BLACKSTAR DAY

Two years and two days on from Blackstar and Bowie’s 69th. Two years on from Bowie’s departure. January 10th: Blackstar Day.

Bowie's Blackstar

Blackstar Day

How much more do we know about the album and its messages? Lots, if you’re forensically inclined and need to have the whys explained. I’m not and I don’t. To me, Blackstar is kinda frozen because when Bowie went, time slowed – for a little while – and when you go back to the album, time slows again. Maybe that’s down to how and when you listen to it.
But when do you listen to it?
Not too often is my answer. Not yet, anyway. Definitely not in daylight, and not without complete attention for the whole album – it’s that kind of record. And even though it’s not played often, it feels as close and personal as any lifelong favourite, as it no doubt does for every other Bowie fan out there. I did play Blackstar on Sunday though, for the anniversary of its release. Mary Anne Hobbs paid elegant tribute to Bowie in her morning radio programme, as you’d expect, and that night, out walking in the 2-degree dark with a feels-like -6 freeze, Blackstar focused the senses. No distractions. New things heard. Still as knocked out by it – and by him and his exit – as the first time.
Blackstar is such a full-on album that it feels like the best gigs you’ve been to. Moving yet introspective, possibly even transcendent, yet never to be taken for granted. Like a true live-music moment, Blackstar absorbs. It’s more than just an album of music: it’s a life and a death and an afterlife, all at the same time, and it’s this inseparability that surely makes Blackstar’s pull stronger. I don’t want to know too much about its making or its meaning, if there is a meaning – again, not yet. Just enough to revel in its jazzed creativity, but not so much that the mystery and the magnitude of that January 2016 weekend is lost. It’s the kind of album that makes you think UP, especially on the title track and Lazarus. We think space, we think in ideas, we think bigger when we listen to Bowie’s best. Don’t we? And I’d put The Next Day up there as one of his best too, another album which fits the blackout of night. They’re not for comparing, and Blackstar stands alone both for the music and what it came to represent, but The Next Day was a step toward. Countless times I’ve lost myself in it in the small hours when sleep has slipped away.
So yes, back to Blackstar. It deserves a quality of attention. You could say that, with that album and its layers and wrappings, Bowie is teaching us how to listen again – a last lesson from a pop-music-art creator-collaborator, a signal to get off the musical waltzer and slow things down a bit. Or, in the case of Dollar Days, slow down a lot … there’s a good reason for it not being the last track on his last record. Too fraught a finish. If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to … fuck, man. Those words, followed by the spirited sax that rises out of them, are almost unbearable. I Can’t Give Everything Away at least offers a momentary musical lift.
And with that, we have another year and another RIP to David Bowie. Still vivid and unreal, it’s all we can do to cue up the music and immerse ourselves in Bowie stories. There’s no such thing as indulgence this week, so take your radio pick from Marc Riley’s Bowie tracks, or Mary Anne Hobbs and her interviews with Donny McGaslin and Denis O’Regan, or a repeat listen of this “Heroes” 40th anniversary doc. Just do it all, and check this Guardian feature on writers’ top Bowie tracks too.

For what it’s worth, this post was made with No Plan, half of Stage, one whole Reality and a double dose of Disco King. Previous words on Bowie loss here and here, and an Earthling review here.

Just sharing the love.

Hairy Halloween II

A pumpkin-grin welcome to anyone who’s there, and this year’s handful of Halloweeny hitters is a straight follow-up to last year: another blast of old-school rock tracks, videos and vibes that fit the ‘ween thing, and like all slasher sequels, it’s probably not as good as the one before…

…OR IS IT??? Wait for the dark.

JOE SATRIANI: Big Bad Moon

What do you want from a Halloween vid? A dark, deserted street? Check. Full-moon menace? Yep. Amplifier being kicked down the stairs so a guitarist can solo the frig out of it? Errrrrrr no, but why the hell not??? Enter Big Bad Moon. Not only is the mood right, but you get an electro-shock Satch hair-ender that’s undead-worthy (low budget special effects version). Killer tune, killer solos.

