Although the rain macs and Gitanes had gone now, Weller and Talbot were now dressed in pure white denims for promotional photos, covered in make-up and looking all homoerotic. A terrible time, politically, but an even worse time for fashion.

** The non-album material was positively bountiful, almost enough for another album, or half of one, at least. 

An interesting "alternative version" is The Whole Point II - a rhythmic and quirky version of The Whole Point Of No Return, full of jazzy keyboards and joie de vivre in comparison to its more stark and introspective sibling. Then there was the harrowing anti-hunting number, Blood Sports.

And there was more...Spin' Driftin is a laid-back acoustic, bass, keyboards and drums plaintive Weller ballad that harked back to the earlier Parisian sessions; the smooth soul of (When You) Call Me; the Latin-influenced and enormously enjoyable rhythms of the With Everything To Lose sibling Have You Ever Had It Blue?; the jangly pre-Brit pop-esque A Casual Affair; add to those the jazzy instrumental Mr Cool's Dream and you have more than an album, the group/Weller were quite prolific at the time. 

  

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THE COST OF LOVING (1987)

1. It Didn't Matter
2. Right To Go
3. Heavens Above
4. Fairy Tales
5. Angel
6. Walking The Night
7. Waiting
8. The Cost Of Loving 

9. A Woman's Song               
  
After the high point that was the politically-motivated Our Favourite Shop from 1985, two years later the Style Council were back with a shorter album of more polished, professional-sounding soul/funk/pop, tapping into what was now starting to be called “R 'n' B” - laid back, synth-drummy late night US-influenced radio soul.

The album was much less instant and “in your face” than its predecessor, tending to wash over you somewhat. The two singles from the album, the soulful Waiting and the even more relaxing and very appealing It Didn't Matter are probably the high spots. The stark and pointed A Woman's Song and also Fairy Tales show that Weller had not quite lost his political edge, but overall, it seemed as if he wanted to drop the political opinionating and just chill out, man. The plain orange cover seemed to exemplify that feeling too. Bright, one dimensional but just maybe lacking a little in individual personality?

Right To Go featured rap/hip-hop, for the first time since A Gospel on 1983’s debut album, from guests The Dynamic Three. However, it does, unfortunately, sound dreadfully naive all these years later.

  

Angel is another of the album’s high points though, a beautiful soul ballad. Heavens AboveThe Cost Of Loving and Walking The Night are all eminently listenable tracks - good hooks, nice soul feel and Weller’s voice now sounding as good as it could get.

The sound on this remastered release is good, as warm and full as it can be given that The Style Council's output was always rather trebly and while this album is often cited as being the start of The Style Council’s decline (I guess commercially that was certainly true), personally I have always found it to be an enjoyable listen every now and again. The fact that in 2020 I still dig it out has to be a compliment. It is, however, very much of its time in many ways.


** The usual slew of non-album tracks included All Year Round, a soulful, funky-ish number that more more a passing melodic resemblance to Big Boss Groove; the marvellously underrated, breezy pop single that was Wanted; the bleak violin-backed Françoise. All of these, I am sure, could have found their way on to the album and enhanced it. Take a look at the tracks below, too, and we could have had a very different album indeed. 

Also dating from the time just before this album's release is a cover of Willie Clayton's relatively obscure soul number, Love Pains. Once more, this was a really good track that would have fitted well on to the album. The same applies to another soul cover, David Sea's Night After Night, which leant its melody to It Didn't Matter. Another unearthed gem from 1986 was the powerful funk/rock of I Ain't Goin' Under. The song was, apparently, intended for Lenny Henry to record, but in the end the Style Council did it themselves. 

A surprising oddity from 1986 was an appealing cover of Lionel Bart'Who Will Buy? Also dating from this time was the impressive Dee C. Lee-led soul of I Am Leaving. They kept coming as well, these unused songs - the synthy disco-ish pop of My Very Good Friend and the jazzy, laid-back soul of April's Fool. What a cornucopia of riches. As I said, what an album this could have been.

 


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CONFESSIONS OF A POP GROUP (1988)

1. It's A Very Deep Sea
2. The Story Of Someone's Shoe
3. Changing Of The Guard
4. The Little Boy In A Castle/A Dove Flew Down From The Elephant
5. The Gardener Of Eden
6. Life At A Top People's Health Farm
7. Why I Went Missing
8. How She Threw It All Away
9. Iwasadoledadstoyboy
10. Confessions 1, 2 & 3
11. Confessions Of A Pop Group         


Released in 1988, for many, this was the death knell for The Style Council - an apparently preposterous, pretentious, indulgent piece of work that threw all previous conceptions of the band out of the window. For many of Paul Weller's Jam fans, this experimental, dare I say avant-garde album was the last straw. They washed their hands of him, at least until 1993. 

Weller had been listening to a lot of diverse music around this time - classical piano stuff like Erik Satie and Claude Debussy, increasing amounts of  jazz, as well as The Beach Boys' more experimental 1966-1972 material - and the results are clear on the old side one of the album, which is a totally out-there but strangely beguiling creation. Side two reverts to a more familiar pop/soul/funk groove but it is this adventurous half of the album which makes it a unique entity, something unlike anything the artist had ever done before. It was critically panned, with statements in the vein of "indulgent tosh that disappeared up its own fundament..." abounding. Funnily enough though ( or maybe not), in 1998 - ten years later - Weller was still insisting it was the best thing he ever did. Maybe he was being deliberately perverse, but even so he appeared to acknowledge the huge amount of work he had put into it, as opposed to dismissing it as a mistake.

Personally, I find it a fascinating listen, shall we say "challenging". It never fails to entrance and mystify in equal measures. It is quite a remarkable thing.



The album begins with the gentle piano-driven strains of the dreamy, lush ballad It's A Very Deep Sea, which features some of those Beach Boys-inspired vibes and seagull noises, like something off Surf's Up or maybe even Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue. It is actually a really good track. The next song, The Story Of Someone's Shoe, is an odd one, featuring the irritating sixties vocal group The Swingle Singers, who add their a capella "ba-da-da" backing vocals to Weller's to produce a really strange ambience. This is in another solar system to The Jam's work. Once more, there is something about it that makes you listen and draws you in. I simply refuse to criticise this material - it is clever, inventive and innovative. Kudos to Weller for daring to venture into these unknown territories.

Changing Of The Guard is a gently appealing little song with Weller duetting well with his wife at the time, Dee C. Lee, on a number that brings to mind the smooth, slickly-produced white soul of the previous album, The Cost Of Loving. The sweeping strings are sumptuous as is the subtle, jazzy drum sound. Just when we think the album is settling down into a more familiar style, now we get The Little Boy In A Castle/A Dove Flew Down From The Elephant - just a look at the titles is enough to start one doubting this product and it indeed adds considerable fuel to the fire of any argument that claims this album to have pretensions. The track was a short-ish Mick Talbot piano instrumental so why the need for a  ludicrously-extended double title? That aside, however, it is clear that Talbot has also been dipping into classical music. It sounds like Chopin or Rachmaninov (I think - don't quote me on that). 

The bravest side of music from Weller's pen comes to a close with the rambling ten-minute The Gardener Of Eden: A Three Piece Suite which features more classically-influenced piano (albeit beautiful at times), some lovely strings and occasional impressive vocals but, unfortunately, a general feeling of going nowhere in particular. That said, whenever I listen to it there are always moments when I think "wow, this is really good". Give it a try, I'm sure the reaction will be similar - basically, it is probably Paul Weller's finest musical creation. It seduces, relaxes and lifts up at various points in its ten minutes. Don't criticise it - it is a courageous, sensitive, intelligent and mature composition. If George Martin and The Beatles had come up with this it would have been hailed a work of genius, (or Brian Wilson, for that matter). Check out the horns and swirling organ at just over eight minutes before the gentle piano comes back in - impressive stuff.

