Monday, 20 August 2018
David Bowie - Reality (2003)
Released September 2003
Recorded in New York City
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.
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's 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 a**hole. 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 Dog 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. The title track 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 Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" is included on the "deluxe edition" and highly enjoyable it is too. Wouldn't it have been great on "Pin Ups"?
- August 20, 2018