- 12 Apr 01
Just one theory, that's all. Just one… David Bowie, a man of many facets, facades, both factional and fictional.
Just one theory, that's all. Just one… David Bowie, a man of many facets, facades, both factional and fictional. He feeds and grows on experiences outside what the ordinary you or I are nurtured upon. It's a very personal and at times, an almost neurotically self-obsessed nourishment.
Throughout his career, he has kept us well and truly informed of his own periods of transition, allowing us to view his private metaphysical snap-shot albums, where all the photos are self-portraits, cameos taken at oblique and tangential angles, but all in crystal-clear close-ups, never a blurred image. Opaque, maybe, but never blurred.
Another year, another decade, another David Bowie LP. Another LP to be analysed, criticized, glorified, deified?
Bowie ended the seventies with 'Lodger' an apartment album of doors leading off to rooms with Bowie going into each room and finding them empty.
In Scary Monsters, Bowie's latest and most satisfying LP since Low, he has more realities than idols, more fears than mere acceptance of them, more scars than dreams.
For a part of the disc he seems to have come to terms with his constant travelogues, his continual search for answers to his own questions. In short, for a brief instant of time, Bowie has come to terms with himself.
The album begins and finishes with 'It's No Game' (Nos. 1 and 2 respectively).
The first version has a Japanese translation of the lyrics spat out by Michi Hirota in an untraditional venomous tongue, Bowie intermingling with her part in the song his own hoarse-throated reading of the lyrics in English.
Bowie seems so enraged and helpless at a situation that he cannot fully understand. His shouting is futile, and he's had enough. Slippery Fripperies and the song with a tape-loop guitar treatment, and Bowie relentlessly screaming 'Shut Up!' The second version is musically and vocally lazier, as if he's resigned himself to the fact that nothing he can do or say can change anything.
'Up The Hill Backwards' has a similar theme, one of disgust, that our future doesn't lie in our hands, but in the grasping mitts of others. However, Bowie ends the song on a perversely optimistic note: 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah – Up the hill backwards/It'll be all right".
'Scary monsters (and Super Creeps)', a tale of an unrequited love/fear relationship on both sides, sees Bowie highlighting his partner's weakness and his own callousness. 'Ashes to Ashes', a slightly different version from the single, has Bowie looking back with more than a touch of nostalgia on his first skin-shedding, Major Tom, Bowie does not mess with Major Tom. R.I.P.
The closing track is the neo-disco 'Fashion' with excellent insights into the mindlessness of fashion followers. It's dedicated to nobody and everybody in particular, with lines like "There's a brand new dance/But I don't know it's name/that people from bad homes/do again and again", and, "There's a brand new talk/But it's not very clear/That people from good homes/Are talking this year". Good, bad or indifferent, Bowie distrusts it. The army of goon-squads are marching and Bowie is deliberately out of step.
Over on side two we have 'Teenage Wildlife', the longest track on the LP. An elegy to himself in his younger days – not for him the over-confidence of Ziggy-Stardust-era, but the mature realism of David Bowie now. Another facade is laid to rest. "And there'll be others on the line filing past who will whisper low/I will miss you/He had to go".
'Scream Like A Baby' evokes images of incarceration, Bowie sharing an imprisoned nightmare with another (mythical) character, Sam, being humiliated, being guilty till proven innocent. No good times to be had, they 'never had no fun'.
Bowie's version of Tom Verlaine's 'Kingdom Come' has him in physical chains and bonds as opposed to the mental ones in 'Scream Like A Baby'. A song of true hope, Bowie sings Verlaine's lyrics as if they were his own, bringing a vocalese both impassioned and sweetly savage into the song that was absent on the original. Bowie prays for salvation and is saved.
The penultimate song on side two is 'Because You're Young', Bowie's paean to his son, any son perhaps. Bowie being sentimental without being cloying, advising without dictating, being nice to others, but keeping the whiplash for himself: "Because you're young/What could be nicer for you/And it makes me sad/So I'll dance my life away/A million dreams/A million scars".
And that's it, the first instalment of the 1980's Guide to The Diaries of David Bowie, with Bowie being assertive, demonstrative, and resigned. It's an album which will, hopefully influence others into making true eighties music. We all know that when Bowie breaks wind, people sniff it as far away as Numansland, but that is always the disadvantage of being a real innovator.
Oh yes, about the theory. Well, my theory about David Bowie is that… Oh God, you don't really want to know, do you?