By the way, the sound quality is excellent throughout this album, its producers utilising the contemporaneously new digital techniques to great effect. It is lush, sharp, clear and grandiose yet simultaneously warm and deep.

Side one of the album should possibly be listened to in isolation as it is just SO different to the rest of it. Side two literally feels like a completely different album. 

  

Now for the change - or the return to normality, depending on your point of view. Side two begins with three copper-bottomed Style Council soul/pop classics in the wry, anti-Thatcher Life At A Top People's Health Club with its witty lyrics and pounding, brassy stomp; the utterly beautiful, classy, emotional pop of Why I Went Missing (a song that I rate as up there in the group's top five) and the incredibly catchy flute-powered summery pop of How She Threw It All Away. These tracks are phenomenally good, for me, anyway. I loved them at the time and I still do. Why I Went Missing sends shivers down my spine - sometimes Weller can hit that note with a composition so perfectly, and this is one of those occasions. There is no way on this earth that these three killer tracks should be dismissed as the work of a writer and group on the way out - they are some of the best songs the group ever did.


The perplexingly-titled Iwasadoledadstoyboy (a song about male prostitution) revisits the quasi-rap/hip hop sound - strong organ and programmed drums - that was used on Café Bleu's A Gospel. Confessions 1, 2 & 3 gets that old soul mojo back - once again it harks back to the group's material from the previous few years. It could easily have been from The Cost Of Loving album. The canned "live" audience applause is a totally unnecessary sound effect, however. I am not sure why it was put on there. Confessions Of A Pop Group is an extended piece of sweet soul/funk with an intoxicating slow funky groove, fine rock guitar backing (unusually for The Style Council) and an excellent Weller vocal. This is also a really good, criminally-underrated track.

It was clear to see, despite the good points on here, however, that Paul Weller, although clearly wanting to diversify and offer up different sounds and creations, was in the midst of something of a creative quandary - just as the vacuous feelings of the 1980s were fading away and that decade’s pretensions being cast away as indulgent and vain, similarly, it was probably time to call an end to The Style Council’s brave but ultimately fruitless journey.

 

You could imagine NME journalists back in 1988 shaking their heads and composing their “poor old Paul Weller” invective after listening to this, couldn't you? He should never have received the invective that he did, (the same applies to David Bowie with Tin Machine a year or so later). Bollocks to the media, this was a worthy album.

Time for Weller to change direction, though, all the same. 


** The non-album tracks from this period included the absolutely lovely soulful vibe of Sweet Loving Ways; the romantic In Love For The First Time, with its winsome bossa nova groove and the funky I Do Like To B-Side The A-Side, which was a throwback to those 1983 Mick Talbot instrumentals. Also dating from 1988 is the superb funk of Waiting On A Connection.

The presence of any of these on the album may have given it a totally different character, you have to say.

  

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MODERNISM: A NEW DECADE (1989)

1. A New Decade
2. Love Of The World
3. The World Must Come Together
4. Hope (Feelings Gonna Getcha)
5. Can You Still Love Me?
6. That Spiritual Feeling
7. Everybody's On The Run
8. Sure Is Sure
9. Can You Still Love Me?        

Recorded in 1989 but not released until as part of a box set in 1999.
                    
I am afraid to say extended mixes of dance music leave me cold. Yes, it is ok to put on and just leave it on while you do something else (like write a review, I guess!) but I struggle to gain much musical satisfaction from endless keyboard loops and pounding, metronomic drum machines. Love Of The World and the more vocal Can You Love Me? have a vague appeal. I like the intro to That Spiritual Feeling and the whole vibe of the sax-driven track a lot. Indeed, it would be resurrected on one of his first solo releases in 1993. Sure Is Sure is a bit intoxicating at times, I have to admit and it does feature Weller's voice at points in it.

Look, it is all listenable, as such, it just doesn't get my juices flowing much. Sorry to all you late 80s house fans.

  

I admire Paul Weller for having the sheer stubborn belief to put out an album of house music at the time. However, the fact that a few years later, having hit rock bottom, creatively, he began channelling his inner Nick Drake, Traffic and What's Going On-era Marvin Gaye and utterly reinvented himself has to say something.


** The only non-album track dating from these final Style Council sessions is the excellent bouncy dance groove of Promised Land, a cover of a Joe Smooth song (who was he, I wonder?). It was a most accessible, enjoyable number and proved to be a high point on which the group would bow out on. 

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HERE'S SOME THAT GOT AWAY

1. Love Pains
2. Party Chambers
3. The Whole Point II
4. Ghosts Of Dachau
5. Sweet Loving Ways
6. A Casual Affair
7. A Woman's Song
8. Mick's Up
9. Waiting On A Connection
10. Night After Night
11. The Piccadilly Trail
12. (When You) Call Me
13. My Very Good Friend
14. April's Fool
15. In Love For The First Time
16. Big Boss Groove
17. Mick's Company
18. Blood Sports
19. Who Will Buy?
20. I Ain't Goin' Under
21. I Am Leaving
22. A Stone's Throw Away 
                            
The rest of the bonus material that didn't appear on albums is dotted around on this excellent compilation album, along with the first single, Speak Like A Child and other excellent singles like Long Hot SummerMoney Go RoundShout To The Top, Promised Land and Wanted.

There is certainly some great bonus material on here - the Northern soul-ish Love Pains; the soft soul of Sweet Loving Ways; the poppy soul of A Casual Affair; the sad beauty of A Woman's Song; the "white funk" of Waiting On A Connection; the soul stylings of Night After Night and The Piccadilly Trail. Track after track is excellent. Many of them date from the time of Our Favourite Shop and possibly were considered not in line with the political message that most of the album's tracks contained. Many of the tracks here show Paul Weller's liking for both contemporary and classic soul and funk.



My Very Good Friend is another pop soul classic, as is the slowed down soul of (When You) Call MeBig Boss Groove is an upbeat funker in the style of Internationalists and I Ain't Goin' Under is a funky bit of protest. Blood Sports is as tragic as the title suggests, as is the haunting Ghosts Of Dachau.

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Monday, 6 July 2020

Tin Machine




The albums covered here are:-

Tin Machine (1989)
and Tin Machine II (1991)

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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TIN MACHINE (1989)

1. Heaven's In Here
2. Tin Machine
3. Prisoner Of Love
4. Crack City
5. I Can't Read
6. Under The God
7. Amazing
8. Working Class Hero
9. Bus Stop
10. Pretty Thing
11. Video Crime
12. Run
13. Sacrifice Yourself            

David Bowie’s 1989 Tin Machine experiment, where he formed a “democratic” band with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and the rather odd Sales brothers was roundly mocked and derided by the music media and fans alike, which is actually extremely unfair. The intention was to strip things down, become a “band”, as opposed to a David Bowie vehicle, and return to some raw, hard rocking, guitar-driven rock music. All good so far, nothing wrong with that. The problem came maybe because of the seemingly endlessly hype from Bowie about how glad he was “just to be one part of a democratic band” and how good it was to be back on the road again, playing small flea pits. Unfortunately it all seemed just a tad pretentious and it would have appeared to alienate a lot of people. “I love Bowie, anything but Tin Machine though” was an often heard statement at the time, and over the following years. To add to that, Bowie’s dress was downstated and drab and he was bearded. No costumes or new “character” guise.

