Time marches relentlessly. I posted Part 1 so it follows that I would post Part 2. As before, this was written 2 years ago and, in light of what has happened, is probably out of date and overly cynical. But as there will be a Part 3 tomorrow we should probably bring you up to speed.
1.Outside. That’s my favourite. It seems a bit odd after all these years of studying and discovering to settle on one of the most inaccessible albums he made. Thinking about it now, I really don’t know what I particularly like about it. It’s my favourite. I just know. Of course, housing my favourite song ever probably helps and it does has the most rewarding coda in ‘Strangers When We Meet’. Still, weird choice man. Weird choice.
But that’s the magic with Bowie, you can’t quantify your appreciation for him other than quietly acknowledging that he’s pretty damn neat. This is what I feel about ‘Where Are We Now?’.
It’s a good song, I think it’s a good song. That’s my view. That’s all there is to it. No hyperbole, no fawning, no laying myself on an alter of knives screaming his name in ecstasy. Why should I? It’s neat, a neat little package. A little key in a box.
A little detail:
Heathen was released in 2002 and was seen at the time as being a brooding triumph, a return to the highest form. Bowie reunited with his long, long term producer and friend Tony Visconti and sang songs about loss and age. His maturity and stature spoke eloquently. As a body of work, Heathen is genuinely one of the finest committed to tape and I strongly urge you to seek it out.
The following year we heard Reality, more assertive, raw, it was obvious that we were in the next ascendant. His albums have often come in patterns of three (Low/“Heroes”/Lodger, 1.Outside/Earthling/hours…) so we knew, just knew there would be another. Following the pattern it would not quite reach the heights of the others but would still be great. It never came.
Now it is here I am excited. But I think part of me has always been waiting for it, completely hidden until now. I just wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t distracted, I didn’t really care for the ‘oddness’ of the video. ‘Little Wonder’ from Earthling had a far, far odder (and, in its way, similar) video but in that case we had an alien Ziggy Stardust roaming London while all manner of creatures gained projected faces. In fact, the projected-face technique seems so utterly calculated to connect ‘Where Are We Now?’ with ‘Little Wonder’ that I couldn’t engage with it. I felt odd myself, disconnected from the images. The familiarity leaving me warm but unloved.
To me, ‘Where Are We Now?’ is also lyrically simple in both physical words and metaphysical tone. I hear the words and I hear a beautiful, slippery melody, but I don’t hear any connect between the written words and the music. I think what I’m trying to say is that the words succeed rhythmically and not prosaically. He’s written better. He’s also written considerably worse. I get the sense he composed the lyrics on the spot (as he did for “Heroes”) and just happened to be thinking of Berlin. Nothing to read into. This isn’t a bad thing, it just magnifies my emotional distance. I couldn’t love this song, not deeply. I’d look at it as it slept beside me and feel blank, imagining my shame and disgust swelling over my heart.
The music is languid and sedate. A warm gel over the face. Beautiful filler. I won’t judge it musically, I’ll just point you at Buddha of Suburbia, Heathen and hours… You’ll hear the notes, the rhythms, you’ll hear the same water and tread a similar path.
Still, I like it. I don’t know why but I like it. It’s everything and nothing. It’s neat.
I look forward to March with glee.
Of course, in the cutting light of 2016 it's wildly apparent he knew he wasn't well. 'Where Are We Now?', like The Next Day, is consciously raking up his past; musically, lyrically and thematically, in a way that makes me think whether he wanted to feel the essence of his past albums again. As if 'Where Are We Now?' was an attempt to re-create his time in Berlin so he could feel it one last time. I say this because there is arguably nothing truly original on The Next Day, not in the way Blackstar is original (though here too there are flecks of his past writ large). The Next Day is a greatest hits compilation that happens to include wholly original material. I'll explain more tomorrow but know that this doesn't diminish The Next Day at all, in fact after his death it's made it all the more satisfying (and obviously saddening) to listen to. If you've liked (or disliked and fancy a debate) what you've read then please follow this humble blog and like my Facebook. I'm still a little lost.