00
עדכונים

מנוי במייל

קבלת עדכונים על רשומות חדשות ישירות לתיבת האמייל
יש להזין אימייל תקין על מנת להרשם לעדכונים
ברגעים אלו נשלח אליך אימייל לאישור/ביטול ההרשמה
*שים/י לב, מרגע עשית מנוי, כותב/ת הבלוג יוכל לראות את כתובת האמייל שלך ברשימת העוקבים.
X

פ.י.מ.פ.

(Analyzing Bowie: Tonight (the album

<-previous

Tonight is considered by many to be the worst album in David Bowie's illustrious career. It is almost undeniably his least creative album, containing only four new compositions alongside five covers. What is surprising is that this album came after a string of classic albums that spanned almost a decade and a half in which Bowie seemed unable to do wrong. How could such a sharp fall occur? What made him suddenly lose his touch?

The cynical explanation would be quite simple: Bowie finally "made it", with his previous album Let's Dance and the subsequent Serious Moonlight tour being huge global commercial successes, so now he was cashing in on his success. Bowie has switched record labels from RCA to EMI before he produced those massive hits, and was under pressure to keep churning out more mainstream hit parade material. Bowie himself said later that he felt he was getting too old for the rock'n'roll business, and wanted to cash in before he loses it completely. Bowie, starting from the late eighties, is actually one of the main people responsible for fostering this cynical explanation.

Even if we accept this theory, there's something to be said for the album. It is an act of true friendship to his old buddy Iggy Pop, trying to get him back on his feet. After both friends successfully went through a period of detoxification and artistic triumphs in the late seventies, Iggy suffered a string of commercial failures and fell back into destitution and alcoholism. But Bowie's 1983 hit version of their mutual composition 'China Girl' gave him some money to pull him out of it, and now Bowie wanted to complete the job. If he was going to cash in, he would make sure that Iggy cashes in as well and straightens himself out once and for all. Tonight contains two more covers on their 1977 co-compositions ('Tonight' and 'Neighborhood Threat') as well as a cover of Iggy's 1979 song 'Don't Look Down' and two new tracks they wrote together ('Tumble and Twirl' and 'Dancing With the Big Boys'). Bowie would continue to cover Iggy stuff in the coming years as well as producing a commercial album for him, providing him with enough royalties to finance him for life, and Iggy seized the opportunity and cleaned up for good. So Bowie may have sacrificed his art on the altar of friendship, but at least that's a worthy cause to sell out for.

But this sellout theory is too simple. We should not let ourselves be fooled by what Bowie himself says about his art – he always takes a disparaging attitude towards things he did in the past, accentuating the bad sides, as part of reasserting himself anew. When he does them, however, he is always driven by authentic artistic intentions. Tonight is not an album by an artist who gave up his art for a sack of gold. It is an album by an artist who continued to do what he has always been doing: reflecting his current spiritual situation through his art. Tonight is where Bowie's spirit was at 1984, and it was a place that simply does not lend itself well to art.

After following Bowie's journey through the years, it should be easy to understand where Tonight came from. We have seen him working tirelessly and putting one classic album after another in a heroic spiritual quest, we have seen him solving most of the dilemmas that plagues his spirit since his teenage years and achieving inner peace and harmony, we have seen him successfully making the transition from youth to adulthood, we have seen him accept his role as a member of human society, we have seen him realizing that this change takes him closer to the mainstream and adopting a more mainstream approach, and we have seen him scoring big and becoming a global superstar. What was he now to do? What more could he aim for? Well, that would be the new question for Bowie to solve, but for now, he just wanted to relax. After an amazing and glorious journey that lasted for fifteen years and took him to the top, it was time to take a moment to just celebrate.

The celebration theme is expressed in the title track. Iggy Pop's tragic anthem for capturing those precious moments of life before we die is here turned into a love duet in which two lovers forget about everything else and give themselves to the pleasure of the moment. Being the title track, it suggests that this album is about Bowie letting everything else disappear and just basking in the moment. Elsewhere on the album we find 'Tumble and Twirl', which recounts a vacation he spent earlier in the year in Borneo. Bowie definitely earned some vacation and relaxation, and he takes it on this album. Tracks like 'Blue Jean' convey a lighter approach to songwriting.

Some of the old themes still seep through, though. First, some tracks continue to document his move to the center. Iggy's original version of 'Neighborhood Threat' was about an outsider who lives a more exciting and free life than conformed people. Bowie's version finds a middle ground, appreciating the outsider lifestyle but also distancing itself from it. And in 'Don't Look Down' he sounds like someone who is gliding through life like most people, ignoring the "crazy" sounds that are made by people who are not part of conformed society. He is comfortable with this way of life now.