TOOL: Stinkfist

Less blitzy than Satriani, obvs, Stinkfist does anything but reek. Any number of Tool tunes could make a dark-side playlist, and this creepsome promo makes Tool a ‘ween shoe-in. Check the Stinkfist sand people, watch ’em peel.

MR BUNGLE: Quote Unquote

Odd weird. Sinister weird. Which is what you expect from Mr Bungle, right? Soundtrack to a death circus. With masks.

JUDAS PRIEST: Turbo Lover

Sure, A Touch of Evil makes more sense on the surface, but we’re not going as deep as surface here – we’re going for the vibe, specifically the Terminator-as-argonaut retro stink flying off this hilariously shit video. Rocking tune, though.

DAVID BOWIE: Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)

A fair few Bowie tunes could land on a list like this, but if atmosphere and menace are on the menu instead of literal Scary Monsters, the predatory pre-Blackstar Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) jazz ensemble racks it up nice n’ noir.

VOIVOD: Astronomy Domine

Did anyone else find the Tribal Convictions video a bit creepy as a kid? No? OK, that’s embarrassing. Let’s have a disembodied Voivodian vocal in a flicker-flicker-flicker-bam Floyd cover with a video of a band on a rotating wheel instead. Better?

ALICE COOPER: Killers

The creep factor in this version of Is It My Body has nothing to do with Alice stage props and effects – it’s pre-Nightmare, but Cooper was a theatrical master even when his props were nothing more than a shiny onesie, a shoe and a pink leotard. Classic. But this video for Killer (live) is a wee bit more showtime, shall we say. If the noose fits…

SMASHING PUMPKINS: Ava Adore

Graced with gothic electronica, alt-rock’s very own Uncle Fester goes full Nosferatu in the video – check the Corgan choreography for some pretty slick Nosfer moves you’ll wanna steal.

CHRIS MORRIS: Jam (intro to episode 2)

Not music, but there is dancing. Morris dancing. Subversive, woozy and warped at every twist, Jam fits right in with any horror sesh, and Morris’s taunt-and-haunt free-dance flail in the face of a failed suicide is wrong enough to be oh-so-very right.

MELVINS/TOOL: Divorced

If ever there was a Halloween house band, Melvins would surely be it. Tool could do visuals, but there are no visuals here – get the headphones, kill the lights and sink deep into a 15-minute pit of top-grade Toolvins.

AC/DC: Night Prowler

A rat runs down the alley, and a chill runs down your spine…can there be a better lyric to end on? Pure slasher, a Bon ace over a deadly, bluesy groove.

But you can’t really have a halloween sequel without a farcical false ending, so … a heroic big-hair resurrection it is – check the big-budget cheapness in this Elm Street cornball. Who were those guys, Freddie? Eh? Lynch axe still cuts it, mind.

THE END! Off now, Salem’s Lot beckons.

Other radio stuff to check:

At David & i

BOWIE PHOTOGRAPHER EXHIBITS IN NORTH OXFORD. MINI PROPS A BONUS

Managed to get a ticket to the Oxford showing of the David & i exhibition, which was on Wednesday night.

Which David?

Bowie, of course. Which i?

That’ll be Denis O’Regan, David Bowie’s official photographer for around ten years through the 80s and you WILL have seen some of his pics, no question. The blonde years, the megastar years, the critically revered… OK, but by capturing the Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider tours, O’Regan definitely got BOWIE: THE HEALTHY YEARS on film. And to see 40 such images – all approved by Bowie – is to Watch That Man and celebrate his life, regardless of era.

davidandi brochure 1

Catalogue and Melbourne Carousel, 1983

How has this happening come about? Promoted by Off Beat Lounge, the David & i exhibition has been out on tour visiting select Mini-supported locations, ie Mini showrooms. Funny that. Works well though, nice and light with all those showroom windows.