What I feel, though, is if this album had been released as a standard David Bowie release, the media would have been awash with “return to form” and “Bowie returns to his rock roots” quotes. The album would have been said to put 1987’s Never Let Me Down to shame. The fact that was not given any credibility at all it such a pity. In retrospect, though, people have started to view it more kindly, realising that in its grunge sound, Bowie was again ahead of his time (Nirvana were still a struggling small venue band at the time).

   

This is an excellent Bowie rock album, like The Man Who Sold The WorldZiggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane

The opener, Heaven's In Here is a impressive start, while Tin Machine is a frantic, punky piece of breakneck fun, with Bowie’s mockney vocals to the fore. Prisoner Of Love is as good a track as anything Bowie had done for several years.

Crack City is a mighty, powerful cut - again somewhat punky and grungy, all choppy guitars and nihilistic lyrics. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Man Who Sold The World though. Bowie’s voice is on top form here. It is a sort of Diamond Dogs track for the late 1980s.



I Can't Read is a bit raucous and irritating, to be honest, although it has some understated bass lines in parts and some great guitar, but Under The God is another quality slice of urban guitar rock. This is another of the album’s cornerstones. It is an ear-spliting experience though. Amazing is as close as it gets to a drop in intensity and has hints of 2013’s The Next Day album about it.  Bowie’s cover of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero is excellent, turning the stark song into an insistent, menacing rock groove. Gabrels’ guitar is electrifying on this.

Bus Stop is another great track. How any Bowie fan could not get some enjoyment out of this is beyond me. The grunge attack continues with the remaining tracks to the end of the album and by now, it does get a bit exhausting. Listened to as a whole, all 14 tracks, it can get a bit jarring - the pace and the raw, pounding sound never lets up. There’s no Lady Grinning SoulSoul Love or The Supermen to change the soundscape and ambience for a while. But a track or two here and there every now and again is a pleasure. Listen to something like Pretty Thing as a one off and it is genuinely exhilarating. Or, alternatively, listen to the first seven or the last seven together, allowing more appreciation to the individual tracks, such as the excellent Run and Baby Can Dance from the last seven.

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TIN MACHINE II (1991)


1. Baby Universal
2. One Shot
3. You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll
4. If There Is Something
5. Amlapura
6. Betty Wrong
7. You Can’t Talk                                
8. Stateside
9. Shopping For Girls
10. A Big Hurt
11. Sorry
12. Goodbye Mr. Ed


This was the second of the two Tin Machine studio albums, and has, unfortunately, largely been forgotten. This is a shame, because it is actually a really good album, full of solid rock songs. If anything, it is not quite as “in your face” as the debut album, containing more subtlety in places and less of the brash sonic assault. As with the first album, had this been released as a David Bowie album I am sure it would have been well-received, with praise along the lines of “look how Bowie has gone back to his rock roots here...”. As it was, Tin Machine tended to be treated with scorn, particularly by the media, which then filtered down to the public, who would come out with “Bowie’s ok, but what was Tin Machine all about?....” type of comments. As I said, this was a pity, because this is largely a good album.

So, on to it. Baby Universal is a pounding, catchy rocker to open with, featuring a big, rumbling bass line and some pounding drums. Bowie’s vocal is high in pitch but still copes with the power of the song. The riffy, chunky rock of One Shot sounded very similar to The Rolling Stones' 1986 One Hit To The Body, remarkably so, in fact, but it has never been mentioned as far as I can see. To be fair, it is only on the chorus refrain, it is a much slower number than The Stones’ one. Reeves Gabrels contributes a fine guitar solo on this one and, once again, Bowie’s vocal is strong. In anyone’s book, this is a fine Bowie rocker.

 

You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll is an infectious, understated rock song with some fine saxophone from Bowie near the end and a very nineties vocal, while the beefy cover of Roxy Music's If There Is Something is full-on and really impressive, Bowie even aping Bryan Ferry's vocal hiccuppiness at one point. The song is speeded up but it doesn't lose any of its appeal. Indeed, it sounds like a great Bowie original. I love the stripped-back bass, drums and vocal bit near the end, you know, the "when you were young" part. This is a bit of a never-mentioned Bowie gem.

Amlapura slows the pace down, a typically airy Bowie acoustic-driven number that could almost be off the Space Oddity album.  There are lots of hints of Bowie’s 1969-70 work in there. Betty Wrong (is that supposed to be a reverse of Betty Wright? If so, why?) is a muscular and once more enjoyably metronomic slow rocker. Nice guitar and drums driving it on. You Can’t Talk has echoes of 1979’s African Night Flight from the Lodger album and a Look Back In Anger-style riff. It features some early dance rhythms of that sort that would appear on 1997’s Earthling. The searing guitar is very Adrian Belew-sounding too.

Stateside has drummer Hunt Sales on vocals and his voice grates a little, the track is also a bit of a clunker but Bowie joins in on vocals and saxophone half way through to redeem it somewhat. Reeves Gabrels delivers a beautifully out-of-control guitar solo as well. The quality ups again on the very Bowie tones of Shopping For Girls, a track that would have been fine on Let’s DanceTonight or Never Let Me Down (admittedly this dates from several years later). A Big Hurt is the album’s most upbeat, energetic rocker, full of infectious riffs, that finds Bowie sounding as if he is really enjoying himself.

Sorry again features Hunt Sales on vocals on a slightly dull, plodding rock ballad that never really gets going. Goodbye Mr. Ed ends the album in true Bowie fashion as electric and acoustic guitars merge with a bit of a new wave-style beat. It is a bit of a precursor for 2002's Slip Away, from the Heathen album.

This was a David Bowie album in all but name, and a very good one.



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David Bowie - A More Contemporary Sound (1989-2003)



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The nineties were where David Bowie changed quite considerably, musically, incorporating contemporary dance beats into his music and giving his sound a deeper, more dense production. Although it is not my favourite phase of his many phases, there is still plenty of material to enjoy. (It was strange how he looked like David Beckham for a while, though, wasn't it?).

The albums covered are:-

Tin Machine (1989)
Tin Machine II (1991)
Black Tie White Noise (1993)
1.Outside (1995)
Earthling (1997)
Hours...(1999)
Live At Glastonbury (2000)
Live At The Beeb (2000)
Heathen (2002)
Reality (2003)
and A Reality Tour (2003)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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TIN MACHINE (1989)

1. Heaven's In Here
2. Tin Machine
3. Prisoner Of Love
4. Crack City
5. I Can't Read
6. Under The God
7. Amazing
8. Working Class Hero
9. Bus Stop
10. Pretty Thing
11. Video Crime
12. Run
13. Sacrifice Yourself       

Bowie’s 1989 Tin Machine experiment, where he formed a “democratic” band with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and the rather odd Sales brothers, Tony and Hunt was roundly mocked and derided by the music media and fans alike, which is actually extremely unfair. The intention was to strip things down, become a “band”, as opposed to a David Bowie vehicle, and return to some raw, hard rocking, guitar-driven rock music. All good so far, nothing wrong with that. The problem came maybe because of the seemingly endlessly hype from Bowie about how glad he was “just to be one part of a democratic band” and how good it was to be back on the road again, playing small flea pits. Unfortunately it all seemed just a tad pretentious and it would have appeared to alienate a lot of people. “I love Bowie, anything but Tin Machine though” was an often heard statement at the time, and over the following years. To add to that, Bowie’s dress was down-stated and drab and he was bearded - no costumes or new “character” guise.

