Monday, 11 January 2016

Overview of David Bowie's brilliant career reveals contemporary critical opinion is mainly horseshit driven by fashion

Now we can see Bowie's career from beginning to end it is possible to see how consistent it is. And how chasing critical opinion (1983-87) was nearly the end of it

I was going to review Blackstar over the weekend. It's good, very good, but like The Next Day (covered here) and a lot of Bowie over the course of his life the critical reaction seems ruled by fashionable opinion in the media of the artist.

Then.. this morning.. he's dead. Quite a shock. If there is one contemporary artist who I thought could evolve past that whole tiresome death thing it would be Bowie. Bowie directly inspired almost everything creative I've ever done - and I'm a writer!
God knows how musicians are feeling today.

In the wake of his death I anticipate a mass re-writing of  critical history, in which the period he was ridiculed is quietly forgotten.

This is his career as I see it, charted against how fashionable it was to be a fan.

Bowie's career starts unfashionable and laughed at as a novelty Anthony Newly knock-off

David Bowie (1967)

He then catches the zeitgeist and becomes fashionable with Space Oddity

Space Oddity (1969)

and after that goes on a run of incredible creativity perhaps unsurpassed in popular music

The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
Hunky Dory (1971)
Aladdin Sane (1973)
Diamond Dogs (1974)
Young Americans (1975)
Station to Station (1976)
Low (1977)
"Heroes" (1977)
Lodger (1979)

He is then obviously shocked to the core by the assassination of John Lennon, prompting what I think is his masterpiece

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)

After which he seems to panic. Ever present on an adoring media and critically sanctified, he jumps headfirst into chasing popular mainstream acceptance in an execrable pop phase, which (at the time) was critically lauded

Let's Dance (1983)
Tonight (1984)
Never Let Me Down (1987)

reaching a climax with a film that was hyped in the UK to Star Wars sequel levels by a suffocatingly cozy media

Absolute Beginners

.. and...then the film subsequently vanished from the face of the Earth. Bowie was the only decent thing in this gaudy stinker - hugely ironic as an entire industry in film criticism was built around running down his career as an actor. (Already forgotten in the coverage today).

At the end of the 80s, having over exposed himself to the point of ridicule ('Dancing In The Street') Bowie tries to  crawl out back out of the cheesy Saturday Morning kids show his career has become but he's left it too late and has become unfashionable. Attempts to bury himself in Iggy Pop's guitar crew are met with a wide ridicule oddly never applied to Iggy Pop.  The fearless drastic career right turn later performed by Radiohead (into KID A) is years away.

Tin Machine (1989)
Tin Machine II (1991)

Tin Machine was widely mocked, usually from the Britpop critics otherwise extolling the sophistication of classic (at the time) Oasis albums like Be Here Now. After that for the rest of the decade he was mainly is regarded as a comedy figure producing weird albums, not only unfashionable but also now OLD

Black Tie White Noise (1992)
Outside (1995)
Earthling (1997)
'Hours...' (1999)
Heathen (2002)
Reality (2003)

Bowie finally turned critical opinion decisively by turning himself into a hermit  just in time for the nostalgia industry to rediscover the talent they claimed he'd lost with  The Next Day.

I've spent all weekend listing to BlackStar and like The Next Day it's very good. Is it significantly better than
Outside, Earthling, 'Hours...'?
No not really, certainly not better than Outside, but then now, he's fashionable again, so that makes all the difference

It is all forgotten now but there were periods in the 90s when it seemed the only acceptable way to listen to Bowie was the ripped off sample in Ice Ice Baby. I remember disbelief when I explained to people the brilliant soundtrack contributions to David Lynch's Lost Highway, David Finchers Se7en and Paul Verhoeven's classic foreshadowing of the Iraq War, Starship Troopers, were all from Bowie and Eno's Outside.

Brian Eno's tribute to Bowie mentions Outside as their one (their last) collaboration which 'fell through the cracks'. I expect it will be top of the list as a rehabilitated classic in the re-written history.

The fluctuations in credibility never seemed to bother him much, in fact you can see him sending himself and the whole circus  up in Zoolander.

Fame, Fashion.. he wrote several classic songs about on the subject himself after all.

But it does demonstrate the bitchy incompetence in the critical press. Example : at the time I would have like to have known that Black Tie White Noise was written as a soundtrack to his own wedding (which it was) instead of reading endless pages of yuyuks at Tin Machine and the Laughing Gnome.

As a gauge of how actually in-the-know these clowns in the music press were, the very Britpop bible in the 1990s mocking Bowie's crawl back to respectability was also telling us at the same time that the

emerging 'internet' was a fad and it would be the "CB radio of the 1990s"

Thank you, long extinct SELECT magazine, that one is only going to get funnier with time.

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