I put in Reality Wednesday afternoon while desperately trying to throw together a bowl of cereal. Maniacally, I looked through the many fridges of our suite, and ran into my roommate. “Does any one have anyone have any milk that hasn’t gone bad — like Bowie?” I asked without even thinking twice. Maybe it was that I was trying to take my frustration out on an easy target. Or maybe it was just that Bowie blows. Hard.
His newest effort can’t really be described in human terms. You just have to listen to it. But I suppose a good analogy would be that of a drunk neanderthal singing Talking Heads covers at a karaoke bar. I love the Heads, but there is no need to redo bad versions of what they did twenty years ago, especially if your name is David Bowie.
The best song on the album by far, and please note that this sentence is dripping with sarcasm, is “Pablo Picasso.” As my 12-year-old sister might have guessed, it starts out with Spanish guitar. But then Bowie loses the guitar and enters into a completely unrelated musical realm of incomprehensible chanting and catchy (read obnoxious) synthesized horns. With the help of the liner notes, I was able to decipher the genius of the song’s lyrics. Pablo Picasso’s skill of seduction is here praised, revolving around the repetition of the line, “Girls could not resist his stare and / so Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole.” Unlike you, Bowie.
The cover of the album has one of those stickers that says “Featuring: ‘Never Get Old.'” As if maybe someone has heard that song on the radio, and will want to buy the album. I think I can hear some Leonard Cohen in it. At one point, Cohen was really into cheesy, synth-sounding productions. It didn’t do wonders for Cohen’s songs, but the result on Reality is horrifying. “Never Get Old” just sounds like the band that sings that song, “Joyride,” playing while Bowie stumbles around singing “I’m screaming that I’m gonna be living ’till the end of time/ Forever/ The sky splits open to a dull red skull and my head hangs low ’cause it’s all over now.”
Unfortunately, it’s far from over now, as by my count, there are still eight songs left to go. Thank God I get paid to do this. Oh. Wait. Nevermind. Thank God I’m into masochism. Maybe “She’ll Drive the Big Car” will cheer me up. It starts out with a harmonica, and Bowie singing with a “Lucy in the Sky” type effect. He sings of a woman who is unhappy and takes the big car for a drive up the Hudson. Here, Bowie outdoes himself, in that the song is just bad, not awful.
The rest of the album pretty much follows the same example. Its closer, “Bring Me The Disco King,” which starts out with the very jazzy feel of pianos and high hats, and lasts a whopping seven minutes and forty-five seconds, can be considered a neo-rock ballad/anthem. Bowie croons, then some vocal harmonies are thrown in for the refrain (see title). More harmonies are added as the song progresses, and then it ends with about a minute of dissonant free-jazz piano. Awesome. I thank the skies that Bowie is still around to produce such gems in a time when everyone seems to agree that popular music is lacking. It’s reassuring that someone is stepping out there.