Bowie and green Mini

How did that happen? Bowie test drives Mini

In the Q&A session at the start of the night, O’Regan said that it was seeing Ziggy Stardust that made him want to be a photographer. A few years later, he was taking pics of the punk bands – easy access, no Rock Star Barriers – and got a job with the NME, and the first official photos he took of Bowie were up in Newcastle City Hall in 1978. He somehow wound up being official photographer on the Serious Moonlight tour a few years later.

Some gig, eh?

Other mini (sorry) nuggets from David & i:

  • O’Regan hates heights and categorically won’t do photography from up yonder scaffold, but is fine in a helicopter without doors (he can’t explain it either).
  • Bowie would try any food.
  • O’Regan would dispose of hundreds of images that Bowie never even saw. When asked one day – by Bowie – about what happened to them, Denis said he just put them in the bin. In his hotel room. Got a major tom-bollocking for that one.
  • The last photos he took of Bowie were in 1994 (I think), when Bowie had a tiny tiny beard. He didn’t say if it was the beard wot ended it, though.

So, even though the O’Regan prints are well out of reach – need a few hundred quid to make that leap, hallo spaceboy – it was a pretty cool thing for a Bowie fan to wander around and get immersed in for an evening. Go along next time there’s one going.

links:

 

 

 

COPELESS IN CARDIFF

FEBRUARY REWIND: LOST GIGS, THRASHERS’ ROMANCE AND BOWIE’S LAST PLAN

Beer-fuelled tunes, trusty mellotron, acoustic guitar – possibly some lurid shade of green or orange – and piss-funny visionary tales from a shamanic rock-onteur perma-decked in shades n’ leathers with lashings of YEAH MAN! optimismo…that’s what you’re heading for when you get a ticket for J Cope 2017. Out on tour in support of Drunken Songs, he’s wrapping it all up at the Globe in Cardiff on Feb 26, which is where we find ourselves reading a just-posted note that sez NO GIG.

Shit.

And without the Archdrude on stage, there’s not much else to report from February. Let’s hope all is well in the Cope camp.

LOVING THE DISEASE

When did you last hear Caught in a Mosh on daytime radio? Never? Then treat yourself to a nice little old-school buzz with Mark Radcliffe’s Valentine Day show with Scott Ian and Frank Bello. Top fellas, ace chat, find it at 1 hour 35 minutes into the show, listen on a weekday afternoon for max pleasure (expires March 14th). Death Angel, Pantera, Sepultura and Slayer also played, as are Powermad – straight outta 1989, vintage frash par excellence.

NO PLAN FOR BOWIE

The last tracks recorded by David Bowie finally got their non-Lazarus physical release this month. No Plan, Killing a Little Time and When I Met You all follow the Blackstar vibe, and Killing… is especially turbulent heavy like the reworked Sue. What an ending.

Otherwise, it was Drore and OHHMS blowing out the Cellar that was the Oxford highlight and we’ve already covered the gig, so that’s it for now a very short REWIND, time to get outta here.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

2016: the worst, the best

Festive salutations and a happy new year!

Hope the bigfella Claus delivered the goodies, but whatever delights came spilling out of his magic sack, 2016 was a tough gig. What a remorseless cull of rock and pop names, and it didn’t even break for xmas – George Michael on Christmas Day, Rick Parfitt on December 23rd. Surely there’s got to be a little bit o’ room for a little bit of Quo in everyone’s collection, so how about spinning a handful of harder-rocking SQ to celebrate Parfitt and keep the party going at the 12 bar, even if it’s only in your head? Mystery Song, Don’t Drive My Car, Over the Edge and Is There a Better Way will all do the trick.

So, another bit of chat about the music events and highs of 2016? We’ll list a few, right after the shortest of December Rewinds.

REZNOR’S RETURN

Nine Inch Nails came back in recorded form with a new EP. Not the Actual Events appeared earlier in December and a first listen to Burning Bright (Fields on Fire) shows Reznor and soundtracker-turned-bandmate Atticus Ross on slow-grinding, doomy form. More to follow in 2017?

