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David Bowie - Heroes CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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4.07 | 446 ratings

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3 stars It's Only Roquairol (but I'm Not Sure I like It)

I first heard some tracks from this album while watching the harrowing but redemptive movie Christiane F. in a Glasgow cinema. The film loves it's neon Gothic sense of anguish just a little too much for its own good, and perhaps director Uli Edel and Bowie both share a nostalgia for Berlin that says more about their own romanticised vision of a dissolute Rimbaud kissing his young bride in her bloodied wedding dress torn by barbed wire, than it does about the city itself. In this dystopian paradise created by Baudelaire and nurtured by the likes of Patti Smith, Heroes producer Tony Visconti never married Mary Hopkins, Fripp never fell in love with Toyah Wilcox, Phillip Glass never composed a minimalist adaptation called the Heroes Symphony and Bowie never duetted with Bing Crosby or wrote the Laughing Gnome. Reality sucks, hence Art.

Beauty and the Beast - menacing textures threaten to engulf this track completely but you always suspect that Bowie was, is and always will be in complete control of every facet of his artistic environment. Like all his emotional outpourings, this rage is stage managed with one eye firmly fixed on the spiky competition gazing adoringly from beyond the footlights. Despite an unnerving surface of neurotic piano, Eno's protesting synths, nomadic guitar, scalding bass and hammy histrionics we have at source, a very ordinary tub thumping rawker being bludgeoned into what Bowie's fanboys always tell us is the shape of things to come. For those of you at all receptive to the insights gleaned from vacuuming your vast wealth up your nostrils, this is the place to start. Welcome to my nightmare - to hell and back (in business class with air miles)

I wanted to believe me, I wanted to be good, I wanted no distractions like every good boy should (My My !) nothing will corrupt us, nothing will compete, thank God heaven left us standing on our feet

Joe the Lion - Inspired by performance artist Chris Burden (who not only suffered for his art but nailed himself to a Volkswagen and had an assistant shoot him in the arm) this is one of my favourite Bowie songs ever. The guitars are wound up to poultice level urgency here and the latent whiplash threatens to slice your woofers and tweeters to ribbons. Fripp's contribution to the creation of such a visceral texture is crucial, and it is astonishing to learn that all his parts on Heroes were recorded in just a single session on the same day. Such spontaneity carries over into the song's imagery which is alternately desolate, nihilistic and desperate as befitting those who find themselves completely numb to the sensations hitherto anticipated with mundane reality. Bowie's lyrics were allegedly improvised at the microphone, which lends them a spontaneous 'stream of consciousness' flavour:

You get up and sleep, the wind blows on your cheek, the day laughs in your face, I guess you'll buy a gun, you'll buy it second hand and you'll get up and sleep

Heroes - has quite rightly become one of Rock's flagship songs to be mentioned in the same breath as Love Will Tear Us Apart, Imagine, Bohemian Rhapsody, Good Vibrations, Can't Explain (the list goes on thankfully) Despite my resistance to what his fans identify as 'passion' but I discern as an invisible theatrical prop, Bowie's emotion is certainly audible and it would be churlish to pick holes in a creation as enduringly thrilling as this one. For those who have never set a tremulous tootsie inside the world of Progressive Rock and claim to have never heard Mr Fripp...they're lying.

I can remember standing by the wall and the guns shot above our heads and we kissed as though nothing could fall and the shame was on the other side Oh we can beat them for ever and ever then we could be heroes just for one day

Sons of the Silent Age - Kicks off in a deliciously middle eastern tonality burnished by slithering sax (on which the Psychedelic Furs based a career) which retreats to uncloak a languid verse where David appears to outline the gestation of the Nazi regime?

Stand on platforms, blank looks and note books sit in back rows of city limits Lay in bed coming and going on easy terms, sons of the silent age pace their rooms like a cell's dimensions rise for a year or two then make war

The subsequent chorus contradicts this mood completely by being almost an ironic or self-conscious throwback to something that would have appeared on the equally spiffy Hunky Dory from 1971:

Baby I'll never let you go, All I see is all I know

A very fine track that will reward the discerning listener on repeated visits such are the many layered details and subtlety woven into this unique designer garment.

Blackout - Almost prefaces the industrial revolution as subsequently developed by NIN, Cabaret Voltaire, PIL etc and kudos to David and producer Visconti for their prescience. A dark and exhilarating slice of schizophrenia that has kept its less talented imitators off the dole queues ever since. The disorienting backing vocals are a feature of the whole album and they often appear to mimic very convincingly the dissociation inherent in audible hallucinations. The narrative may be construed as either another glimpse into the Thin White Duke's 'slimming sherbet' catharsis or his real and actual collapse and hospitalisation at around this time:

Too high a price to drink rotting wine from your hands Your fearful hands, get me to a doctor's I've been told Someone's back in town the chips are down I just cut and blackout

V2 Schneider - Bowie's mutual love affair with Kraftwerk is well documented and as borderline silly and kitsch as this is, it becomes quite simply plain vanilla irresistible. If you record an album in a studio that was once a dance hall frequented by members of the Gestapo then this is possibly the only healthy fruit of that association. Lovely phaser effect is applied to the chanted title 'hook', the only singing there is on this track.

Sense of Doubt/Moss Garden/Neukoln - the gravitas imbued in the descending piano motif is powerful enough but this monochrome Gothic ambient fog ain't really my brand of air freshener readers. Fans of Eno, John Foxx and the Aphex Twin may require sedation/restraint during these instrumental portions of Heroes but whenever I hear a koto or the words 'Oblique Strategies', I run for the isolation tank. That this seamless trio was hugely influential for later developments in electronic music is beyond debate but if you don't like eggs, then not even a state of the art omelette is gonna convince you otherwise.

The Secret Life of Arabia - This must be one of the most stylistically bipolar albums I've encountered in a real long time. We finish up with a disco/funk/blue eyed soul 'groove thang y'all' that might be a not so distant freckled cousin to Young Americans Transparently tongue in cheek but none the more enjoyable for all that. If Chic had been white....

Yep, a real mixed bag of all-sorts, some of which will delight and others will horrify depending on your orientation. I've always been struck by the mirrored artwork on Heroes with that of Iggy Pop's The Idiot both of which were released in the same year and both borrowed a template from Erich Heckel's painting 'Roquairol'. This can't be an accident as Messrs Jones and Osterberg have often collaborated on each other's projects over the years and still makes me wonder if the two albums were designed to be part of a set? Regardless, at least it's refreshing to learn that 'Prog' clearly does not have a monopoly on overreaching art-wank poseurs.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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