The CD of Reality came with three bonus tracks, two of which are as good as or better than most of the songs on the official album. “Fly,” in particular, is a banger:
In it Bowie is playing (as he did on hours…) an age-appropriate character: an anxious suburban dad who cries in his car and is quietly freaking out about what his kids are up to.
The kids have got a gig at an all-night rave
They’re looking pretty tough but I still want to say,
“Do you really have to go?”
But it’s also (ambiguously) uplifting: This guy hasn’t completely given up hope; he’s still looking forward to the weekend, and when he closes his eyes he can see a better world — or see this world from a distance, where he can get a little bit of peace. It’s a life of noisy desperation but it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.
As a footnote, “Fly” marks the last appearance of Carlos Alomar on a Bowie recording. (His first was on “Can You Hear me,” back in April 1974.)
The smashingly titled “Queen of All the Tarts” is also a keeper, if less fully developed:
I wish there was more. What does the Queen of All the Tarts look like? What kinds of shenanigans does she get up to? I’m tempted to go ask my local AI but I think I’ll keep that as the subject for this afternoon’s daydreams.
There’s also an updated version of “Rebel Rebel,” which seems extraneous. But then that song has never been one of my favorites. Throughout the Seventies David almost always stayed two steps ahead of his audience, but “Rebel Rebel” was one case where he pandered to them by going backwards; it’s the 1974 version of the glam rock of 1972, and in those days two years was an eon. Plus there’s really not much to “Rebel Rebel” as a song; it’s one circular riff that’s catchy at first but gets old. I might go so far as to call “RR” the “Modern Love” of its era — I won’t jump at the radio to turn it off, but I will sit there thinking how many other Bowie songs I’d rather be hearing.
The version of Heathen I have came with a whole extra disc that has 10 songs:
- Two are remixes: a tepid Moby version of “Sunday” (does anything scream “early 2000s” more than the words “Moby remix”?) and a not-bad take on “A Better Future” by Air.
- Four are remnants from Toy; of these I have to say “Conversation Piece” sounds better here than I previously gave it credit for, I’m not sure why.
- Three are obscure Bowie originals that I never listened to much at the time. At the moment I’m kind of liking “Wood Jackson,” which is supposedly about Daniel Johnston; it has a subtly seductive melody and Dave digs out his “Bewlay Brothers” accent for the occasion. “When the Boys Come Marching Home” is notable mostly as the source of the drum loop later used on “Bring Me the Disco King.” And “Safe,” weirdly enough, was originally recorded for the 1998 Rugrats movie; it was the first thing Bowie and Tony Visconti did together after reconnecting. But that version was cut from the film and has never been released; the extant one is a re-recording from the Heathen sessions. Says Chris O’Leary:
“Safe,” a “Bowie-sings-‘Bowie’” track intended for and scrapped by a cartoon soundtrack, and which wound up being issued as its own obscure cover, sums up this period as well as anything could.
The tenth song on the Heathen bonus disc, somewhat randomly, is the 1979 remake of “Panic in Detroit” that previously appeared on the Ryko reissue of Scary Monsters; I didn’t see the point of it then and don’t now.
And that wraps up the thread on Heathen and Reality, which were the last Bowie albums I didn’t blog about at the time of their release. Perhaps there will be more to say about The Next Day and Blackstar at a later date; we shall see, we shall see.