DAVID BOWIE FEATURE
The man who fell
David Bowie is through with
reinventing himself. This time, the only thing to change is the record, as he explains to Alastair Mabbott.
n his Sound And Vision tour in 1990. David Bowie packed Major Tom into his capsule for good, declaring those shows would mark the last time he played his classic back catalogue again. It’s only really now. after Black Tie, White Noise. the transitional but tip-top TV soundtrack The Budd/1a Of Suburbia and two widely reviled Tin Machine albums. that we’re really seeing what he was clearing the decks for.
Retreating from the pop circus. he has come alive again to the possibilities of his art. Released in September. Outside came billed as part one of a projected five-album series called The Nat/tan Adler Diaries and mischievoust subtitled ‘a non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper- cycle’. His most sprawling. inaccessible and wilfully obscure record to date. it has been pounced on by lapsed fans who have pronounced it the long-awaited ‘return to form’.
Bowie has used Outside to indulge to the hilt his fascination with self—mutilating performance artists. body modification freaks. cyberptmks and techno-pagans; fashioned a crumbling. amoral world not unlike our own for them to inhabit and set it all to a heavy-duty. industrial-sounding soundtrack. In the 30-year game of charades called Will The Real David Bowie Please Stand Up'.’. the version that has newly shuffled to his feet will do very nicely.
Everythingjust seems to have slid into place. He’s rabbiting on about modern art. as well as producing prolific amounts ofthe stuff himself;
the apocalyptic edge has come back to his work with redoubled force and he's assembled a band combining the best of many line-ups. Included are his old lieutenant Carlos Alomar. his current right-hand man Reeves Gabrels. and Mike Carson. the titanic pianist from Aladdin Sane. Most significantly of all, Brian Eno. who collaborated with Bowie on some of his best works. is back in the producer’s chair.
But if this record has any predecessor in Bowie’s canon. you have to root back past the Boo years to Diamond Dogs to find it. Outside has a similar putrescent stench ofdystopia. with Bowie breezing into the moral vacuum as though it’s the only place he feels at home. Only
‘I don’t like soft options. I really want, for the rest of my working career, to put myself in a place where I’m doing something that’s keeping my creative juices going, and you can’t do that it you’re just trotting out cabaret-style, big hits.’
this time. it’s not rats the size ofcats preying on the weak and vulnerable. but a psychopathic artist carrying out ritualised murder. Did I mention. by the way. that Bowie has become firm friends. like any self-respecting middle- aged rocker. with Damien llirst‘.’
Reports from me frontline suggest the daunting. claustrophobic textures of Outside have been a little hard for the audiences on the opening American leg of the tour. Nevertheless. Bowie doesn‘t regret for a moment ditching the old crowd-pleasers.
‘I think you have to decide whether you want people to love you. in which case you do things that match the audience’s expectations. or ifyou want to work in a more creative fashion. which is not going to be universally adored.’ says the man who has tried it both ways. lfthere has been
some negative audience reaction. you can’t tell it from his manner. Bowie sounds in fine fettle. a man in full command of himself: easy-going. but demanding precision and attention.
He rubbishes rumours that the opening night in Hartford. Connecticut was disrupted by bottle-throwing punters baying for a Serious Moonlight Mk ll hits package. But it might do his public image no harm to encourage rumours like that. From the sound of it, the Outside tour promotes the attitude that many younger arena- roekers could do with an immediate transfusion of: ‘go out there. do your thing and fuck ’em if they don’t like it.‘
‘I don’t like soft options.’ says Bowie. ‘1 really want. for the rest of my working career. to put myself in a place where I’m doing something that’s keeping my creative juices going. and you can’t do that if you’re just trotting out cabaret-style, big hits.’
Why then. has an album like Outside been so long in coming? As long ago as 1977. on ‘Heroes'. he sang of ‘Joe The Lion’. whose tastes ran to nailing himself to Volkswagens. There has been a rich vein of such performance art since, notably in America. that Bowie has no doubt kept up to date with. So why are these preoccupations only coming to the fore now? Has Bowie been swept along by some end—of- the-millennium wave?
‘Oh. absolutely.’ he says. adding. ‘and I think it’ll all fizzle out on January the first [ofthe next century]. Getting up and deciding what you’re going to have for breakfast. that'll be the most exciting thing to do in the New Age.’
So what is Outside saying about these times?
‘I don’t think it has a conclusion. I don’t think it draws any conclusions. the work that Brian and I do. It never does. It doesn’t have a point in that sense. What we do has content but it doesn't necessarily have subject matter. It has a flavour of what the times feel like. hopefully. I mean. you couldn’t look back really at Low and ‘Heroes’ and Lodger and those things and say
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