When Robert Smith comes on stage with David Bowie, it’s a Moment. One could argue, and I will, that they are the living embodiments of two different decades.
I mean, you could get into endless arguments about who is the iconic face of the Seventies — in some parts of the world they’d say it’s Bob Marley, and who am I to say they’re wrong? — but for me it’s Bowie, period, end of sentence. And is there anyone whose entire being is more redolent of the Eighties than Mr. Smith?
The choice of “The Last Thing You Should Do” — an Earthling track destined to soon be forgotten by all but the most die-hard Bowieists — for their first song together seems perverse, but weirdly, it works. Smith’s distinctive wobbly vocals and guitar thrashing add human elements to a cold, antiseptic piece of work.
It’s worth noting that this was the first time Robert Smith met Reeves Gabrels, who would become a frequent collaborator and eventually a full-time member of The Cure. Reeves must be one charming MF in person; I can think of no other way to explain how he lasted a decade as Bowie’s right-hand man, and has spent even longer in Smith’s orbit, despite his compulsion to always play five notes where one would do.
For Dave and Bob’s second song they reach back to an album that came out when Smith was 12 — one I imagine he listened to quite a bit in his teenage bedroom back in the day.
Smith finds a different singing voice for this, stronger and surer. Presumably he’s inspired by the occasion, as who wouldn’t be?
Worth noting 2: One of the last songs Bowie wrote was “Lazarus,” which is 100% a Cure song until the vocals come in.
From there it’s back to Earthling for “Battle for Britain (The Letter),” which is… a lesser composition, let’s say. As if to compensate, Bowie designed a fairly compelling visual accompaniment, but this still might have been a good time to hit the bar or go to the bathroom.
DB was fond of parentheticals in titles during this period; next we get a song from Outside called “The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty),” which is quite a mouthful to introduce:
I have a soft spot for this one, despite the fact that it’s too long and features a typically over-the-top Gabrels solo. Bowie took a lot of chances during the Outside/Earthling era, and while they didn’t all work out, he at least erred on the side of weirdness; I think he deserves credit for that. If you were on the right drugs, I imagine “Voyeur” might have been quite intense.
Likewise “I’m Afraid of Americans,” for which Sonic Youth joins in to add more layers of squall to an already quite noisy song. Word to the wise: Play this loud.
There are many versions of “I’m Afraid” out there — the original, which is on the Showgirls soundtrack of all things, album and single versions, and numerous remixes — but this may be the definitive one. Like “Hallo Spaceboy,” it’s exactly the right kind of excessive. One needs a rest after that, so over and out for now.