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David Bowie - Reality CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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3.37 | 122 ratings

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3 stars Almost ****, but it doesn't quite make it there. The most immediately striking thing about this album is how soon it came out after Heathen. Like seemingly most artists in the 90's onward, Bowie had settled into a pattern of releasing an album every two or three years, but apparently the warm reception of Heathen convinced Bowie and Visconti that they needed to "seize the moment" and put out something sooner than usual. And besides, Bowie was 56 by this point; they had to know that they wouldn't have that many more opportunities to make an album together.

This is definitely a very good album, but it almost never rises above that level into greatness. I had a similar feeling about Low, but at least Low sounds so freaking novel and interesting in aggregate that I can mostly forgive the eerie lack of peaks. Like Heathen, this largely feels like it belongs among Bowie's "classic" work, but where Heathen felt like it comfortably belonged in the Hunky Dory/Aladdin Sane/Low/Scary Monsters tier, this one clearly feels a tier below. This one almost strikes me as a "modern," more consistent version of Lodger, but without anything as genuinely rousing as "DJ" or "Look Back in Anger." This isn't anything to be ashamed of, but people shouldn't get carried away with this album, either.

Two of the more rocking tracks ("New Killer Star," "Reality"), for instance, are nice enough and have a couple of good hooks a piece, but they also strike me as tracks designed to come across as more impressive live than in studio (and they do, as shown on A Reality Tour). They're tracks that key off of performance energy, and there's a slight sluggishness that holds them back here. The mid-tempo "She'll Drive the Big Car" doesn't even have a strong hook, aside perhaps from the "Sad sad soul" line that weirdly calls back to the plastic soul days. The best "pure" rocker here is a cover of "Pablo Picasso" by The Modern Lovers, which here has the addition of an electric spanish guitar (!!) part in the beginning and in various breaks, and which has a marvelous guitar line going on in the background. As of writing, I admittedly haven't listened to the original version, but it's enough to make me intrigued.

There are also a couple of poppier rockers that I find myself enjoying quite a bit. "Never Get Old" can't be anything but tongue-in-cheek, but it's full of bouncy and fun guitar parts (and a goofy synth line that pops up from time to time), and I find it getting stuck in my head all the time. My favorite of everything here, then, is "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon," which (aside from the strange lyrics) sounds more and more to me like a Neil Young tribute all the time. Am I really the only person who thinks this arrangement of guitar lines sounds like absolutely prime Young? I could never prove it, but I feel like, after Heathen contained a Neil Young cover, it only seemed like a logical next step to write something in that vein, and Bowie nails it.

The other five tracks leave me with mixed feelings. "The Loneliest Guy" sounds every bit like a Radiohead ballad as "Fall Dog" sounds like Neil Young, and perhaps it's because "Loneliest Guy" puts on airs of emotional sincerity while "Fall Dog" is silly and absurd that I don't find myself loving this track. I mean, it's not bad, but I've heard better Bowie ballads. "Looking for Water" is a fun little groove (especially in the extended repeated "Looking for water, looking looking" coda), but it's hardly a highlight. "Days" is a nice lightweight ballad with a good bassline/synthline driving it forward, and it's a nice inclusion. "Try Some Buy Some" is a REALLY obscure choice for a George Harrison cover, and while it's hardly one of Harrison's better songs, he's done worse covers, and putting heavy emphasis on that rising synth line was probably a good idea. And finally, the closing "Bring Me the Disco King," all 7:45 of it, is just a weird, WEIRD way to end the album. The track itself, a jazzy shuffle originally written in the Black Tie White Noise sessions (with nothing to do with disco), isn't especially striking; it has a pleasant enough atmosphere, and some nice piano parts, but it's easy to get lost in the directionlessness of it (and it doesn't even have strong atmosphere to rely on, like the last track on Heathen). Nah, my main reaction to it is that Bowie's willingness to end an album on such an non- obvious note, at THIS late a date in his career, shows he really still had some of what had made him so interesting in the first place, and this is a pleasant thought.

Unfortunately, as much limited optimism as this and other positives from the album could provide for the future, this ended up as Bowie's last studio album. It's not a great album by any means, and it's definitely not a great career closer, but it's still (aside from Tin Machine 2) the second best album he made after 1980, so that has to mean something.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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