Review: Reality

by Russel Baillie / Washington Times

2003


“The Loneliest Guy,” a standout track on David Bowie’s latest album, “Reality,” sounds like Radiohead imitating David Bowie, with clubby electronics and reverb-y, minor-key melancholia. Most of the time, though, “Reality” sounds like David Bowie imitating David Bowie – of whom there are several.

There’s David Bowie the soulful lounge crooner (“Bring Me the Disco King”); the singer-songwriter (“Days”); the densely produced, anthemic “Let’s Dance” pop king (“Never Get Old”); the trashy guitar rocker (the title track).

At 56, Mr. Bowie has tried just about everything. With Ziggy Stardust, he perfected visually driven glam rock. He experimented in the late ’70s with electronica before it became the rage; in the ’80s, he returned to earth with conventional pop rock. He anticipated grunge rock in 1989 with his Tin Machine project.

“Reality” is a survey of all these different Bowies, with a couple quirky covers (Jonathan Richman’s “Pablo Picasso” and the late George Harrison’s “Try Some, Buy Some”) thrown in for good, why-not measure.

Too contemporary sounding to bear comparisons to classics such as “Hunky Dory,” “Reality,” at its accessible best, harks back to Mr. Bowie’s more inspired work of the early ’80s (“Scary Monsters,” for example).

Some may recoil from the hectic arrangements and glossy production of “Reality”(longtime Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti co-helms), but songs such as “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon,” an abstract slap at fat cats, and “New Killer Star,” the album’s first single, come pretty close to reproducing Mr. Bowie’s idiosyncratic magnetism: cheerless but tuneful melodies, aggressive guitars, impressionistic lyrics. “Never Get Old” finds Mr. Bowie renouncing consumerism: “There’s never gonna be enough money / There’s never gonna be enough drugs.”

On the propulsive “Looking for Water,” God disappears in a “New York minute.” On the elegiac “The Loneliest Guy,” Mr. Bowie sings of middle-age regret (“All the pages that have turned / All the errors left unlearned”). On “Days,” the regret is romantic: “All you gave you gave for me / I gave nothing in return.”

The cover of all this existential distress depicts a boyish Mr. Bowie with big blue Japanimation eyeballs – a picture of frozen innocence, a protest against all the grizzled, later-in-life “Reality” found within. David Bowie seems to be losing experimental steam nowadays, but “Reality” confirms happily that he can stay busy ransacking himself for years to come.

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