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Bowie Berlin period/Reality/Iggy Pop - rambling thoughts [Mar. 18th, 2009|05:29 pm]
Whilst on holiday in Keswick last week I read the 'Bowie in Berlin' book I got for Christmas from start to finish - a really good read with a very "chatty" writing style and even quite a lot of stuff I didn't know about. I ordered Iggy Pop's Lust for Life CD cheaply when I got back (given Iggy's The Idiot and Lust for Life both being extensively covered in the book as the author clearly considers these two Iggy albums as very much a part of the whole "Bowie in Berlin era" - more so than Lodger in fact, which despite its usual status as one of "The Berlin Trilogy" has little to do with that city at all, being recorded elsewhere and Bowie had effectively left Berlin by then.

The CD arrived yesterday and sad to say, after a couple of listens anyway, I think it's pretty crap really and doesn't deserve to be spoken about in the same breath as Bowie's albums of the period. I can't understand how Lust for Life often appears in these "best albums of the 70s" lists. The Passenger is superb of course and the original version of Tonight is good, being much edgier than Bowie's pallid rendition but I didn't think Iggy's Neighborhood Threat was all that good. Bowie's version (although good) would have been better had it been a bit "grittier" but Iggy's seems too murky and unfocused - more like a demo. Then there's stuff like Sixteen and Turn Blue, which are pretty dire - indeed, the latter won't be played ever again!!

I remember Iggy Pop's 1986 song 'Shades' from his Blah Blah Blah album sounding very much like Bowie and from the Berlin book I got the impression that The Idiot had a similar "feel" to "Heroes" but after the disappointment of Lust for Life I don't know whether to bother with that album.

The book rates Low and "Heroes" extremely highly, with the author going as far as to state that side one of "Heroes" may be the single best side of a record/run of five straight tracks in Bowie's entire catalogue! Although a cool album, I wouldn't say that is true by any stretch of the imagination though. "Heroes" is without question one of Bowie's greatest and I really like Beauty and The Beast and to a slightly lesser extent Joe the Lion but neither Sons of the Silent Age or Blackout are amongst the best of Bowie's output in my view. I like them okay but they are nothing outstanding.

So I've been listening again to the Bowie Berlin era stuff - Low twice, "Heroes" 3 times, Stage and Lodger all since I got back from Keswick. Certainly the remastered Stage is quite stunning. Had Lodger playing in the car on Monday, probably its first outing for around six months or so. I did enjoy, albeit the album as a whole probably contains some of my least favourite Bowie tracks from the 70s (I've never liked Red Money or Yassassin, DJ is one of his weakest 70s singles and a few other songs are little more than "quite good" in my opinion). Still, good to hear it again once in a while.

I got stuck in a traffic jam on the way back so ended up hearing half of Reality as well and - better production notwithstanding - I just can't shake the Never Let Me Down vibe! Some of it seems really leaden (the repeated "I'm Ready" etc. in New Killer Star and the abominable Looking for Water). I continue to be surprised that Reality - though not afforded 'classic' status - seems to be generally highly regarded (someone on Amazon even wrote "far better than Heathen", which seems utterly inexplicable...and just plain wrong!).

I'm certain that Bowie's later work will eventually be widely recognised as containing moments of greatness - just not with anything like the consistency of his RCA years, and I don't consider anything on Reality as being anything like from his top drawer. That said, I'm more of a 70s Bowie afficionado, whereas many other fans probably enjoy the whole of his career more evenly (Outside and Heathen apart, I do wonder how many DB albums post-Let's Dance I would own if they weren't by Bowie...).
Discounting Pin Ups, it's Young Americans and Lodger which are the two from the 70s I have least affection for, the instrumental 'Neukoln' on "Heroes" makes for painful listening and I really wish he hadn't included 'Fill Your Heart' on "Hunky Dory" but those aside I think he was pretty much consistently brilliant throughout the 70s (and 1980 of course!) and never approached that consistency since (even Outside has a few rather duff tracks and Heathen includes the irritating 'A Better Future', which I can't stand). Even Young Americans is probably a very good album but simply not my cup of tea. Moving on to the 80s, I'll continue to defend Let's Dance though and even Never Let Me Down and Tin Machine I - Let's Dance seems to be subject to major revisionist criticism, despite being a fine album and I remain adamant that the other two are nothing like as bad as many would like to make out.

Due to forgetting to change my in-car CDs I ended up listening to Reality, then Never Let Me Down and part of Reality again back to back. I do like Pablo Picasso - which sounds edgy and a bit off the cuff (shame it's a cover) but then Never Get Old comes on and it sounds so utterly ordinary (as does the rest of the album to my ears). F*ck it, I don't care what anyone says, I still prefer Never Let Me Down! At least it has Time Will Crawl, Beat of Your Drum and Zeroes - three of Bowie's best from that period IMHO.

Okay, Beat of Your Drum hardly matches up to almost anything really from the RCA years (or even most of Let's Dance) but it caught my ear on the radio prior to the album release and I recall thinking to myself "that sounds much better!" Blame the producer for Never Let Me Down perhaps (I wonder what it would have sounded like had Visconti been at the controls?). The sound is flat and dated but my criteria remains based on how much I enjoy the songs and when it comes to Reality it's "not that much" on the whole, whereas I get more pleasure from NLMD, bad production and all.

Over familiarity can also be a factor of course and the later Bowie material (for me anyway) can still offer some surprises perhaps on repeat listening. There are several artists where my most played albums of theirs these days aren't necessarily the ones I regard as the best. That said, something like Panic in Detroit, Sweet Thing or Big Brother (and many others) can still send a shiver down the spine and a song such a Soul Love (which for years I never regarded as being a stand out) has in recent times become a real favourite!