Thursday, January 7, 2016
Ziggy Plaaaayed....Tenor Sax
As my favorite artists get older, I grow increasingly fearful of no longer hearing new music. Then, the anxiety builds when new music is released and I don't like it. It has been eight years since Todd Rundgren released "Arena," a record that I warmed up to in big way after some initial disappointment, mostly in how it sounded and not the songs or performance. But since then, it has been five records that have left me cold, with three of them actually making me angry. Time is running out, I would imagine, for a record to remind me of why I became a fan of Todd Rundgren in the first place.
It has been ten years since David Bowie has taken the stage proper, but only three since his last release, which came ten years after his last record. That album, "The Next Day," was a surprise to everyone, not just because of the stealth of its creation and release, but because it was a fucking brilliant record that no one believed would ever come out of the Dame again. There was no tour, only adamant discussion about not touring. Was this Bowie's finale? If so, what a way to go!
It wasn't his finale.
By now, you must have read about Bowie's "jazz" record which hits tomorrow officially, but leaked last week. This is "Blackstar," and I hope I am the first to say, this is not a jazz record. Unless you think "Bitches Brew" is a rock and roll record, then maybe we have a discussion. Let's just do away with labels, shall we?
Bowie is backed by NYC's Donny McCaslin, a jazz sax player, and his band. Some songs are longer than usual. There is more freedom in the playing than what is usually associated with a Bowie record. But there is no doubt, this is a David Bowie record. This will not (read: should not) end up on Down Beat's jazz charts at the end of the year.
Now about this "Blackstar." I would imagine those who gave up on David Bowie around "Diamond Dogs," will have no tolerance for the music here. If you stayed with the man and still adore "The Berlin Trilogy," you should, at the very least, approach this record with an open mind. As a long time, ardent supporter and fan, who has stuck around since I first heard "Ziggy" in 1972, I found "Blackstar," (after two focused listens) to be one of the most difficult Bowie records to date. The record is soaked by the influence of Scott Walker, and a Scott Walker record is no walk in the park. It is more like walking across a possibly frozen pond wearing Keds.
More to the point, the 25 minutes that make up the songs "Blackstar," "Lazarus," "Tis Pity She Was A Whore" and "Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)" are very difficult minutes. Bowie is in his crooner voice, with melodies that never really take off and musical arrangements that are slippery. There are passages that want to be something. Maybe free form funk? Acid house? Operatic R&B? I have to make up new genres, because this record is all over the place. Yet, I cannot turn away. There is something here. It is David Bowie.
Nothing here is "Rebel, Rebel," or even something as strangely beautiful as a tune from Side Two of "Heroes." Even the three most conventional songs which close the record, "Girl Loves Me," "Dollar Days" and "I Can't Give Everything Away," seem to come and go, making me wish there had been something in between the first 25 minutes and the last 16 minutes.
I will stick with "Blackstar" for a little while longer, or at least that is what I hope. There is that possibility that the third pass might be the last...if I don't get it. But I think it might help matters if I get out of the head of thinking, THIS is the finale. I never expected another "Ziggy" or "Low" out of David Bowie, but then again, I never expected something so utterly "Ziggy" and "Low" as "The Next Day." So maybe, he has another one in him. For now, "Blackstar" is it. Oh well...