David Bowie - Reality
3 1/2 (out of 5 stars)
(ISO / Columbia)
Reviewed: Oct. 7, 2003
Review by Tony BonyataIt's only been 15 months since he's released his last album Heathen, and for someone of David Bowie's stature in the music business it seems almost unheard of to release another full-length album of new material so soon after.
But as this new eleven song collection, entitled Reality, will attest to, there's no reason to sit and try and bleed every last penny out of a previous release before putting out something new (a business plan most major labels - including Bowie's former company Virgin Records - firmly adhere to). Which is exactly why he's left Virgin to form his own Columbia subsidiary label ISO. Although at 56 and soon approaching those golden years [wop, wop, wop], Bowie has proven that you don't need to wait two or more years before releasing something new - especially in light of the vital fountainhead of material he's been producing throughout the last decade. From his 1996 reunion with late '70s partner in crime Brian Eno on the bleak arthouse production of Outside to his invigorating foray into underground drum-and-bass jungle music on Earthling to last year's return-to-form Heathen, which featured producer Tony Visconti (who helmed the boards for many of Bowie's '70s masterpieces), this thin white dude seems to be hitting a creative stride that fits him as well as his '70s kabuki-influenced threads did in his Ziggy days and, now, well-tailored Armani suits and lovely Somalian wife by his side.
With Visconti once again in the coproducer's chair next to Bowie, the results of Reality (his 26th studio album to date) continues his love affair with his adopted hometown of New York City, which he originally flirted with on Heathen. Capturing the vibrancy of the city's streets on songs such as the pounding title track, along with the album's first single "New Killer Star" (a song which probably best sums up Bowie's more recent sounds) and "She'll Drive The Big Car," this is a man who seems to be muscling in on Lou Reed's job as The Big Apple's musical spokesman.
Pulling a couple of cover songs from his Pin-Ups II list (another all-covers album which he admits he never really intends to complete, instead content on just taking one or two covers from his hefty list of favs for each new album) Bowie further explores NYC through a rousing cover of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers' "Pablo Picasso," complete with Spanish guitar flourishings and light techno undercurrents. He also turns one of George Harrison's lesser known numbers, "Try Some, Buy Some," which the former Fab originally wrote and produced for one time-Ronette Ronnie Spector, into a swelling piece of operatic pop.
With the help of pianist Mike Garson's airy keys and the sparse, smokey arrangements, Bowie's deep, mysterious croon on the track "Bring Me The Disco King" along with his frail vocal delivery on "The Loneliest Guy" creates dark shrouded corners to an otherwise positive and upbeat effort. And these upbeat moments are best witnessed through two of the album's highlights "Looking For Water," with Bowie's pleading vocals and Earl Slick's Slip 'N Slide (TM) guitar licks, not to mention "Fall Dog Bombs The Moon," which turns out to be one of Bowie's strongest compositions in ages.
"I've been right and I've been wrong. Now I'm back where I started from," Bowie firmly shouts before the album's close, and with a collection of songs so honest, forthright and entertaining, it's refreshing to hear him as if he truly was starting from square one again.
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