There are several great songs with this title, including Bowie’s and Pink Floyd’s. But the one I recently discovered is by Richard Hell, who I think deserves to be in the conversation.
Hell refers to “Time” as “what some people, including me, consider to be my best song.” But he had a hard time recording it to his satisfaction; he remade and remixed it numerous times. Five different versions appear on Destiny Street Complete, the omnibus edition of the Voidoids’ star-crossed second album.
My favorite, I think, is the one from the original album. It’s raw and ragged, but really, really real.
The 2021 remaster is cleaned up, maybe a little too much: (more…)
Martin Amis, Heavy Water and Other Stories, Night Train
D.M. Thomas, The White Hotel
Gore Vidal, Death in the Fifth Position, Death Before Bedtime, Death Likes It Hot
Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury
Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman
Gore Vidal, Death in the Fifth Position
Martin Amis, Heavy Water and Other Stories
Martin Amis, Night Train
Richard Brautigan, Dreaming of Babylon
Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury
Note: This month’s entry is on the long side. I’d like to guarantee that it will be worth it, but I can’t in good conscience do so. Sometimes things must just be written, irregardless, know what I mean?
Dreaming of Babylon was an easy read, with short chapters that start halfway down the page. Too easy, really — I was enjoying it, and then it was over. The central mystery is never resolved, or even explored in much depth, not that I really expected it to be. Despite being subtitled “A Private Eye Novel 1942,” this is Brautigan, after all. (more…)
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. (more…)
Subtracting the cover versions and opening/closing tracks leaves us with 7 songs each for Heathen and Reality.
On Reality, the split is pretty stark. Four of the songs — “Looking for Water,” “She’ll Drive the Big Car,” “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon,” and the title track — I’d call disposable. They’re not embarrassing or grating like the worst of the Eighties or Tin Machine, just drab and uninspired. The other three — “Never Get Old,” “The Loneliest Guy,” and “Days,” are top-drawer. (There are also two excellent CD bonus tracks that probably should have been on the album proper.)
In contrast, all the Heathen songs fall into the good-to-very-good category. None cries out for deletion, nor would any of them make my list of, say, top 100 Bowie songs. So on the whole, I’d say that Heathen has more good songs, but Reality has more great ones. This is of course subjective and I have to admit that in the relistening Heathen has grown in my estimation, such that I’d really have a hard time picking a favorite between the two albums.
Fortunately I don’t have to. Here’s a hybrid that, in my mind at least, combines the best of both. (Pick your platform of choice.)
Bowie was the first artist I can think of to explicitly give us permission to decide which parts of his oeuvre to hold onto and which to discard. He did this by modeling it for us — he was, in one way of looking at it, the biggest Bowie fan in the world, and was constantly reevaluating his own work. I think he believed in everything he did — even Never Let Me Down — at the time of release; but he would back away from things very quickly sometimes. Then later he would circle back and change his mind again, reincorporating something he had previously rejected. (more…)
We all know that the two most important songs on an album are the first and the last. My theory is that this is why Sgt. Pepper is so overrated — it starts strong and finishes strong, so you tend to overlook the lesser moments in between.
David Bowie knew it too, which is why he recorded the opening and closing songs of Heathen first. “I wanted to make sure that the bookends were firmly in place before I got on with the rest of the album,” he said. I don’t know if a similar method was used for Reality, but it seems likely.
With that in mind, let’s look at the first and last songs of each.
The opener of Heathen, “Sunday,” ranks very high among the mature Bowie’s compositions. For most of its length it goes along at a stately pace, with lush vocals and loads of sonic detail including skittery percussion that recalls Earthling but works perfectly in this context. Listening to it right now, “majestic” is the word I’d use. That would have been enough; but then a minute from the end, the bass and live drums kick in and the song takes off for the stars. (more…)