What I feel, though, is if this album had been released as a standard David Bowie release, the media would have been awash with “return to form” and “Bowie returns to his rock roots” quotes. The album would have been said to put 1987’s Never Let Me Down to shame. The fact that was not given any credibility at all it such a pity. In retrospect, though, people have started to view it more kindly, realising that in its grunge sound, Bowie was again ahead of his time (Nirvana were still a struggling small venue band at the time).


         
This is an excellent Bowie rock album, like The Man Who Sold The WorldZiggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane

The opener, Heaven's In Here is a impressive start, while Tin Machine is a frantic, punky piece of breakneck fun, with Bowie’s mockney vocals to the fore. Prisoner Of Love is as good a track as anything Bowie had done for several years.

Crack City is a mighty, powerful cut - again somewhat punky and grungy, all choppy guitars and nihilistic lyrics. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Man Who Sold The World though. Bowie’s voice is on top form here. It is a sort of Diamond Dogs track for the late 1980s.



I Can't Read is a bit raucous and irritating, to be honest, although it has some understated bass lines in parts and some great guitar, but Under The God is another quality slice of urban guitar rock. This is another of the album’s cornerstones. It is an ear-spliting experience though. Amazing is as close as it gets to a drop in intensity and has hints of 2013’s The Next Day album about it.  Bowie’s cover of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero is excellent, turning the stark song into an insistent, menacing rock groove. Gabrels’ guitar is electrifying on this.

Bus Stop is another great track. How any Bowie fan could not get some enjoyment out of this is beyond me. The grunge attack continues with the remaining tracks to the end of the album and by now, it does get a bit exhausting. Listened to as a whole, all 14 tracks, it can get a bit jarring - the pace and the raw, pounding sound never lets up. There’s no Lady Grinning SoulSoul Love or The Supermen to change the soundscape and ambience for a while. But a track or two here and there every now and again is a pleasure. Listen to something like Pretty Thing as a one off and it is genuinely exhilarating. Or, alternatively, listen to the first seven or the last seven together, allowing more appreciation to the individual tracks, such as the excellent Run and Baby Can Dance from the last seven.

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TIN MACHINE II (1991)


1. Baby Universal
2. One Shot
3. You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll
4. If There Is Something
5. Amlapura
6. Betty Wrong
7. You Can’t Talk                                  
8. Stateside
9. Shopping For Girls
10. A Big Hurt
11. Sorry
12. Goodbye Mr. Ed


This was the second of the two Tin Machine studio albums, and has, unfortunately, largely been forgotten. This is a shame, because it is actually a really good album, full of solid rock songs. If anything, it is not quite as “in your face” as the debut album, containing more subtlety in places and less of the brash sonic assault. As with the first album, had this been released as a David Bowie album I am sure it would have been well-received, with praise along the lines of “look how Bowie has gone back to his rock roots here...”. As it was, Tin Machine tended to be treated with scorn, particularly by the media, which then filtered down to the public, who would come out with “Bowie’s ok, but what was Tin Machine all about?....” type of comments. As I said, this was a pity, because this is largely a good album.

So, on to it. Baby Universal is a pounding, catchy rocker to open with, featuring a big, rumbling bass line and some pounding drums. Bowie’s vocal is high in pitch but still copes with the power of the song. The riffy, chunky rock of One Shot sounded very similar to The Rolling Stones' 1986 One Hit To The Body, remarkably so, in fact, but it has never been mentioned as far as I can see. To be fair, it is only on the chorus refrain, it is a much slower number than The Stones’ one. Reeves Gabrels contributes a fine guitar solo on this one and, once again, Bowie’s vocal is strong. In anyone’s book, this is a fine Bowie rocker.

 

You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll is an infectious, understated rock song with some fine saxophone from Bowie near the end and a very nineties vocal, while the beefy cover of Roxy Music's If There Is Something is full-on and really impressive, Bowie even aping Bryan Ferry's vocal hiccuppiness at one point. The song is speeded up but it doesn't lose any of its appeal. Indeed, it sounds like a great Bowie original. I love the stripped-back bass, drums and vocal bit near the end, you know, the "when you were young" part. This is a bit of a never-mentioned Bowie gem.

Amlapura slows the pace down, a typically airy Bowie acoustic-driven number that could almost be off the Space Oddity album.  There are lots of hints of Bowie’s 1969-70 work in there. Betty Wrong (is that supposed to be a reverse of Betty Wright? If so, why?) is a muscular and once more enjoyably metronomic slow rocker. Nice guitar and drums driving it on. You Can’t Talk has echoes of 1979’s African Night Flight from the Lodger album and a Look Back In Anger-style riff. It features some early dance rhythms of that sort that would appear on 1997’s Earthling. The searing guitar is very Adrian Belew-sounding too.

Stateside has drummer Hunt Sales on vocals and his voice grates a little, the track is also a bit of a clunker but Bowie joins in on vocals and saxophone half way through to redeem it somewhat. Reeves Gabrels delivers a beautifully out-of-control guitar solo as well. The quality ups again on the very Bowie tones of Shopping For Girls, a track that would have been fine on Let’s Dance, Tonight or Never Let Me Down (admittedly this dates from several years later). A Big Hurt is the album’s most upbeat, energetic rocker, full of infectious riffs, that finds Bowie sounding as if he is really enjoying himself.

Sorry again features Hunt Sales on vocals on a slightly dull, plodding rock ballad that never really gets going. Goodbye Mr. Ed ends the album in true Bowie fashion as electric and acoustic guitars merge with a bit of a new wave-style beat. It is a bit of a precursor for 2002's Slip Away, from the Heathen album.

This was a David Bowie album in all but name, and a very good one.



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BLACK TIE WHITE NOISE (1993)

1. The Wedding
2. You've Been Around
3. I Feel Free
4. Black Tie, White Noise
5. Jump They Say
6. Nite Flights
7. Pallas Athena
8. Miracle Goodnight
9. Don't Let Me Down And Down
10. Looking For Lester
11. I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday
12. The Wedding Song          

For me, there are two parts of David Bowie's career, his Tin Machine work being the bridging point between the two. The first part is the part that really means the most to me, the second part begins here, in 1993, and heralds the start of far more use of dance rhythms and contemporary music, some of which I find less accessible than the sounds of the 1970s and 1980s.

David Bowie said this of recording the album -

"....I think this album comes from a very different emotional place than on previous albums. That's the passing of time, which has brought maturity and a willingness to relinquish full control over my emotions, let them go a bit, start relating to other people, which is something that's been happening to me slowly – and, my God, it's been uphill – over the last ten or twelve years. I feel a lot freer these days to be able to talk about myself and about what's happened to me, because I've been able to face it. For many years, everything was always blocked out. The day before was always blocked out. I never wanted to return to examine anything that I did particularly. But the stakes have changed. I feel alive, in a real sense....."
                                 
What we were getting here was a newly-energised Bowie, fresh after his fun with Tin Machine, recovered after the travails of Never Let Me Down.

 
Anyway, on to this album in more detail. It begins with an appealing instrumental, The Wedding, which combines some Low/"Heroes"- style sonorous keyboards with a lilting, melodic bass line, some swirling saxophone  and some funky guitar riffs. It is quite captivating in its own, meandering way. Chic's Nile Rodgers was on production duties again (he did Let's Dance) and old band mates Mick Ronson (who tragically died 24 days after the album's release), pianist Mike Garson and Tin Machine's Reeves Gabrels. The next track, You've Been Around, is a thumping piece of jazz rock and funk mixed in. Bowie briefly references 1971's Changes in the lyrics. The album was, I guess, intended to be a sort of Young Americans part two - this time updated to be a sophisticated urban soul meets dance club techno rhythms. That treatment was given to Cream's sixties blues rock classic I Feel Free, pretty much rendering it unrecognisable. It actually just sounds like a great new, state-of-the-art Bowie song. It has mesmeric, intoxicating rhythms sliced apart by a searing Mick Ronson solo. It has to remembered that, in many ways, grunge was the music of the era, yet Bowie came out with something like this. Very adventurous as usual.