SHOCK of the year

David Bowie. Not over that one, even a year later, and Blackstar is still a difficult listen. The upcoming new Five Years documentary in January will no doubt be the most fascinating, and the most emotionally-charged, of the lot as it covers his last years.

TRACK of the year

OK, so the track came out in 2015, but Bowie’s Blackstar is a highlight for ANY year, as is the re-tooled Sue (Or in a Season of Crime). Iggy’s American Valhalla and Nick Cave’s Anthrocene are right up there for edgy atmos. And for something more manic, Spit Out the Bone is on heavy rotation over here too – fast and melodic Metallica with Hetfield in his most convincingly aggressive voice since the Black Album.

MISS of the year

As in, a gig on your doorstep that you really should have gone to. And in Oxford a few weeks ago, that was Primal Scream. Why a no go? Fear of too much Moving On Up and Rocks and Country Girl, not enough Vanishing Point Xtrmntr Evil Heat aggro. What did they play? Moving, Rocks, Country, but also Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Swastika Eyes and Kill All Hippies. ‘KIN ELL… ludacris decision making on my part. Kiran Leonard also a bad miss.

LUCKY MISS of the year

As in, a gig on your doorstep by a band you don’t know but, coz of who’s involved, you’ve got innerest piqued. Step forward Honky, the band of Butthole Surfers and Melvins bassist Jeff Pinkus. Check the music online – not great. Reject gig. Wonder if gig ended up being one of those ‘should have been there’ moments. Check trusted review source (Nightshift page 10). It wasn’t.

NEW SOUNDS of the year

Still getting into these new-to-me discoveries, but semi industrial groove psyche dealers Blackash from Birmingham and Belgian avant noise punks Raketkanon are doing the job nicely, as are Blackstar band leader Donny McCaslin – beefy modern jazz with a drummer who absolutely kills it – and downbeat electroni-cists worriedaboutsatan, who also have their music making its mark in Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation. Lofty company for the satanworrieds. Three Trapped Tigers and The Comet is Coming brought explosive prog math and Heliocentrics-fuelled heavy beats jazz-ish respectively.

ALBUM of the year

The old guard put out a lot of great great stuff this year, and the top 3 are linked by maturity, mortality and death: Bowie, Iggy and Nick Cave reached new highs in heavy themes, and Blackstar is the peak. Once January 10th revealed its scalp,  Blackstar became forever more than just a record.

Others: FUCKINGMETALLICA, Mogwai, Melvins, Crippled Black Phoenix, Kandodo and McBain, Cult of Luna w/Julie Christmas, Thee Oh Sees

PRINCE of the year

Prince. ‘nuff said. Check this clip, worship non religiously, then get a music fanatic’s view of Prince’s passing from Henry Rollins in what is one of his best LA Weekly missives of the year.

FISHY MEDIA FEATURE of the year

Did you see this feature in the Guardian back in the summer? Fishbone. Yes, Fishbone. Why??? Don’t know. But if, like me, you never got round to actually buying their albums when Swim and Freddie’s Dead and Everyday Sunshine were doing the rounds, here’s the prompt you need to pick up The Reality of My Surroundings and Give a Monkey a Brain…. the only downside is the 20-odd years without these phenomenal heavy funk rock ska metal explosions tripping out the (monkey?) brain.

BIG 3 AT 30 of the year

Three of the Big Four put out their meisterworks thirty years ago: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, 1986. Anthrax shunted Among the Living out a few months later, in 1987… heady days for head bangers, right?  Some, if not all, are ingrained so deep that we don’t even need to press play, but when DID you last press play and listen to Master of Puppets, Peace Sells and Reign in Blood end to end?

