From the Archives: David Bowie’s Heathen and Reality reissues on the way; Read my original review of Reality

May 28, 2015

heathen_reality_cvrs_v2_1000sq (1)

While we’re sharing old David Bowie reviews along with reissue news, it’s only been a few years since we mentioned that Bowie’s brilliant 2002 album Heathen was reissued on vinyl (David Bowie’s ‘Heathen’ album to see vinyl reissue). Well, now it seems that it’s coming back again, along with another version of Reality (2003), which was only reissued last year on vinyl, also via Music On Vinyl. According to Bowienet, this time the albums will arrive in more luxurious tri-fold sleeves. We may also have a change in audio quality. Friday Music, the boutique vinyl reissue company handling these reissues, boasts,  “mastered impeccably by Joe Reagoso (David Bowie/Jeff Beck/Deep Purple) for the first time on audiophile vinyl.” The Heathen vinyl will also be a translucent blue and the Reality disc will be clear.

The Bowie news page tantalizingly leaves us with “Stay tuned for more news regarding Friday Music releases.” Hopefully, that could mean even more desired early-period Bowie albums that were released on RCA and have been out of print on vinyl for much longer than these albums. There have been some cruel teases that never came to fruition (EMI/Capitol Vaults delays Bowie reissues… again) and random reissues in the past (Reissue of the year: Station to Station (plus exclusive edit for “Wild is the Wind” on mp3), but nothing career-spanning, so albums like the so-called Berlin trilogy would be welcome news.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in these two later-period works. Heathen stands as an alltime favorite Bowie album for this writer. So far, it’s the only one of these reissues that has a release date, slated for June 23 (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase direct through Amazon via this link). David Bowie - Heathen album artReality‘s release date remains TBA. Both albums mark a certain era for Bowie. The start of the 2000s for the rock icon hint at a creative artist very aware of being in his autumnal years. It’s a mix of self-referencing nostalgia and a new-found creativity. The two albums each featured two covers among the original Bowie compositions. “Cactus” by the Pixies and “I’ve Been Waiting For You” by Neil Young on Heathen and “Pablo Picasso” by Johnathan Richman and “Try Some, Buy Some” by George Harrison on Reality.

Heathen also did death and mortality way better than hours… (From the Archives: David Bowie’s hours…reissue on vinyl and my 1999 review). It went from self-centered to more aware of the subject’s relationship to time and place. There’s a wistful tribute to a vintage New York TV show called “The Uncle Floyd Show” (“Slip Away”) that also featured the stylophone, which Bowie made famous on “Space Oddity.” The album was capped off with the incredibly powerful “Heathen (the Rays),” which subtly referenced the fall of the Twin Towers. Then there are some of the songs that Bowie made of old ideas (“Afraid” and the outtake “Wood Jackson”) and self-covers, like the B-side “Conversation Piece.”

But the best part of Heathen were the all-new originals, featuring Bowie at his most original. There’s the creepy “I Would Be Your Slave,” with some unknowable wind instrument pulsing and whooshing below a melancholic string section and a skittish beat. Following it, Bowie references space and the Stardust Cowboy who inspired Ziggy Stardust with “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship.” There’s another skittering beat and a swooning string part, but it also features a squonking baritone sax and rubbery guitar licks.

I never reviewed the album, but I loved it, and it was great that Bowie found new energy, rebooting himself after the lackluster hours… with a never-released album of self-covers called Toy that preceded Heathen, which included some songs from the Toy sessions. I did review Reality. I was granted a preview CD of the album, about a month ahead of release. I can’t recall who I wrote it for. It may have been the “Miami New Times,” when they ran reviews in print. If not, it could have been the record collectors magazine, “Goldmine.”

David Bowie Reality album art

DAVID BOWIE

Reality

ISO/Columbia Records (CK 90576)

It has become the ultimate litmus test for David Bowie:  How good is any new release compared to his 1980 album Scary Monsters?  Anyone who has followed Bowie’s reviews will notice critics pulling out the Scary Monsters card, if not, even further back to the Eno trilogy of 1977-78: Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger.

But it’s been well over twenty years since the release of these albums, and Bowie has recorded some comparable works in the last decade alone, including 1993’s Buddha of Suburbia, 1995’s Outside, 1997’s Earthling and last year’s Heathen. Bowie’s music is certainly in a renaissance of sorts and Reality, released this past September, carries on that trend.

Producer Tony Visconti deserves some credit, proving to be a magical presence behind the boards for Bowie. He’s back for a second year straight, previously not having worked with Bowie since Scary Monsters and, prior to that, having produced Bowie’s acclaimed work with Eno in the seventies.

Reality moves dynamically from song to song. Bowie has written some of the catchiest tunes in ten years, like the album’s single “New Killer Star,” and truly propulsive numbers like “Looking For Water” and “Reality,” the latter sounding suspiciously similar to “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).”  Most of the tracks have odd quirks like the sputtering guitar intro of “New Killer Star,” which proves Bowie’s been listening to Radiohead and bands on the Thrill Jockey label.  There are also some plaintive moments like the creepy “The Loneliest Guy” and the jazzy “Bring Me the Disco King,” which highlights Mike Garson’s jittery piano work and seems to mimic the music of David Sylvian. With Reality, Bowie proves he’s much more than the sum of his work in the seventies and a vital source in the contemporary music scene.

*  *  *

I can’t say I disagree with this review, almost 12 years later, and I must say it reads like something I would have written for the “Miami New Times,” so it probably first appeared there. I’ll leave you with a live version of “New Killer Star.”

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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