Sunday, January 20, 2013

David Bowie: "Tin Machine II"

It's very difficult to pick a "most underrated" David Bowie album because most of them are generally lauded by critics.   You might say "Lodger" because it doesn't have the standing of "Scary Monsters" or "Low" - but it is still very well regarded.  "Heathen" might quality.  It did receive mostly positive reviews at the time of its release, but perhaps in retrospect it's a stronger and even more important album than was apparent at the time.  My esteem for it has only grown in the decade-plus since it's release.

But really if you think about an album that is still widely dismissed that deserves a far better fate, it's "Tin Machine II".   Fans and critics were somewhat bemused by Bowie's abandonment of the bloated stadium-rock of the "Never Let Me Down" period for a stripped-down, no frills "i'm one of the band" rock approach on the first Tin Machine album.   Fans gave it a chance and there was a decent promotional push, but none of the material was particularly commercial.  It wasn't a bad album, and it was nice to see a fresh direction from Bowie, but it wasn't a knockout.

Given the relative failure of "Tin Machine", it's perhaps surprising a sequel ever saw the light of day.  "Tin Machine II" is far better.  Partly due to record company issues, the album really never had a chance.   It was scoffed at and ignored by the press, and folks - many of whom probably never really bothered to listen to it - named it a disaster.  It was largely ignored by the public and is current out of print and unavailable for purchase.

A true shame.  Minus the 2 tracks sung by Hunt Sales, "Stateside" and "Sorry", this is a classic Bowie album.  If it had been released under the name David Bowie and given another title, maybe it would have fared better.  It opens with a killer trio of originals, all of which were singles:  "Baby Universal", "One Shot" and the wonderfully off-kilter "You Belong in Rock n' Roll".   Then a white hot cover of Roxy Music's "If There is Something".  The rest of the album is mostly very strong as well, with Reeves Gabrels' guitar work interesting throughout.  Some should-be Bowie classics here - like why isn't "Shopping for Girls" regarded alongside his best work?   It's tremendous.

Give it another listen with a fresh ear.  It stands up remarkably well 22 years later.  Hopefully Bowie's return to the music scene will lead to a fresh look at his back catalog, and this criminally underrated gem will get another chance.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

David Bowie: "Where Are We Now?"

I have been listening to Bowie non-stop this week.  I've actually been in a Bowie mood for a while, so the timing was perfect for the most stunning music news in recent memory:  with zero advance notice or warning or hype, David Bowie ends a near 10-year recording silence with a new single, "Where Are We Now?", and an album called "The Next Day" due in March.   The news shellshocked the music industry and I couldn't believe what I was reading when I first saw it.

But... is it any good?

"Where Are We Now?" is just sublime.  Unbelievably powerful.  The perfect song for Bowie's return.  He mournfully, wistfully ruminates on his past, walking the dead through his old haunts of Berlin.  But the song turns, becomes a defiant statement of "hey, we are still here!" - with a desperately, brilliant sung vocal that conveys the message perfectly.  Yeah, we can sit and wistfully remember our past.  But we are still here, we are still living, and we still have a future.  At the end of the video they slip away from their pasts and walk out of the room, into their everyday, real lives.

The slow buildup and swell of the music, and Bowie's vocal performance... nostalgic and somewhat bittersweet and then turning tense and passionate ...  "as long as there's fire... as long as there's you... as long and there's me.."    The song has literally left me in tears.

The man, even at this stage in his career, continues to surprise, amaze, astonish, delight.  Thank you Mr. Bowie.  You didn't have to come out of your domestic bliss/retirement, but I'm so happy that you did.  It couldn't have been a better-crafted return.