There’s nothing to say about Puppets. It’s pretty much perfect and reveals much less on a new listen, precisely because it was THE album of that bunch. Some say it needs a remix but nah, leave it – keep the mud on. Peace Sells and Reign in Blood can still bring surprises, though. With possibly the best opening track of any major thrash record, Megadeth’s #2 sounds even more accomplished today, and you can feel the chaos darkening the vibe. As for Reign in Blood, this is still the anomaly because it’s the least metal of the classics…way more disturbing and a truly diabolical force summoned in 28 possessed minutes. Still deadly.

Happy new year, have a great start to 2017. ‘til next time!

DAVID BOWIE: Earthling

A man runs down a New York street, a figure of intimidation, or maybe a product of paranoid overimagination. He’s chasing, but he’s no sprinter. His target is older but more nimble. Whip thin, dashing.

Johnny’s an American?

***

In 1997, there was big interest in the Dame. He turned 50 that January – has anyone else kept An Earthling at 50 on video, taped from the tellybox but now without any means of watching it? – but even though Earthling went top 10, the reviews weren’t top mark, not that I can recall anyway. Bowie back then, unlike 2013 and definitely unlike 2016, was not critic proof. His rehabilitation was still tentative, and his new direction raised questions: was it a bit forced, this Earthling appropriation of the Metalheadz rhythm pushers? A bit middle-aged desperate?

Not a bit. Earthling is a vivid technicolour assault from a prolific Bowie era that now seems less about reinvention than rediscovery – rediscovering confidence, artistry and those all-important New Sounds. Two years earlier it was Outside‘s hour and a quarter of artsome perfection that had fired Bowie from Black Tie/Buddha Suburbia clubfunk reawakenings into alt-rock’s contemporary orbit, bristling with distortion and aggression yet never at the expense of melody and experimental rock nous. The Outside album was/is Bowie at his (then) modern-day best, and a co-headline world tour with Nine Inch Nails shunned the safety of a megahitsbestof, stringing itself up instead on the new-age visceral. ‘twas bold and darkedge, gothy even. Bowie was 48.

Earthling, however, bore none of its predecessor’s interludes and art-murder narratives. Earthling gets back to songs – a lean 10 – all of ’em packed with Bowie hooks but jammed and comped with loops, cut-ups and electronic beats. Earthling has no space. Dense sensory overload is queen.

What this means is that even now, just about 20 years after its release, the

hypertwitching drumnbass bigbeat skitter of Little Wonder hits hard like no other opener in Bowie’s back catalogue (Blackstar excepted, but for very different reasons). With his zeitgeisting muse fully open and receiving, Earthling was the last of his records – again, until Blackstar – that really pushed it, form-wise. Must have scared the shit out of the Bowie casuals, though they probably weren’t listening too hard anyway. Who was?

David Bowie: Earthling

Earthling: db does dnb (a bit)

Young Lollapalooza and Sub Pop heads, surely – the 90s coming-of-agers, the naive souls who had no truck with Tin Machine’s Under the God, the NIN fans getting  a kick out of the crossover. It’s those (us) who’ve got the hots for Earthling, and we don’t understand those who haven’t.

Little Wonder and I’m Afraid of Americans are the best known tracks, and for all of Little Wonder’s beaty thrill, it was Americans – the most overt hook-up of Bowie and Trent Reznor – that really planted an alt slant on the album. Trent-man appeared in the video, bloated and looking like shit – his Fragile years – but in the studio was peak-condition lean, forging six I’m Afraid of Americans mixes for an album-length maxi single including a radical 11-minute ambient deconstruction. Ice Cube and Photek got drafted in as well, making it a satisfyingly experimental listen in its own right, but even the original Americans – from the album, not on the single – has an abrasive NIN-jection, souping up the Pretty Hate Machine-ry with industrial production.

Seven Years in Tibet is the album’s sole nod to something calmer – sleazy mechanics lurk under clean chords (like Reznor’s Closer?) – with sax to soften, but for the chorus, the Earthling Overload Factor does a wreak-and-destroy job that exposes the lyrical noir all the more:

Are you ok?

You’ve been shot in the head

And I’m holding your brains

the old woman said.