Bowie plays a lot of saxophone on the album, and Rodgers interestingly said of the fact -

"....I think David would be the first to admit that he's not a saxophonist in the traditional sense. I mean, you wouldn't call him up to do gigs. He uses his playing as an artistic tool. He's a painter. He hears an idea, and he goes with it. But he absolutely knows where he's going, because he damn well plays the same thing over and over again until I say, 'Well, I guess he hears that.' It's what you might call accidentally deliberate...."

A wonderful trumpet from Lester Bowie (no relation) introduces the ebullient and stimulating Black Tie, White Noise with an instantly recognisable Bowie vocal. It has a laid-back, summery feel and a vibe similar to that which some of the tracks on Tonight were aspiring to. It reminds me of several other songs, but I can't bring them to mind, just snatches here and there. Despite the almost chilled out vibe at times the lyrics are typically portentous in places. Bowie certainly seems rejuvenated here, both as a lyricist and vocalist. Jump They Say has a frantic, dance-influenced rhythm, all repetitive drum beats per minute and swirling saxophone in places. Bowie's vocal is one of those deep, serious-sounding ones. Some excellent brass soloing in the middle. It is a very instrumentally adventurous track, despite the metronomic drum sound. Nite Flights (actually a Walker Brothers cover, although again it sounds like a Bowie original) has a deep, bassy and another vibrating, deep and haughty vocal. In many ways, these tracks are like some of the "Heroes" and Lodger material but without some of the industrial electronic vibes of that era. Some U2-style electric guitar punctuate the air. They started putting out material like this within months. I wonder why? Bowie leading the way again. It sounds cliched, but it is true.


The instrumental (save a few chanted vocals) Pallas Athena has some real "Heroes" saxophone blowing all around its pounding, clubby drum beat. Miracle Goodnight has a incredibly catchy instrumental hook and again, Bowie's vocals are a nostalgic reminder of earlier eras. Don't Let Me Down And Down is a somewhat twee, romantic song that would have been slated had it appeared on Never Let Me Down or Tonight. It is/was so cliched and easy to criticise those albums yet praise this one. For me, I like them equally, There were good points on those albums, whatever the music media say. The song is perfectly acceptable though, but is certainly no work of genius. Looking For Lester is a strident instrumental featuring the talents of the afore-mentioned trumpeter once again. The presence of instrumentals on this album enhance the Low/"Heroes" comparisons in a tiny way, but of course the overall ambience is utterly different. Mike Garson has a trademark piano solo on the track too, which is always good to hear.

I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday is a cover of a Morrissey song. I know nothing about Morrissey's work so have no knowledge of the song but it seems to suit Bowie in a Wild Is The Wind sort of mournful way. The Wedding Song reprises the opening track with more pumping beats and  wailing saxophone from Bowie, as well as a floaty, indistinct vocal. It is a relaxing end to an intriguing album. It is my favourite of this "second period" Bowie work until The Next Day.

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1.OUTSIDE (1995)

1. Leon Takes Us Outside
2. Outside
3. The Heart's Filthy Lesson
4. A Small Plot Of Land
5. Segue - Baby Grace ( A Horrid Cassette)
6. Hallo Spaceboy
7. The Motel
8. I Have Not Been To Oxford Town
9. No Control
10. Segue - Algeria Touchshriek
11. The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
12. Segue - Ramona A. Stone/I Am With Name
13. Wishful Beginnings
14. We Prick You
15. Segue - Nathan Adler (1)
16. I'm Deranged
17. Thru' These Architect's Eyes
18. Segue - Nathan Adler (2)
19. Strangers When We Meet    

David Bowie was back with old mate, producer Brian Eno for this one. It was released two years after the vaguely experimental Black Tie White Noise and it ploughed several new furrows - dance music, spoken interludes, electronica, post grunge and even more avant garde, piano-driven jazz than had been dabbled with on the previous album.

It has, supposedly, a "concept" about a detective investigating the horrific murder and dismembering of a fourteen year-old girl. All rather unsettling and frankly a bit odd. It features several characters and, in between the songs, has several short, often spoken pieces. The one called Baby Grace I actually don't ever play, finding it decidedly creepy. So, I just stick to the songs, leaving out the spoken interludes and, playing them thus, the "concept" fades away. Did I really care about these characters anyway? No. The songs can all be taken separately, at face value. Yes, I know it is supposed to be listened to in its original incarnation, but well, there you go, I don't. Am I "cheating" the concept? Bowie purists would undoubtedly say yes.

Bowie himself said that the album was intended to be post-apocalyptic in a slightly Diamond Dogs fashion as the end of the century approached, something about which Bowie seemed to have become increasingly afraid of.

  
                                 
Outside is a solemn, intense but sonically addictive song, with a really strong Bowie vocal and a great sound to it. Lots of searing guitar, keyboards and a slow, industrial drum beat. I had forgotten what a good opener it was. Heart's Filthy Lesson introduces us to Bowie's dance beat experimentation that would continue into 1997's Earthling album. Beneath the thumping beat lies some madcap Mike Garson piano, some delicious rhythms, backing vocals and some haughty Bowie vocals coming in here and there. It is an innovatory and interesting track. Similarly so is the avant-garde jazz of A Small Plot Of Land, with old Ziggy-era pianist Mike Garson to the fore. It is a most unusual track with some beguiling rhythms, cutting Talking Heads-style guitar and oddly distant but sonorous vocals floating around from Bowie. It is one of his strangest songs.

Quite how Hallo Spaceboy, a crazed dance beat song with spacey overtones, fits in with the concept  is unclear. It seems completely incongruous to me. The Motel is a haunting, ethereal number with some more sumptuous Mike Garson piano, some absolutely killer Reeves Gabrels guitar and some echoes of the future in how some of the Blackstar album would sound in places. That whole futuristic jazz thing.

I Have Not Been To Oxford Town has Bowie narrating part of the album's concept, semi-singing over an insistent but highly captivating guitar-driven industrial rhythm. No Control has a slow-burning, walking pace dance-ishbeat and a typically arch Bowie vocal. The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction has some Aladdin Sane-style piano over another thumping dance beat.

 

I Am With Name is a bizarre, cacophonous piece of jazzy experimentation that doesn't lend itself to too many listens, to be honest. Wishful Beginnings has a sledgehammer single beat drum sound that goes right to one's centre. It is a slightly unnerving but infectious song. All very enigmatic.

We Prick You has the frantic, synthesised dance beat back again, but it features some excellent keyboard and guitar sounds too and an energising vocal. I'm Deranged just washes over you in a swathe of dance beats and occasionally tinkling piano with a somewhat airy, distant vocal. Thru' These Architect's Eyes is one of the album's best tracks. It has a rumbling bass line, great guitar riffs, yet more wonderful piano and Bowie powerfully incanting out the perplexing lyrics. Finally, (and this has been Bowie's longest ever album), we get the most conventionally-played number, Strangers When We Meet. It has an introductory riff vaguely reminiscent of Spencer Davis's Gimme Some Lovin'. It is probably my favourite on the album. It has a great hook, catchy melody and thankfully, no dance rhythms! A "proper" Bowie song - at last. These last two songs have been good ones, but, I have to admit, although the album is somewhat stodgy, it does indeed merit many listens. There is much beneath the surface. That is the mark of a good David Bowie album, I guess.

