This is the most mysterious song on the album. It appears to be about a monk in, say, the 13th century? There are references to Genghis Khan, the Great Wall of China, and the Boo Yang Shang, which may or may not be a real thing; Google is no help here. One day, I’m sure, all will become clear. For now I’m quite content with the mystery.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that “Black Raoul” was the Jazz Butcher’s cat, who was celebrated in this earlier song:
It’s rare anymore that I listen to an album all the way through, especially a new one. At most I might sit through it once before throwing it into a playlist of recent stuff, which I’ll then listen to on shuffle as a concession to my short and ever-shrinking attention span.
But I have listened to The Highest in the Land — the posthumous final release by the Jazz Butcher — almost every day since it came out earlier this month. I don’t think I’m just being sentimental; I think it’s really that good. So I thought I’d pay tribute to its creator, the late Patrick Guy Sibley Huntrods, a.k.a. Pat Fish, by going through it in two entries, roughly corresponding to what would be two sides of an LP.
1. Melanie Hargreaves’ Father’s Jaguar
In the leadup to this album’s release I was excited but also worried. The two singles were jaunty numbers with bleak, cutting lyrics — the ruminations of a man who’s reached the end of his life without feeling like he has much to show for it. Money, or the lack thereof, was a recurring theme; “time’s running out, the money’s running out,” said one; “nothing in the bank/nothing in the tank,” went another.
I wondered if the album as a whole would be equally dark, and maybe not as catchy. And hey, a man facing the abyss has a right to his feelings. The obvious point of reference is Blackstar, a work I admire but don’t find myself listening to very often.
But my concerns were allayed within the first 30 seconds of the first song. “Melanie Hargreaves’ Father’s Jaguar” is warm and jazzy, nostalgic and funny, beautiful and bitterweet. It’s pretty close to a perfect song.
The world at large has mostly forgotten about Outside. For most people, including a lot of younger Bowie fans, the discography pretty much jumps from Let’s Dance to Blackstar.1OTOH, the recent Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001) box set has a ton of plays on Spotify, so maybe that is changing.If they know anything from the mid-90s it’s likely to be “Hallo Spaceboy,” but unfortunately the version most circulated is the Pet Shop Boys remix, which is… well, let’s be polite here. I, personally, hate it. I think it eviscerates and needlessly discofies a pretty good song. But then I’ve never seen the point of anything the Pet Shop Boys did, so maybe it’s just me.
The original track is, in the parlance of the times, a banger. “I adore that track,” said Bowie. “In my mind, it was like Jim Morrison meets industrial. When I heard it back, I thought, ‘Fuck me. It’s like metal Doors.’”
When he agreed to let PSB remix the song, he didn’t know that they were going to steal it from him. Nor did he know they would splice in bits of “Space Oddity,” which annoyed him.2He was still in run-away-from-the-classics mode, though there is an unmistakable “Rebel Rebel” reference in there.But it was a hit, and he didn’t exactly disown it — as it climbed the charts he agreed to do several TV appearances where his omnipresent cool was severely tested by having two insufferable twerps behind him.3Have I mentioned that I don’t care for the Pet Shop Boys?
You don’t really need both “No Control” and “I’m Deranged” on the album, as they pretty much cover the same territory. I tend to favor “No Control,” which is sleeker and sexier:
Brian Eno agreed with me, calling “I’m Deranged” “a poorly organized song with no meaningful structure,” adding, “It goes something like ABBBBBBBBCBBBBBBB but the hook is A. I’ve had relationships like that, where the bit you liked never happens again.”
But David Lynch liked “Deranged,” which comes to life when paired with Lynch’s hypnotically minimal visuals:
In fact, playing that right now in another window, I’m changing my mind in real time. Maybe we lose “No Control” instead? Maybe we keep both, put one at the beginning and one at the end? Or even put them back-to-back, lean into the repetition. One or both would need to be edited, though; or maybe they could be combined somehow. There are a lot of options. When is the release date for this thing, anyway?
Speaking of “The Electrician,” it is also most definitely an influence on “The Motel,” which many people consider one of the best songs on Outside — including David Bowie, who continued to perform it all the way through his final tour in 2003–04. (The only other song from the album similarly honored was “Hallo Spaceboy.”)
I’ve never been quite so crazy about it. It’s atmospheric, to be sure; but it’s too long, and I’m not sure about the grandiose turn it takes in the last couple minutes. I’m not too sure about this video, either, but maybe you’ll know what to make of it.
According to Chris O’Leary “The Motel” was recorded around the same time as the title track, which for me is the most frustrating song on the album. I’m pretty sure there’s a great composition in there — it has sweep, it has melody, it has drama — but the production is awful: tinny and trebly and littered with wince-inducing skronk sounds. I mean, am I wrong?