The Last Days of David Bowie

by Angus MacKinnon / NME

17th December 1977

“I REALLY, honestly and truly, don’t know how much longer my albums will sell. I think they’re going to get more diversified, more extreme and radical right along with my writing. And I really don’t give a shit….”

David Bowie –
Rolling Stone 12/2/76)

HEROES” IS the second in a project triology of albums initiated by “Low“. It uses similar means to different ends.

….David Bowie’s disaffection with anything vaguely resembling orthodox rock music remains pronounced. At least as far as his own album space is concerned – Bowie’s recent work with Iggy Pop seems to have exorcised any residual compulsion on his part to rock in straight lines. Bowie, after all, may be held responsible for most of those prettily plite tunes on “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life”.

….And was “Low” really that Low? Why do we blithely persist in demanding that our chosen heroes (sorry) be joybringers who’ll lead us on to some unspecified promised land without sufferation? It’s never to late to start beleiving that rock and roll won’t ‘save’ anyone.

….So “Low” Bowie didn’t have too much to say. Well, in case you’d forgotten in the miasma of stardust transit, rock stars are human too – and anyway Bowie’s window on the world has always been fatalistic.

….What did you expect, another alais? Ziggy, Aladdin, Newton are discarded, dead. Remember “Young Americans“? Bowie’s uneasy when flushed from character cover.

….In effect though “Low” was dynamically positive, Bowie struck out at a point in his career when most established artists would have (and indeed have) slumped into stasis, resting on the wreath mould of a vainglorious past.

….In an era when, despite the laudable urgency of the new wave, most ‘important’ rock albums are the tediously pluperfect product of months spent twiddling studio technology, “Low” was conceieved, recorded and mixed down in a matter of weeks. Its immediacy transferred onto the turntable undeminished.

….As for “Heroes“, the verbal retience of “Low” has given way to instamatic lyric overflow, sense and sentence crosscut at every oppurtunity. Current Bowiespeak is by turns breathlessly psychotic (“Beauty And The Beast“), disintegration derby.

….So far, so glib. These new sletches are among the most mature and trenchant Bowie has achieved. Are you ready for rock and realpolitik?

….At twice the length of the single “Heroes” is relief from the otherwise unrelenting entropy.

I Will be king and you will be queen / Though nothing will drive them away we can beat them for just one day”

….Joe The Lion“, “Blackout“), depressingly dehumanised (“Sons Of The Silent Age“), unashamedly romantic (“The Secret Life Of Arabia” and “Heroes“).

….The sheer speed of life in the developed, indutrialised urban state. The prospect of the collapse of the social order and our corresponding inabillity to cope with same. The western world viewd as a ‘Them for one day… ‘Cause we’re lovers and that is a fact…

remember standing by the wall / 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 can be heroes just for one day.”

….Heroism returned to its rightful station as common property and not the exclusive prerogative of so called great men. Love still holding on (beneath the Berlin Wall?). This is Bowie’s most moving performance in years.

….Like”Low“, “Heroes” is New Mono music. The thunderous black rhythm section centres massively; everything else is scattered at random, hurled abraisively through the thick, brooding mix.

….At first it’s almost impossible to keep up with the phenomenally fast event horizon of “Heroes“. Several of the song structures are violently accidental, paying scant attention to conventional linear development.

….Take “Joe The Lion“. Carlos Alomar’s rhythm guitar splays out a grotesque riff mutation of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”, George Murray’s bass and Dennis Davis‘ drums maintain a pulverising pace, Bowie’s hoarse vocal and piano veer coruptly into closeup. . . somehow it all fits, somehow the song is running at four or five speeds simultaneously.

….Here and elsewhere Brian Eno wedges dense blocks of abstract concrete sound into the spectrum, as well as maintaining a constant dialogue with Robert Fripp’s lead guitar: a two way treatment reminiscent of his early linkups with Phil Manzanera in Roxy Music, only considerbly more unnerving. Fripp’s own playing has never been so arresting.

….The one piece that simply doesn’t cut any edge is “Sons Of The Silent Age“, an ineffectual retread of “Drive-In Saturday“. “V2-Schneider” is splendid though, Bowie’s nod to Kraftwerk’s Florian Shcneider, is electronic pad percussion and sheet noise guitar – itself recalling Michael Rother’s Neu – surge under Bowie’s brusque sax riffling.

….And the impressionist instrumentals? This time Bowie and Eno have created something of real substance and intrinsic worth. I’m interested and would be even if this were the work of unknowns.

….The three pieces are much less ‘organised’ than their counterparts on “Low“, and far more ambitious. “Sense Of Doubt” tumbles in uneasy slow motion around a stentorian piano motif. “Moss Garden” is less sombre; Bowie plucks Japanese Koto over a warm gradient of naturalistic treated sound. The effect is highly graphic and not unlike one of Can’s Ethnological Frgery Series.

….Bowie picks up sax for “Neukoln” (New Cologne) and blows outrageously ersatz 60’s New Wave Jazz lines above Fripp and Eno’s glacial overture of rising chords. Technically Bowie’s reed playing is Not Good, but that’s not the point. Another formal prejudice shredded.

….“Heroes”, Son of “Low”, beyond “Low”. Sufficient unto the album is the Bowie thereof.

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