Incidentally the extended double disc edition of the album contains endless remixes of some of the tracks - five versions of Hearts Filthy Lesson, for example. It is a labour of love trawling through them all, but some of them are pretty good and sometimes superior to the one used on the actual album. I particularly like the bassy Rubber Mix of Heart's Filthy Lesson.

Interestingly, Brian Eno spoke one week after Bowie's death thus -

"....About a year ago we started talking about Outside – the last album we worked on together. We both liked that album a lot and felt that it had fallen through the cracks. We talked about revisiting it, taking it somewhere new. I was looking forward to that...."

What a shame it never came to pass.

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EARTHLING (1997)

1. Little Wonder
2. Looking For Satellites
3. Battle For Britain (The Letter)
4. Seven Years In Tibet
5. Dead Man Walking
6. Telling Lies
7. The Last Thing You Should Do
8. I'm Afraid Of Americans
9. Law (Earthlings On Fire)                                 
This was David Bowie's "dance" album, influenced by contemporary electronica and "drum and bass" synthesised sounds. It is not a genre that has ever really appealed to me, so, for that reason, it is not one of my favourite Bowie albums.

However, unlike a lot of drum and bass material, Bowie didn't simply take snippets, loops and samples of bits of other songs and paste them over a dance beat, he did create actual songs to go with the beat. They are lyrically pretty minimalist, but they are actual songs and do have a certain appeal. In some ways, though, the songs sound as if they are regular Bowie songs and he has slapped a dance beat on them. One wonders what they may have been like given a maybe more conventional rock backing, a soul backing, or a Tin Machine grungy backing. As it was, he wanted to give them a dance backing, so that was that. Beneath the slightly overwhelming backing, though, lie a few hidden treasures here and there. Bowie was always the great innovator, and he certainly is here. It is one of his most experimental albums, if not the most.

Bowie actually compared the album to Scary Monsters in its aural attack and I can sort of see what he meant. He said he wanted to be "dynamic and aggressive". It was certainly that, but, as I said, I would have preferred more guitar to programmed drums, but there you go.

Little Wonder does indeed have an intoxicating rhythm, a catchy chorus hook - "so far away..." and all sorts of electric noises coming in and out of the song, behind the metronomic, thumping dance beat. There are guitar bits, keyboard bits, strings bits. It is a veritable cornucopia of sounds, making it stand out a bit from the usual dance stuff.



Looking For Satellites is less frenetic, beat-wise and quite slow and industrial in its grinding beat and chanted vocal refrain about "shampoo, TV..." and so on. Battle For Britain (The Letter) actually sounds like a song from the Space Oddity era of the late sixties/early seventies until the huge drum machine rhythm kicks in. It has a great, sharp guitar interjection in places, which is quite exhilarating. The vocals just sound so evocative of that early era.

Seven Years In Tibet has really a chilled-out, quiet introduction and some plaintive Bowie vocals before a seriously huge, heavy blast of a chorus kicks in, then it goes quiet again. It is actually an intriguing song, with many facets. Typical Bowie in fact. Dead Man Walking sees a return to the 160 beats per minute, (or whatever it is), club beat backing. It has, beneath the synthesised onslaught, some excellent Bowie vocals and lyrics. It also has some interesting keyboard and guitar parts that have a Talking Heads feel to them in places. Right at the end, some recognisable Mike Garson piano arrives, a bit too late though.



Telling Lies is a sonorous, bassy thumper with another haunting and beguiling Bowie vocal. Again, one can't help but wonder what he song would have been like if given an alternative backing. The same applies to the mysterious The Last Thin You Should Do , which features some searing guitar from old Tin Machine mate Reeves Gabrels. By now, listening to this album, the monotonous beat is starting to grate a bit, I have to admit. I am saved, though, by the gloriously powerful, riffy and addictively catchy I'm Afraid Of Americans. This is, in my opinion, the best track on the album. It has some excellent lyrics, a great build up and a monster of a chorus. Law (Earthlings On Fire) has echoes of The Human League's Sound Of The Crowd in its vocal refrain. Otherwise it is pretty intransigent, clunky dance stodge. The album is not really my thing, but a dip into it every now and again can't harm.

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HOURS....(1999)

1. Thursday's Child
2. Something In The Air
3. Survive
4. If I'm Dreaming My Life
5. Seven
6. What's Really Happening
7. The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell
8. New Angels Of Promise
9. Brilliant Adventure
10. The Dreamers  

After the diversification into dance music experimentation that was Earthling, two years later, Bowie, thankfully, in my view, ditched the "beats per minute" and returned with this mainly melodic, ethereal, introspective album. He still employs programmed drums and bass guitar as opposed to a conventional band, but it often doesn't sound like it. Initially, they recorded it with a Diamond Dogs  guitar backing, which guitarist Reeves Gabrels much preferred, but in the end Bowie went for a more slick, contemporary sound. That was a shame, I would have liked to have head the original version.
                                 
It kicks off with the airy, breathy Thursday's Child, which, although it appears to use programmed drums has a fetching melody and a killer bass line, which is also synthesised but actually sounds authentic. The same sound features on the relaxed and chilled-out intro to Something In The Air - a nonchalantly appealing and typically Bowie song. This album, far more than the previous two, sounds what I imagine a David Bowie album twenty-odd years on from the mid/late seventies should sound like. I much prefer it to either Earthling or 1.Outside, although there are many who would not agree with me.

 

Survive is, according to Bowie himself, very much written using similar structures to those used on Hunky Dory in the early seventies. I am sure he is correct, but I can't detect it myself. It sounds very much of its time. A bit of Starman style morse code guitar creeps in, however. If I'm Dreaming My Life is sombre and introspective and probably a bit too long. It is considerably darker and bleaker than the material so far.

Seven brings us back to a lighter mood, however, with a Hunky Dory style acoustic guitar intro, but that is as far as that tenuous link goes. For me, the material is not really reminiscent of any earlier era. It is Bowie as he was in 1999. It is music contemporary to its time.

What's Really Happening is a powerful, industrial-sounding rock number with a big drum sound and some "Heroes"-style guitar. The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell is a strong, riffy guitar-driven rock number, probably my favourite on the album. Bowie's vocal is deep and confident on this one too.

 

New Angels Of Promise starts with a Japanese-sounding intro and has lots of echoes of Sons Of The Silent Age in its deep, resonant vocals. Brilliant Adventure is an infectious, eastern-sounding instrumental which has always reminded me of the theme to Midnight Express. Again, it sounds a lot like the instrumental stuff from "Heroes", like Moss Garden. This relatively short album ends with the melancholy, sonorous The Dreamers, which is full of strong, powerful, scratchy guitar riffs and slightly distorted vocals. The album was quite harshly treated by critics at the time, which was somewhat unfair. It is not that bad at all.

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LIVE AT GLASTONBURY (2000)

1. Wild Is The Wind
2. China Girl
3. Changes
4. Stay
5. Life On Mars?
6. Absolute Beginners
7. Ashes To Ashes
8. Rebel Rebel
9 . Little Wonder
10. Golden Years
11. Fame
12. All The Young Dudes
13. The Man Who Sold The World
14. Station To Station
15. Starman
16. Hallo Spaceboy
17. Under Pressure
18. Ziggy Stardust
19. "Heroes"
20. Let's Dance
21. I'm Afraid Of Americans

What a truly wonderful year 2018 has been for David Bowie live releases - Welcome To The Blackout, the two concerts on the Loving The Alien box set and now this, his long-awaited Glastonbury headline appearance from 2000. This is manna from Heaven to Bowie enthusiasts. Admittedly it is a bit of a "greatest hits" exercise as opposed to, say, 2003's Reality Tour set list, but you have to expect that from the Glastonbury set up. You don't want people moaning "he didn't play Let's Dance...." after all.

