and, look you see, a post about pretty much what i said it would be at the end of the last one i did, for those of you who read all of this stuff. i know that consistency and continuity will probably be low down on your list of expectations for this blog, but there you go, have it anyway!
today is, for the dear want of a better word, one of the more altruistic days on the calendar in terms of vibes. why? because today is the day that is the birthday of The King, Elvis Presley. also, it is the birthday of sporadic actor and musician Derek Bowie. one of those two elected to release an album on this probably not at all altruistic of days to mark the occasion.
it is quite something in this day and age when HMV, one of if not the oldest surviving record stores in the world, actually condescends to advertise actual music, recorded by someone that people have heard of, in their window display. nice one HMV.
as you can probably work out from the above, or are possibly aware anyway, of the two birthday gents, it is Derek Bowie that has released a shiny new record, called nothing short of Blackstar. or an image of an actual black star rather than the words, with that being the official title, presumably as a tip of the hat to when Prince called one of his albums some sort of symbol twenty or so years ago.
hang on, let me try something quick -★ . yeah, that's the actual name of the album, anyone feeling particularly pedantic after that bit above. except it is meant to be black not white. call it, if you like, my special tribute to the Black Tie White Noise album, or something like that.
did i have a pleasant experience going to HMV to buy it? it was decidedly not. beyond it being cold, grey and very wet, i managed to catch every single red light on the way, and had to contend with several drivers of the d!ckhead variety in front of me. which i expected.
why then did i insist on going to get it? i could, after all, have bought a "digital download" (for £2 less than the price of the CD you see above), or ordered it off of Amazon if i wished to have the disc. also, an illicit copy, presumably from a disc given to a journalist for review purposes, has been on the net since around Christmas Day.
i guess it's just my nostalgia thing on the go again, then. i don't know, i just really like the idea of being able to go and buy a record on the day of its release, in particular from a store that has, on and off, served my music requirements for over 30 years. and it's just dawned on me that the majority of staff in HMV presently were not born when i started using their services.
the most distinct thing about the release of this album is the astonishing lack of excitement, enthusiasm and getting carried away that greeted the release of Derek's previous album, The Next Day. when that one came out - his first new vibes for some ten years - you may recall we all got treated to some overexcited journalistic wankery of the highest level of sycophantic all of a sudden decided we have worshipped this music all along since the 2007 (or whenever it was) semi-reunion of Led Zeppelin. virtually every music news outlet engaged in a breathtaking battle of out-masturbate everyone else with the praise, with the amazingly stupid and false claim that The Next Day was "his best and most important album since Scary Monsters" being adopted as the official view. for the record, in that regard any album an artist does is the most important one they've done since the album before that; hence them feeling inspired to go do another.
this time, presumably with all of the news and media outlets resigned to the fact that no, he's not going to grant any interviews no matter how much praise you throw at him, the release of a new Derek Bowie album has been accepted pretty much as "one of those things". also, the fact that the album is not quite as good as many - myself included - hoped it might have been has not doubt contributed to the low key reception and reaction to the release. Bowie is, after all, no Adele. he's something like two and three quarters times her age, for a start.
a lot of the focus of the packaging and look of ★ is on the black part of the name rather than the star. as you can see in this picture, the CD is black, the inlay tray of the digipack it comes in is black, and as much of the cover as possible is black. the "star" part, as my (considerably) better half pointed out, is used in a broken form to spell out "Bowie" at the bottom of the disc.
none more black? no, there are more black albums out there. refer Prince, Metallica. Spinal Tap, etc.
Derek has tried to be none more black, though. the text across the box and in the booket is all black on black, which makes it something of a challenge to read it. you have to hold it at a specific angle in relation to the light to do that. the reward for this is getting to read the lyrics, which read much as they sound - random, meaningless and shoved in there for sh!ts and giiggles.
a little listen to some of the music? sure, here you go - here's a bit off of the last track of the album, I Can't Give It All Away, or something like that. as i said, it's tricky to read the tracklisting.
does the above represent in a general way the sound of the record? yes, except this segment is vocal free. a small mercy is that, for the most part, the vocal appearance of Derek Bowie is closer to the beautiful, clear, excellent sound of the second half of the titular song than it is the first half, which is tinny, distorted, messed around with and awful sounding.