Yeah… Bowie’s having an absolute blast on this record. It/he is urgent and nicotined and caffeinated and PLAYFUL, and so is the band. Cut-up non-sequiturs a la Burroughs, la-di-da lyrical tail-offs and guitar assaults from Reeves Gabrels (see Battle for Britain, you’ll know) combine to blow pretension and self censure clean off … no subtlety here, and Gabrels’s fireworking solos are built for the self-sampling chop-ups we got going. The Last Thing You Should Do has THE most violent eruption of guitar in a Bowie track ever. Probably. Heavyweight euphoria, total fucking release, go bask in its sprawling crunch after the 2nd chorus. Gabrels stamps all over Earthling, but then again, so does everything. It’s that kind of record.

David Bowie: I'm Afraid of Americans

Be afraid: the remixes

Got to mention Mike Garson as well, doing his thing as un-usual since Aladdin … check his whacked-out plonk at the end of Battle. Does it blend? No. Does it work? Same as it ever did: YES.

Dead Man Walking beats a hi-nrg path to club night (is it true that the F-to-G riff was shown to Bowie by Jimmy Page back in the day and then used on The Supermen?) and Telling Lies takes the drum-bass flavour up a notch, but what about the last track, Law (Earthlings on Fire)?

Possibly the most overlooked track of an overlooked album, Law shifts Earthling’s balance. Without Law, we’d have had a neat I’m Afraid of Americans finale and a taut 44-minute record. With it, we get a paranoid streak of dark danceable menace that takes the self-sampling ethos of the album to an OTT climax: EVERYTHING is in here … robotic bass, disco hi hats, clipped guitar funk, heavy metallic chug, retro futuristic keyboards and, through it all, the endless repeat of a paraphrased Bertrand Russell:

I DON’T WANT KNOWLEDGE. I WANT CERTAINTY.

Prescient stuff. The soundtrack to a chase.

Is Earthling the album Bowie shouldn’t have made? Listening to the classic forms he returned to, you could say that it was a step too far – but I don’t believe that. Earthling isn’t the seamless immersion in a genre that Young Americans and Low are, nor is it the creative totality that Station to Station, Heroes and Outside are. It can be a bit leaden at times, BUT…

…man, Earthling’s exciting. And for a production-heavy electronica-heavy record, it’s raw and alive with enough balls to rough things up. Earthling’s got an energy that has not waned – it STILL sounds tooled up on Red Bull and cigarettes. With no complex layers, no hidden meaning (though I suppose you never know) and no ballads, it’s like the brash younger sibling of Outside that you can rock out to. And again, true to Bowie form, it’s an album that sounds like no other in his back catalogue …another satisfying one-off from the Master.

Need convincing? Check a couple of live renditions right here.

RIP RIP RIP RIP DAVID BOWIE

Where are we now?

REWIND JANUARY: TOTAL BOWIE IMMERSION 

Has there been anything Beyond Bowie this month?

Well, there’s news of an Iggy Pop/Josh Homme album – Post Pop Depression – in March, and a post Vesuvio hook-up between archdrude Julian Cope and arch low-frequencer Stephen O’Malley, but that’s it as far as amp-heavy music goes. January has been Bowie, nothing else. New listenings of old albums, hearing more with every spin and becoming ever more spooked by the timing – the sad, immaculate perfection – of the man’s exit from Planet Life. Real life fiction.

Tony Visconti said Bowie’s death was a work of art, and it looks more and more like it was – the act of an artist who, having no control over cANCER and its dignity-stripping debilitations, took total control of whatever he could – and this is because he could – to create work and create space that helped him to leave on his own terms. Nothing was gonna mess the final act. It was like a choreographed last dance, an Outside death/art subplot come true.

Bowie’s influence in life, in popartrock terms, is without question. Will he influence in death too – as in, the way musicians sign off? Is the Death Statement, aka the Blackstar, gonna be a conscious direction for those who know they’re eyeballing their end time?

Wouldn’t be surprised.

’til next time