So, Bowie’s back and everybody has written something about it by now, even Jonathon Ross in The Guardian – sadly there’s no audio of Woss talking about BoWie’s ‘Where are We NoW?’. Had the single not been ‘leaked’ while I was asleep around midnight, Mexican time, maybe I’d have been able to get in their quickly with some insightful comments, but by the time I’d found out about the song it seemed to be the biggest story in the UK and already on the wane to some extent as Beliebers reattached themselves to Twitter and Chelsea offered the chance to ask Demba Ba a question (“Are you nicknamed ‘Humbug’?” was my favourite). I think Suede also attempted something but that was truly comically bad timing for a group like Suede now wasn’t it? I do hope a lost Beatles album appears on the same day as a future Oasis reunion too.
There are many articles about…err…the articles about the new single. The Twitter response has already been commented upon. Really there is nothing else to say. Even the forthcoming album’s simplistic sleeve has provoked 10 paragraphs hailing its genius in The Guardian. Really? Did nothing else happen in music yesterday? Was the Suede comeback really too dull to mention? Did you not catch that thrilling 2 minutes of punk pre-release from Denmark’s Iceage? This never happened during the Tin Machine years! Ross spends a lot of his article discussing himself and his family’s bodily movements which could almost be metaphoric if I was making it up. It does seem like he’s making a late bid to become the next latter-day John Peel with his own Home Twoofs and has launched this with the Bowie launch along with some serious name-dropping - I’m friends with his son! Notice me!!! Some have taken the opportunity to watch the video and attempt to diagnose the condition of Bowie’s health from it. Well, he appears to have become one of two heads on a conjoined twin bear, but other than that… He could be said to look pale and thin-lipped but didn’t he always? Producer Tony Visconti has actually suggested he is in good health and rosy-cheeked. Rosy cheeked? That sounds more worrying than ‘pale’. And on and on it goes. So astute observations on ‘Where Are We Now?’ have already been made. It’s either brilliant, essential or dull according to some. Tedious speculation has run out of control, so maybe we should just listen and watch and then think about other things until the album arrives in March.
It does sound oddly like a mash-up of Phyllis Nelson’s ‘Move Closer’ and something by Ryuchi Sakamoto at a push…okay, quite a push, but it sounds amusing. The song does sound very much like an older man reflecting on life which is exactly what you would expect from someone who is rumoured to have a serious illness and not released any music for 10 years. OK, there was ‘Chubby Little Fat Man’ from Extras but I suspect that humour may have disappeared from the forthcoming album which is a shame as it was the third most comical moment of Bowie’s career after the superb ‘Laughing Gnome’ and the entire recorded output of Tin Machine.
The video will be remembered for a long time thanks to all the hype and will more than stand up to itself being another one of those Bowie videos where you can shut your eyes and picture it 10 years or more later. The tourist guide to Berlin aspects are less memorable than the ‘special’ cuddly toy with human heads and kind of grate in the lyrics a bit too, if you ask me. Yes David, you lived in Berlin and it was cool. It had a big wall back then etc. Hardly Wim Wenders though. I hope a few parodies based on provincial Britain appear: “Sitting in The Boer’s Head on Willow Street” etc. For the happily ignorant, these references are an Oswestry thing – you just wouldn’t understand.
So will it be a greatest hits collection worrier? When was his last ‘greatest hit’? The 1980s? Earlier??? To my ears it sounds like my favourite Bowie song since ‘Ashes to Ashes’ but that’s because I really dislike the 80s pop years that others enjoy and then it all went a bit nuts through Tin Machine and the jungle phase until he pulled things back around after the turn of the millennium. ‘Where Are We Now?’ is simple and haunting, apparently it made Gary Kemp cry – worrying feedback from someone who wrote so much over-produced mush for ‘True’. It is not massively dynamic but builds in quite a stately way towards a more anthemic conclusion. Also, it’s not just the tourist guide lyrics and the setting of the video, but the song does somehow suggest a more populist version of Berlin-era Bowie. Something that the public might be keener on this time around. An album of similar material could potentially be somewhat dull especially with bonus tracks on the deluxe edition – already available for pre-sale on iTunes! However, Visconti promises more rock on the album. Uh-oh! Not more bloody Tin Machine, I hope. My other fear would be that without a certain amount of added dynamism, the album could be similar to the duller side of Massive Attack – cool but unmemorable. Having said all of this, I am not the world’s biggest Bowie fan and can take or leave a lot of his albums, in fact I’d probably leave the majority though I do love the ones I’d take – you can probably figure out which ones they are in an article about an article about the articles about the pre-release of one man’s 4 minute pop song. Say what you like, to get this much attention in this day and age without being some kind of digital pop cartoon of a human is impressive. It must have been the conjoined twin bear suit that did it.
So, in conclusion, the new Bowie single and video are pretty good. There, finally some functional music journalism.