David Bowie
Reality
2003
C



all too often, even the merest hint of new David Bowie material is enough to send many people into a curious frenzy of painstaking comparison. How does it hold up against Ziggy? Is it in the Scary Monsters league? Should we start whispering the words Tin Machine and giggling like little pixies? This is, although an entirely natural process, quite clearly crazy and futile. Just as The Cure are never going to write another Pornography, Bowie is never going to whip another Heroes out of nowhere. Viewing an album in complete isolation, however, may be just as pointless as an orgy of over-comparison. Which is why I have chosen to limit my inevitable exercise in comparison to a single moment of Bowie-related genius: various characters from 80s fantasy muppet-fest Labyrinth.

“Fall Dog Bombs The Moon”, for example, is an obvious subconscious reference to the role played by Sir Didymus, the foppish, anthropomorphised fox. He and his faithful sheepdog/horse turn up about halfway through the film and provide some much needed aid in the assault against the goblin city. In much the same way, “Fall Dog” pops up at a handy moment (track 8, fact fans) with a slice of laid-back, lyrical nonsense to carefully shoo us away from the eroding clifftops of blandshire. Most of the tracks keep a safe distance, but “Never Get Old” and “Looking For Water” seem to enjoy peering over the edge rather too much for their own good—risking a tumble into the Bog of Eternal Stench. As such, they represent any or all of the nameless and forgettable goblin minions that get chucked around the place as vague comic relief.

But what of our slightly mimsy heroine, Sarah? Like the bassline to “New Killer Star”, you’ll swear she seems familiar. She also ultimately triumphs against adversity. “NKS” is a bit of a grower, trundling along in the way that it does. It’s steady, it knows what it wants to accomplish. It wants to be an upbeat single, it wants to rescue its baby brother—and nothing will stand in the way. Except...

Our man himself. Bowie. Jareth. The Goblin King. Like Satan, he has many names and many devilish forms. You may feel this comparison is slightly unfair, but let’s just remember that his eyes are extremely weird, he transforms into an owl and his hobbies include kidnapping children. So there we go. Anyway, Jareth is rather complex and needs a couple of songs to truly capture his complete being. “The Loneliest Guy” is really the only track which comes even close to hinting at the necessary introspective turmoil his mind is going through. The spacious, melancholy piano chords and mournful pace reflect a deeply tormented soul. A soul that would proclaim himself King of all goblins, despite not baring the slightest resemblance to any of his subjects. A soul that’s reduced to stealing babies for company. A soul with the largest codpiece known to mankind.

Yes, that codpiece—vast enough to require a track all to itself. That track being “Pablo Picasso”. It’s confusing, it’s startling, you’re not quite sure why it’s there. But you can’t keep your eyes off it. It mesmerises and perplexes in equal measure. Are those discordant Eastern scales being played there? Why is David shouting so much? How the hell did he get that thing to stay in his tights? I feel I should turn away, but I can’t stop staring.

Fun though this has been, I should probably wrap it up before I start trying to compare that freakish orange beast Ludo to some random guitar riff or other. Because he controls rocks. And maybe the riff... um... rocks (see, this really is a good time to stop). Like some niftily faked crystal-spinning ability, Reality is a pleasant enough illusion. We had some laughs, we saw some muppets and there were some fun songs. Wait... that’s Labyrinth. Err... time for a concluding sentence with an air of finality! It’s solid, but it has no power over me.



Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2004-06-23
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