a lot of the critics, i note, have gone the safe route of explaining this album away as being "complex", or "challenging" and "cryptic". this is journalistic code for "we have absolutely no idea what is going on in this record, except that it does not sound too bad, and it's Derek Bowie so we are not allowed to say anything bad about him or anything he does". listening to the record gives one a sense that it all seems to be about something specific, but there's no clue or clarity given as to what. which kind of makes any point that Derek Bowie is trying to make pointless, unless that point is he's taking the p!ss with random stuff that came to mind.
it's on it's third play on the stereo right now as i write this, so it can't be that bad. i think this third play means that i have already listened to it three times as many times as i have listened to the Never Let Me Down album in 29 years. so it can't be all that bad, i guess.
the booklet, to grab at a positive, is a thing of beauty. yeah, sure, you can't read anything in it properly, but they have not f****d about with the quality of paper and print. despite it being mostly variations of black, the artwork is all the same more interesting and far more thought about than the "this will do" approach which was taken with The Next Day.
the album, as you can see in the image of my stag with it loaded, has 7 tracks and runs for just north of 41 minutes. 10 of those minutes are dominated by the title track. the last time Derek Bowie released a record with less than ten tracks and it was dominated by the titular track it was Station To Station and that was, is, a masterpiece. this record is no masterpiece.
of the seven tracks, four are ones which Bowie enthusiasts have heard before today. the titular track and Lazarus were released as "digital singles" all the way back in 2015, whereas Sue and 'Tis Pity She Was A Whore were a double A side single a while ago for World Record Store Day. and also appeared on that Nothing Has Changed best of set. in respect of the last two songs mentioned, i am thrilled to say that Derek has at the least re-recorded them for this album, and they sound much better here than they did in their initial variations.
the other three songs? Girl Loves Me is the reason there is a parental advisory warning sticker on the front. there's some smart bass and that on the go, but mostly the song sees Derek sing the line "where the f*** did Monday go" repeatedly. i think that song along contains Derek using the word f*** more times than it appears in a combined count of all his previous 25+ albums. Dollar Days drifts between good and average, with it being a combination of saxophone and Bowie threatening never to set foot in England again, apparently convinced it is "nothing to see". finally, I Can't Give Everything Away is energetic, enthusiastic and gives one a sense that at last the album is going somewhere, and then the album is over.
whilst Sue and 'Tis Pity are clearly, as the master of recycling music Noel Gallagher predicted, two tunes that didn't make the cut for either The Next Day or the The Next Next Day special edition, the other five songs here are not. i think one or two of them, maybe the singles, were created in part for a TV show and some sort of stage show. other than that, they sound quite like things Derek was tinkering and fiddling with in the studio at times when Iman chased him out of one of them castles they live in so as to keep him out of the way whilst she did the hoovering and ironing and all that sort of thing.
if this review, or if you like "thought piece", is messy, clumsy, contradictory and all over the place, then so is the album. i'm embarking on my 4th listen to the album and i find my reaction changes with each listen. the title track, for instance, is all of a sudden interesting and growing on me.
whereas i would not describe this album as "inaccessible", i will be quite surprised if this repeats the phenomenal sales and chart success of The Next Day. from what i recall when U2 released a physical copy of the (very, very good) album they gave away free via Apple that reached number 6 in the chart, and yes indeed i was one of the ones to purchase a copy. that will be a good benchmark for next friday when the chart comes out. if it doesn't equal or better 6th in the chart in what is traditionally the week when the lowest number of sales are required to rank high, well, what can i say - i drove off and did my bit.
i cannot see ★ appealing to the casual fans who refer to Derek Bowie as "that nice man that did the song about the girl off of China who danced in red shoes". weirdly, i suspect it just might attract a few new fans with its unexpected sounds. me? it doesn't seem like an album to have on in the car or on the go on the walkman, but i can see it being on the stereo in my elevated shed frequently.
my one hope for ★ is that another album comes along after it. for a decade as a Derek Bowie fan i was comfortable with Reality being his swansong. to this day The Next Day sounds like it would have been a most agreeable one last shout, and a sign of him sticking to his early 2000s words when he said it would take "something really spectacular" to see him release any further music. nothing about this record, despite the fact that there are positives, suggests that it is one which should be left to cap a quite extraordinary career.
should you have digged this album more than me, or at least in a faster period of time, happy days. if you're reading this at some point in the next 10 or 20 years and are baffled by the comments because in your day and age it's considered a highly influential classic, well then so much the better.
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!