Just a couple of days after this review was published, I’m sitting at my desk on Monday morning and read all the reports that David Bowie has died at 69. “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer,” according to a statement on Mr. Bowie’s social media accounts. Two days after his birthday. R.I.P.
I remember in late November I had been invited to a pre-listening party for the new David Bowie album in one of Berlin’s planetariums. The lights were dimmed, we sat back and relaxed and the voluminous 10-minute opus of the title track, which had been out on video by then, had me captivated in my seat.
And it was after about 40 minutes towards the end of the album when I realized that I couldn’t get enough. Six weeks later, it is still a matter of ‘save the best for last’ on David Bowie‘s new album: the swanky and vigorous repetitiveness of “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is so stirring that I always find myself wanting this track to go on forever. The way saxophonist Donny McCaslin swirls around the crying vocals and guitarist Ben Monder dances around the leader almost had me awestruck.
The production work by Tony Visconti and Bowie himself tends to be on the bombastic side at times, with the drums usually way up front (and with Mark Giuliana, that’s not a bad idea anyhow). The sound really encompasses everything. So with all these jazz guys backing the leader on his new album (among them the brilliant Jason Lindner on piano and keys and Tim Lefebvre on bass), has Bowie turned to Jazz? (It’s a stupid question, I know, but I’ve heard it more than once). Of course not and we shouldn’t care anyway – this is a Bowie record with a lot of distractions, discomfort, distortion, and distinction. The way he phrases and intonates the words in “Girl Loves Me” is hilariously funny (“Where the fuck did Monday go?”).
Some parts are almost stretching out to some heavy metal-ness, but just when I thought this is enough now, there is another twist and turn and he got all my attention again. And the lyrics can be divine, too: “Look up here/I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/I’ve got drama/Can’t be stolen/Everybody knows me now”, he sings on what can be described as the only ballad on his new disc (“Lazarus”). But I can understand that the music on the album can be unsettling to some. It’s what makes it so much fun.
Saxophonist Donny McCaslin is heavily featured throughout, playing free and agressive, sometimes twirling like mad, never really accompanying, but adding his own voice to the mix. Check out his latest album “Fast Future” which also features the same personnel as on this album. And what’s this whining about the length of this album? I’d rather have 41 substantial minutes than 75 minutes with lots of filler tracks.
I constantly find myself returning to “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, though. The uncanny fascination of the track; its infectious drama is like a maelstrom that captures me. “Seeing more and feeling less/Saying no but meaning yes/This is all I ever meant/That’s the message that I sent/I can’t give everything away”.