Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:29 October 2021 



For many music fans around the globe, the death of David Bowie in January 2016 left a gaping chasm in the rock world. No more new studio albums from one of popular music’s most restless creative spirits; no more tours, no more shifts of direction, no more jump-cut personas. David—and all his identities—were gone, leaving us bereft.

One of the unforeseen yet probably inevitable outcomes of Bowie’s loss was that, knowing the man himself would not be making further recordings, we were invited to slake our collective thirst for more Bowie by revisiting and reassessing his substantial catalogue. This week I have been doing just that with Reality, his 2003 album, and—spoiler alert—it’s very good.

Opening strongly with “New Killer Star”, the artist of many voices is in modern rock mode but with a late 70s vibe in his vocals (think Low era). Sounding both chilled and tense, Bowie instructs us to “face the music and dance”, claiming he is “ready, I’m ready, I’m ready”… and so are we.

There are two covers on Reality and the first comes up early. Jonathan Richman’s tough, witty “Pablo Picasso” has a wonky Spanish guitar intro that explodes into life with a chanted vocal and neat stop-start punctuation in the arrangement. It’s super fun and you assume this is a Bowie original. That’s the mark of a great cover version; when you believe it must have been written by the artist you’re listening to.

Tony Visconti was Bowie’s producer/collaborator in the 1970s and he’s back for this album. Something of his style shines through in “Never Get Old”, a punchy rocker, while “She’ll Drive the Big Car” has distorted vocals evoking Scary Monsters. A particularly moving moment is “The Loneliest Guy”; a sparse, desolate song of emptiness that could have come from Blackstar, Bowie’s swan song.

The second side opens with the quirky “Days” (not the classic Kinks song) deploying juicy mellotron for a nostalgic textural feel complimenting both lyrics and melody nicely. Such deft musical touches are scattered across the album, not in a desperate attempt to perk up average material, but as an expression of Bowie’s breadth of experience. After thirty-five years in the music industry you learn a few things and earn the level of confidence heard here.

The record finishes with two strong songs. Fast paced rocker “Reality” could come from Lodger and finds Bowie strutting like an aspirant, not cruising like a veteran. This is followed by “Bring Me the Disco King”, introduced by moody piano and snare-driven percussion. For a moment you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to a lost Steely Dan song. But then Bowie’s voice enters, plaintive and reflective. It’s a downbeat yet hugely satisfying ending. Poignant and captivating.

Feed me no lies

I don’t know about you, I don’t know about you

Breathe through the years

I don’t know about you, I don’t know about you

On Reality there is no sense of Bowie simply going through the motions. In fact it is—song for song—stronger than his 2002 ‘comeback’ album, and ripe for reappraisal and enjoyment. Which, in reality, is all we can do.


© Bruce Jenkins 2021

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