The first thing that hits you when the absolutely tip-notch band kicks into a haunting but powerful Wild Is The Wind is just how damn superb the sound is. Well, it is for me, at least. Nothing "bootleg" about it. Audiophiles may disagree but it suits me perfectly - full, muscular and bassy, as it should be. Bowie's voice is outstanding on this opener too, doing justice to a great song and the guitar at the end is sublime. One song in and I am completely immersed in this. Looks like another "Bowie day" coming up. China Girl is thumpingly more attacking than the original, which I like. More excellent guitar on here too. It's old 1974 mate Earl Slick, so what did one expect? Mike Garson is on piano too and you can hear his trademark sound all over the album (check out the bit at the end of Fame).  I really like this interpretation of China Girl. One of the best ones around. The piano is almost E. St Band at the end. The guitar/piano/vocal interplay is stunning.

  

Changes is given a huge, pounding sound in between Bowie's iconic verses. It is played in a David Live style, in terms of its full-on assault, well that's what it reminds me of anyway, although there is no saxophone. Look, I could carry on saying how wonderful every track is. I am sure you don't want to plough through all that but needless to say I just have to reiterate just what a pleasure it is listening to this. Just check out the verve and funky vigour of Stay - it's guitar, its delicious bass, its funky drums. Just great stuff. Good Lord above I miss Bowie. Thankfully releases like this keep coming along with regularity to sate my appetite for more. I couldn't recommend this highly enough. There will be some who will no doubt disagree, as that seems to be the way with Bowie releases these days, but i am sure 90% will just sit back and enjoy this.

Lovely to hear Absolute Beginners given an outing, in its full version too, (it makes my soul soar at the "it's absolutely true" bit), and The Man Who Sold The World. Great to hear that. Ashes To Ashes is just barnstormingly atmospheric. Golden Years too. Wow. Wonderful. Starman is as good as  have ever heard it, too. It doesn't often get an airing, either.

I'm sure you can tell by now that the set list is great, Bowie is on fire, the band is marvellous, the sound similarly so. Bowie says at the beginning of Life On Mars? that he had been suffering from laryngitis earlier in the week. You would never had known. His voice is sublime. It is one of the finest live versions of Mars? I have heard, if not the best. Listening to it sound so good just makes me feel sad. He wouldn't want that, though, he would want his remarkable work to be enjoyed to the full. So I will.

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LIVE AT THE BEEB (2000)

  


TRACK LISTING (CD 3)

1. Wild Is The Wind
2. Ashes To Ashes
3. Seven
4. This Is Not America
5. Absolute Beginners
6. Always Crashing In The Same Car
7. Survive
8. Little Wonder
9. The Man Who Sold The World
10. Fame
11. Stay
12. Hallo Spaceboy
13. Cracked Actor
14. I'm Afraid Of Americans
15. Let's Dance

Although there is some excellent quality late sixties/early seventies material on this main 2CD box set, it is the 2000 Live At The BBC Radio Theatre CD that I bought this for. Recorded a short time after Bowie's historic Glastonbury appearance (now thankfully available, at last) the sound quality is truly excellent and although the set list is shorter at fifteen songs, it contains not just '"greatest hits" but includes contemporary album cuts like Seven and Survive, plus a stunning, almost jazzy version of Always Crashing In The Same Car and the wonderful This Is Not AmericaAbsolute Beginners is here too, in its barnstorming full version. Well worth getting your hands on this 3CD edition if you still can.

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HEATHEN (2002)

1. Sunday
2. Cactus
3. Slip Away
4. Slow Burn
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)    

This is an album that included three cover versions of other artists' songs and an upbeat, lively ambience, utilising a lot of drum machine rhythms (far more than on Reality for example, which used more "proper" drums). Personally, I prefer the latter, but this is certainly not a bad album, containing some interesting material that demands several listens.
                           
The haunting Sunday is a low-key beginning with a percussion riff that sounds as if was taken from the title track of Station To Station (the train sounding bit). There are other addictively weird electronic noises and Bowie's voice is sonorously haughty. After about four minutes it suddenly develops a pounding rock beat and then finishes, just when it was getting interesting. The powerful drum beat is continued in Cactus, which has an insistent rock beat which is almost "dance" in its metronomic consistency of rhythm. An acoustic guitar leads the track, however and the lyrics are somewhat bizarre. Apparently it is a cover of a song by The Pixies, something of which I was not aware (or of the original song, which I have just listened to, and enjoyed, although I prefer Bowie's version).

 

Slip Away is a melodic, grandiose song delivered in a sort of Space Oddity anthem type of fashion. It has "space" references and mentions in the chorus of "Uncle Floyd" who was a US children's TV character (another thing of which I had, or indeed have, no knowledge).

It is pretty much a consistently expressed opinion that the "Heroes"-esque Slow Burn is the favourite track on the album for most. It is mine too. It builds up magnificently, with a cutting lead guitar, great bass line and intoxicating rhythm that keeps your attention. It has hints, for me of Teenage Wildlife from Scary Monsters (that other notable "Heroes" re-write). I have read some commenters say that there are vague references to 9/11 (which took place during the recording sessions for this album) on this track and on other parts of the album. Personally, I don't pick up on them at all and indeed, Bowie has stated that none of the songs relate to that event. Maybe people are looking to hard for something that just isn't there. Either way, its a stunning track. Best on the album.

 

Afraid is pretty good too - lively, fast-paced track with some string orchestration in the backing and an energetic vocal from Bowie. I can see why it is often considered a bit of a throwaway after Slow Burn but I quite like it. The bass is superb too. I've Been Waiting For You is another good one, a cover from Neil Young's debut album, with a powerful guitar sound (more so than Young's, even) and strong hook. The rhythmic opening to I Would Be Your Slave is extremely catchy and the vocal is a typical Bowie one - instantly recognisable in that sort of Absolute Beginners yearning style.

I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship sounds like something from the dance-influenced Earthling album, with that frantic, synthesised drum machine sound. It is vibrant, however, and actually a lot of fun. Almost as if Bowie is parodying himself. It is, however,  a cover of something by The Legendary Stardust Cowboy who I have blissfully never heard of. (I checked it out, it's phenomenally awful!) 5.15: The Angels Have Gone is a beguiling song with a totally addictive drum rhythm and a plaintive vocal. It does eventually kick in to a massive, heavy chorus before quietening down again into its inventive rhythm.  It is probably the most experimental, adventurous track on the album.



I find Everyone Says "Hi" to be somewhat twee, however. It has a good hook, though, with some "way-wah-wah-ooh" backing vocals straight off Absolute Beginners. I like A Better Future with its chant-like refrain of "I demand a better future..." and the album ends with the plaintive, haunting Heathen (The Rays). Not as good as Reality is my opinion, but an album worthy of repeated listens.

PS - On the extended version of this album are some excellent bonus tracks - the rocking re-makes of  the sixties tracks You've Got A Habit Of Leaving (which I love) and Baby Loves That WaySafe;  Shadow Man; When The Boys Come Marching Home, Wood Jackson and also re-recordings of Conversation Piece and Panic In Detroit. All these tracks are well worth checking out.

