Tuesday 12 January 2016


In the wake of the news of his death yesterday, I debated whether or not to write anything about David Bowie as I don't know what I can say that hasn't already been said a million times since yesterday morning. Someone like him comes along once in a generation and his music has touched so many people over so many years that the wall to wall coverage of his passing on television and radio yesterday seemed wholly appropriate. It was only on seeing that and on hearing people talk about how he'd changed their lives that I fully realised just what David Bowie meant to the world. Until that point, I guess I'd only thought about what he meant to me. What do I write though? I don't know enough to write an obituary of sorts, I'm not expert enough to write about his back catalogue. I wanted to write something though as I feel I have to let something out as I'm still stunned by his death. As Low is my favourite David Bowie record, I thought I'd focus on that.

When I was in my teens, I went through the stage of getting into music and that stage still hasn't ended 25 years later on. Bowie was one of the artists that I read about back then as being influential and someone whose music I had to hear. Bands I loved then such as Depeche Mode spoke of him as an influence and bands I was getting into at the time, like The Cure, New Order and Pet Shop Boys, used him as a reference point so I had to explore. My love at the time, as it still is now, was electronic music so Low seemed to be the obvious Bowie starting point. Thankfully, my mate Jamie, who was always ahead of us all on that sort of thing, had Low and made me a copy from his Dad's original vinyl. Speed Of Life was scratched on the record, so I got a special fade in version of it - that sort of thing was important. From the off, Low transfixed me. It bursts from the blocks with Speed Of Life, before an unstoppable run of three art pop classics arrives. Breaking Glass is astounding both lyrically ("Don't look at the carpet/I drew something awful on it") and musically with the combination of guitar and Eno infused synth noises a riot of joy. It's followed by What In The World, like Breaking Glass a sort of three quarters finished song, an idea, but something quite superb. The album's best known track Sound & Vision rounds off the run absolutely perfectly. "Pale blinds drawn all day/Nothing to do, nothing to say" fitted yesterday's global mood too, echoing the hollow feeling I had from around 7 a.m.

The atmospheric Always Crashing In The Same Car slows the pace but still stuns me now and then Be My Wife arrives, all pub piano and buzzing guitars - still one of my favourite Bowie tracks. What was Side 1 of this record company horrifying album then ends with the instrumental A New Career In A New Town. This is a sensational track. A yearning instrumental, its title perhaps referencing Bowie's career refreshing move from America to Berlin, it rounds off the first part of the record wonderfully. What I noticed yesterday was that the harmonica riff from this is mirrored in I Can't Give Everything Away, the last track on Blackstar. Given that it is now fully apparent that Blackstar was Bowie saying goodbye, I don't think that mirroring is accidental. Was that Bowie saying a musical goodbye, saying he was going somewhere new? Maybe not, and maybe I've overthought things a tad too much. Can't help but notice the same riff and wonder though.

Side 2 of Low is comprised of four experimental instrumentals that take Bowie's then interest in the European electronic sounds of Kraftwerk and Eno and Krautrock and turn it into something unique and quite breathtaking. Warszawa is the most striking track, with its mood and atmosphere dark and romantic. Art Decade is a slow moving piece, filled to the brim with electronics and effects from Eno's box of tricks. It's followed by Weeping Wall which is propelled along on a buzzing main riff before the song takes a distinct turn in the direction of Cluster or Neu and the closing Subterraneans is more ambient in tone, a beautiful end to a staggering album. To think he did all this immediately after his American conquering Plastic Soul days - it's astounding. Low is one of those albums everyone should hear. If you ever get the chance, do the studio tour at Hansa in Berlin too. To stand where he stood when he came up with this and Heroes is quite something.

I could say more about Bowie and about his other works that have thrilled me. Hearing The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust just about blew me away, the song Heroes itself whose light never dims, the opening riff to Rebel Rebel which positively fizzes with energy and so on. He leaves an unparalleled back catalogue and one that will be discovered and rejoiced in by people for years and years to come. Leaving us with Blackstar was something I guess you'd describe as typically David Bowie. What seemed to be a jazz influenced, fairly experimental record when you heard it last week, has turned into a stunning way of saying goodbye, knowing all that we now know. It's hard to think of any other artist who would have the talent to do something so remarkable. I loved in when I heard it before yesterday morning, and now it breaks my heart when I hear it now, but I can't stop listening to it. As ever, David Bowie is one step ahead of us all, even when he knew the end was coming.

Goodbye David. Thanks for everything. 

1 comment: