The Seattle Times - 23rd Jan 2004
David Bowie's old style is his new 'Reality'
By Patrick MacDonald
David Bowie's new "Reality" album is the best thing he's done in 20 years. It's a return to the sound and swagger of his greatest, most creative period, from the early 1970s to the mid-'80s.
He's not trying to adopt new styles anymore, like he did with the punkish band Tin Machine, the experimental "Outside" disc, the drum 'n' bass-influenced "Earthling" CD and other '90s efforts. The uneven "Heathen" album of 2002, in which he reunited with the producer and some of the musicians from his great period, hinted at what was to come with "Reality."
The vigor and stylishness of the new disc bodes well for his concert coming up Sunday at the Paramount, part of his first world tour in five years. Although back in 1990 he famously promised to never play his old songs again, he long ago broke that vow. He dives into his whole back history on this tour, playing shows lasting 2-1/2 hours or more.
The new album, released in September, has gotten some of the best reviews of his career but, not surprisingly, it hasn't sold well, never rising higher than No. 70 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Although Bowie is eternally cool, and known to today's young rock fans because his music is sampled in hip-hop songs (most ignominiously in Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby"), he long ago lost his cachet as a sexual and societal rebel. At 57, he's as Establishment as can be, although he recently reassured an interviewer that he remains "a limey, bisexual communist."
David Bowie and Macy Gray, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $48.50-$84.50 (206-628-0888, www.ticketmaster.com or www.cc.com; information, 206-467-5510 or www.theparamount.com).
When he sings "I'll never get old!" on the new album, you have to cheer him, not only because of his vitality and joy, but because he proves it on the album. The disc reflects his adopted home of New York City, with references to it sprinkled throughout. It's a post-9-11 album that's not a mournful, nostalgic or uplifting one, but rather a celebration of the resilience of New Yorkers and the zest of living in what David Letterman reminds us every night is "the greatest city in the world."
Another influence on Bowie's inspiring music has got to be his daughter, Alexandria, who is 4. Kids keep you young (if you let them), and Bowie is writing songs and singing like a man half his age.
The guitar-drenched album references sci-fi, like his "Space Oddity" period; has confused love songs, like those of "Ziggy Stardust"; emphasizes dance beats, as he always has; and is full of sweeping, full-immersion arrangements, starting with the opening "New Killer Star." That song is in keeping with Bowie's tradition of self-examination, as a man and an entertainer, in an often-confusing world.
Bowie will forever be an important figure in the history of rock because he almost single-handedly kept pop creativity and daring alive in the late '60s and early '70s - before Springsteen came along - when bland commercial rock and mindless, thumping disco were all the rage. No one since him has been as credibly weird and outrageous as Bowie, a true outsider (in those days). Trent Reznor (remember him?) and the entirely manufactured, boardroom-approved Marilyn Manson don't even come close. In many ways, Bowie was the last rock 'n' roll rebel.
While the concert Sunday will celebrate Bowie's genius and staying power, it will also celebrate the future, with the opening act - the wild and crazy Macy Gray, who is, like the classic Bowie, a true original and a proud outsider.
She sings joyfully about her own craziness, drug use, sexual escapades and many demons, defiantly embracing life in all its love and squalor. She draws from R&B's rich past, but she's a 21st-century woman, dealing with today's world in her own way, as Bowie did when he was her age. She's a kick.
TO CLOSE WINDOW