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REALITY (2003)

1. New Killer Star
2. Pablo Picsasso
3. Never Get Old
4. The Loneliest Guy
5. Looking For Water
6. She'll Drive The Big Car
7. Days
8. Fall Dog Bombs The Moon
9. Try Some, Buy Some
10. Reality
11. Bring Me The Disco King     

This is a keyboard, electronic sound-dominated album, taking some of the sonic ambience of "Heroes"Lodger and, particularly Scary Monsters to produce an album that while, looking back to those albums, still managed, as Bowie always did, to sound contemporary. There are all sorts of weird dance-ish sort of sounds all over the album. Bowie's distinct vocal soars confidently over it all. It is one of my favourites of the "later period" Bowie albums. There is considerable contemporary influence on it, but it also rocks, as much as any of his later albums, which is so good to hear. Earl Slick and Mike Garson are present from days gone by too.

Bowie also showed he had lost none of his innate ability to produce a somewhat pretentious quote explaining the concept of the album, however -

"...I feel that reality has become an abstract for so many people over the last 20 years. Things that they regarded as truths seem to have just melted away, and it's almost as if we're thinking post-philosophically now. There's nothing to rely on any more. No knowledge, only interpretation of those facts that we seem to be inundated with on a daily basis. Knowledge seems to have been left behind and there's a sense that we are adrift at sea. There's nothing more to hold on to, and of course political circumstances just push that boat further out...."
                   
OK David, shall we get on with the music? The opener, New Killer Star features a really good Bowie vocal, a big thumping metronomic drum sound, some searing guitars and some swirling "Heroes"-style synthesiser riffs. The song has a catchy hook and something about it. "The great white scar over Battery Park" presumably refers, somewhat obliquely, to 9/11. It has an urban New York feel to it, anyway, or maybe I am subconsciously conditioned to thinking that.

 

The punchy, upbeat Pablo Picasso has a sumptuous, intoxicating bass line underpinning it some addictive keyboard riffs, Spanish guitar and some decidedly odd lyrics from Bowie about Pablo Picasso never being called an asshole. There is something vaguely Velvet Underground about this one and it has a very psychedelic sixties mandolin(?) solo part at the end. It is an appealing, beguiling track. Never Get Old has a booming, strident hook about never getting old (obviously). Bowie delivers the message wonderfully and you believe him. Of course, tragically, he never did get old. One of the things that is so notable about this album, for me, is just how good Bowie's vocals are.

The Loneliest Guy is a plaintive, piano and keyboard backed sombre and sad number that brings the tempo of the album down, briefly, but it is soon back up again for the riffy, Looking For Water, which, for me, has hints of some of the Never Let Me Down material from 1987 about it. It also has that cutting, Robert Fripp-style guitar all over it and a haunting, sonorous Bowie vocal.

 

She'll Drive The Big Car is a rhythmic, bassy very American-influenced, grinding song with references to "up on Riverside", "The Hudson" and "by the dawn's early light..". Again, the vocal has real Never Let Me Down era nuances to it, in places. Days is not The Kinks song, but somehow it sounds like its older brother. Again, it has a really appealing bass rhythm and yet another towering, yet somehow sad and yearning vocal.

Fall Dogs Bombs The Moon recycles that swirling, industrial sounding "Heroes" synthesiser riff in places, particularly half way through. It is a pounding, intense and bleakly rocking number. One of the best on the album. Proper drums on it too. Try Some, Buy Some is a cover of a George Harrison song from 1971. For whatever reason this one just doesn't convince me and is probably this album's It Ain't Easy. I actually don't think it's a very good song, to be rurally honest. Reality is next and a frenetic, electric rocker it is too, with airs of the material on Lodger about it for me, and some of Scary Monsters too. Something in that guitar sound.



I love the atmospheric, jazzy Mike Garson piano intro to Bring Me The Disco King  and the brushy percussion. This song was apparently a reject from 1993's Black Tie White Noise. It did indeed feature some of the jazzy influences that were present on that album. In fact, it would have sounded better on that album than on this one, maybe. Here it sounds ever so slightly incongruous after the largely upbeat material that has been before. That is a really tiny gripe, though, because I love the track. Many at the time thought this would be Bowie's last album. If it had been, it would have been a good one, and Bring Me The Disco King such a beguiling final track.

* Bowie's cover of The KinksWaterloo Sunset is included on the deluxe edition and highly enjoyable it is too. Wouldn't it have been great on Pin Ups?

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A REALITY TOUR (2003)

1. Rebel Rebel
2. New Killer Star
3. Reality
4. Fame
5. Cactus
6. Sister Midnight
7. Afraid
8. All The Young Dudes
9. Be My Wife
10. The Loneliest Guy
11. The Man Who Sold The World
12. Fantastic Voyage
13. Hallo Spaceboy
14. Sunday
15. Under Pressure
16. Life on Mars?
17. Battle For Britain (The Letter)
18. The Ashes
19. The Motel
20. Loving The Alien
21. Never Get Old
22. Changes
23. I'm Afraid Of Americans
24. "Heroes"
25. Bring Me The Disco King
26. Slip Away
27. Heathen (The Rays)
28. Five Years
29. Hang On To Yourself
30. Ziggy Stardust
31. Fall Dogs Bomb The Moon
32. Breaking Glass
33. China Girl

This is David Bowie's last official live recording, and what a great show it is. Performed before an enthusiastic crowd in Dublin, you get a two hour plus set of Bowie classics mixed with his contemporary material, all played by Bowie's superb band. The man himself is on fine form, sounding and looking healthy after a period of poor health and absence from the live concert circuit. Nobody had expected this tour and it was a really enjoyable, exhilarating surprise. Occasionally, in his between songs chat, Bowie appears to speak in an affected Irish accent, which is somewhat odd, however. Listen to it - he really does, to be sure.

  

The set kicks off with an energetic Rebel Rebel and you can feel (and hear) the crowd's excitement. The band crank it up and the sound is thumpingly big and bassy, which I love. There is a palpable "live" feeling right from the start on this release. It is actually on of Bowie's finest ever live recordings. What a shame it was to be his last. The more contemporary material is played with a vigorous and vitality of an artist and band enjoying something new. New Killer Star is a great example.

Classic Bowie songs interjected through the set are a superb, pulsating, bassy Fame; a welcome outing for All The Young Dudes (the crowd, incidentally, I am sure, cheer because they are expecting Young Americans from the introductory drum roll, just before it goes into the iconic guitar intro to Dudes); Be My Wife; an even more welcome and wonderful version of The Man Who Sold The WorldFantastic Voyage from Lodger; a most evocative Life On Mars?Ashes To Ashes; the most underrated Loving the AlienChanges; an atmospheric "Heroes" and the "Ziggy" closers of Five Years, Hang On To Yourself and Ziggy Stardust. Right at the end, Breaking Glass from Low appears, and the whole thing ends with China Girl. I like the way that every few songs, along some a classic. So he avoids losing people's interest with newer songs, but also doesn't turn it into a "greatest hits" thing either. It is a nicely balanced set.

The more modern material is, as I said earlier, very impressive. RealityI'm Afraid Of Americans and a rousing Never Get Old are highlights, as is the guitar riff-driven, muscular Pixies cover, Cactus. Another great moment is Under Pressure with Gail Ann Dorsey supplying the iconic bass line perfectly. The comparative rarity, Iggy Pop and Bowie's Sister Midnight, is delivered superbly, full of great bass, drums and lead guitar. Check out the guitar on Afraid as well. Quality all over the album.

The whole album is a pleasure to listen to (and watch on the DVD too).

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