But he does not completely shut his ears to the crazy, alien sounds. Beginning from Let's Dance, Bowie started to define a new role for himself: an artist who is part of the mainstream and tries to change it from the inside and affect people to open their ears and hearts to those that are alien to it. 'Loving the Alien' decries the narrow mindedness of those who believe that to love the alien is to attempt to force him to be like yourself, and along with 'Tumble and Twirl' it discusses the clash between Western and Muslim cultures (quite prescient for the early 1980s, when this clash was not yet regarded as a serious problem). 'Tumble and Twirl' also hints at the clash between the West and third world countries (the kids in Borneo wear shirts carrying the faces of Bob Marley and Francois Duvalier, two figures that were also born on islands and symbolized resistance to Western cultural imperialism), while 'Don't Look Down' and 'Tonight' subject our ears to reggae, the most famous musical style to come out of the third world. The use of marimbas on several tracks adds a Latin tinge to the sound, and then there's of course still black R&B influence and all the Iggy Pop stuff that directs the listeners to go explore this underground artist. One gets the impression that Bowie is heralding a world where all different cultures come together in peaceful coexistence that gives each of them a voice but also blends them together, to create a rich and harmonious mainstream.

Working in the mainstream, however, is not really suitable for Bowie. It appears that what he was aiming for was creating a straight pop album with no artistic pretensions, and symbolically the album contains covers of arguably the two cleverest "straight pop" tunesmiths: the songwriting duo of Lieber & Stoller, the two people who taught the world how a pop record should be produced, and Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who perfected their craft into the most immaculate pop. Bowie was perhaps hoping to match them with his own attempt at mainstream pop, but the covers of 'I Keep Forgetting' and 'God Only Knows' mark his failure. They (especially the latter) are almost universally considered to be two of the worst recordings of his career, and they drag the album down. Bowie's strength is in creating unique fusions that sound like they might tear the music apart, not in crafting perfectly harmonious pop records.

The album cover works a little better. It looks like a pretty mural, quite clearly influenced by the of British pop-art duo Gilbert & George. It indicates that we are about to hear a piece of pop-art, but like the cover, the art of the album is very polished but offers very little to the spirit.

The production is a big part of the problem. Perhaps in an attempt to get a fresh sound, Bowie decided to gamble and hand the mantle of production over to the inexperienced Derek Bramble, a gamble that did not pay off. The music is over-produced to the point where it takes the life out of the songs, just the thing that Bowie always managed to avoid. Eventually, Bramble was sacked and veteran producer Hugh Padgham (who at the beginning of the sessions functioned as the engineer) was brought in to try to salvage the album, but the spirit was already gone.

Bowie always developed his songs in the studio, jamming together with the other musicians. But in the mid-eighties he felt like his musical wells were drying up, and preferred to refrain from playing any instruments and rely on the musical talents of others to create something interesting he could then add his vocals to. It worked alright on Let's Dance, not so much so on Tonight. Much of the lineup of the previous album remained: Omar Hakim on drums, Sammy Figueroa on percussion, Carmine Rojas on bass, Stan Harrison and Steve Elson on saxophones (strengthened by Lenny Pickett and dubbed "the Borneo Horns", a moniker they kept and made a career of). In addition, Carlos Alomar is back on guitar duties after a one album absence, Derek Bramble on bass provides the reggae feel, Arif Mardin contributes string arrangements, and Guy St. Onge's marimba gives us something we haven't heard on a Bowie album before. It's an interesting mix of musicians that could have created an exotic stew, but due to the uninspired production ended up being too ordinary.

The album did generate one track that is considered a Bowie classic in 'Loving the Alien', and one hit in 'Blue Jean'. But 'Blue Jean' also reflects on another problem with Bowie's spirit at the time. By 1984, as we have seen, he already solved most of the existential problems his art was dealing with throughout the previous decade, except one: the contradiction between his longing for a long-lasting love and his awareness that love doesn't last. It was this tension that put a lot of drama into his art, always pushing him to find the way to make love stick. On Tonight, however, it feels like Bowie simply gave up. His rendition of 'God Only Knows' sounds like a throwaway, his rendition of 'Tonight' make it seem like he is happy with having just one night of love, and 'Blue Jean' sets his new muse as someone he sexually desires but doesn't really have feelings for. Did Bowie give up?

Well, at least one track hints that he is not completely happy with the situation. The closing track, 'Dancing With the Big Boys', is basically David and Iggy shouting out against their current condition of being trapped in the mainstream, against background noise that is a deconstruction of the too-pretty sound of the album. Bowie, it seems, is trying to tell us: I'm just relaxing and enjoying tonight, but the night will soon be over.

"I feel on the whole fairly happy about my state of mind and my physical being and I guess I wanted to put my musical being in a similar staid and healthy area," he said shortly after the album came out, "but I'm not sure that that was a very wise thing to do." Bowie, then, just wanted to create an album that reflected his good feeling after overcoming and achieving so much. He acknowledges that it wasn't a clever thing to do from an artistic point of view, and the judgment of history was quite harsh. But there is also an important message in this album, a lesson we can learn from it: sometimes, you should stop striving for new heights for a moment, and take time to enjoy what you have achieved. If you take Tonight for what it is meant to be – a pause to celebrate a moment of triumph without having to think of anything else – then it is quite a pleasant album to listen to.

Loving the Alien
Don't look Down
God Only Knows
Tonight
Neighborhood Threat
Blue Jean
Tumble and Twirl
I Keep Forgetting
Dancing With the Big Boys

next->

הוספת תגובה

נשארו 150 תוים
נשארו 1500 תוים

תגובה אחת

© כל הזכויות לתוכן המופיע בדף זה שייכות ל אלדינסיין אלא אם צויין אחרת