The Hang of Music: Bowie’s “God Given Ass”
Thank Starman, it feels good to finally be free of work. (Student work, that is. Unemployment is another, less thilling matter.) I feel like I can finally do the things I want to do again. And now that I’ve spent the weekend doing them, I can put up this review, finally!
This week is a long story – It was going to be the Descendents, with their return album “Everything Sucks”, completed after lead singer Milo got back from college – the previous album being, obviously, “Milo Goes To College”. But I was missing a track off the album – which is a pity, as it would have been very fitting.
But then I thought, fuck it, I need something fun and exciting. And Ziggy Stardust was the obvious choice. So I bring you Bowie.
The first thing I want to do is I want to lay down, right here that I am pretty sure that this is a concept album. Yeah, pretty sure… [checks wiki anyway] Hah! I was right! It even made it into a concert film. Awesome. Well, I’ve already written some notes about the album, on the basis that I didn’t know, but was pretty convinced. For example:
“I choose to interpret this as a concept album, centring around a young, talented, hopeless popstar in a dystopian world with five years before armageddon. As concept albums go, that is an awesome concept!”
True enough. If I were to add to it now, I’d also highlight the godlike “Starman”, too. That is a big, BIG concept. And if you’re going to use a concept for an album like this, it has to big; big enough to have the legs to keep running with the ideas.
For example, in this there are tentative gods; ever changing rock stars; their lovers; their bands; looming apocalypses; and on the street, normal everyday people trying to go about their days. All of this paints a rich, deep picture of a world – and a concept – that is big and real. And still doomed, sadly, in “Five Years”.
Damn, 4 paragraphs and still no talking about the music? Well, with that seamless bit of transistion, let’s talk about “Five Years”. Specifically, the bit where I sadly have to say that despite liking the album and the song, my first comments are complaints. I don’t know if he was doing this on purpose, but in “Five Years”, his doom and gloom tune, his singing just sounds weird. As in off and wrong. Usually he can sing pretty well, but here, nope. Compare that with his contrived rhymes, and I’m kind of disappointed.
In places, the backing vocals here are obviously just emerging from the 60s. The backing “Ooohs” and “Aahs” on “Star” are practically Beatles-esque, and that’s not the only occassion on which I thought that. But then he plays “Better Hang On To Yourself”, and I’m more reminded of the Ramones, or other contemporary proto-punk* bands. There’s just a startling incongruity there – pop one minute, rock another. It’s kind of off-putting.
I think (hope) that this is Bowie pre-empting me. I’m sure that a lot of effort was put into what track goes where; and putting such different tracks right next to each other must be on purpose. It’s possible that he simply sucked at arranging the songs, and they just happened to fall in an incongruous manner. But that is BLASPHEMY against the fabulous non-gender specific lord of all that his crotch surveys. And his “god given ass”.
God, what is Suffragette City about? I’ve heard about it being great, but incomprehensible, and that sentence has proven to be about as true as I’ve heard any description I’ve heard.
Star is the epitomy of the dream song about being a rock and roll star. Fame, money, contentment, the power to stop wars and bring happiness – it’s all there. And quite a bit more knowing than other, similar stories. The whole purpose of the song is to get everyone to punch their fist in the air and say “Rock and Roll! That’s what I want my life to be!”
So it makes sense that he chooses to round the album off with “Rock n’ Roll Suicide”, a song I’ve only ever heard before now as the Seu Jorge acoustic version on Life Aquatic. Predictably, it’s a lot bigger and brassier now.** Yet despite the new influx of melodrama, that’s nothing compared to the vision Bowie apparently had of the song originally.
“When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song ‘Rock ‘n’ roll suicide’. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible”
Wow… None of that was apparent from the album at all. Is that just the plot of the concept movie? ‘Cause a lot of that synopsis seemed to come out of nowwhere.
But beyond that, a concept album it is. I mean, the transitions from track to track are smooth, and the musical variation and bombast are all there. The continued references to the Star Man, the concept’s “the good lord” and fictional deity, are pretty nice too – they crop up all over the place.
In fact, I know it’s against the ethos of the song, but I can’t help but want to ask for proof of the Star Man. I want empirically provable dream pop deities. How would you even prove the existence of a being that blows your mind when you meet him? Seems an unfalsifiable claim to me.
Throughout this review, I’ve been trying to focus on the bad things about this album for two reasons. The first is in the vain hope that people have a tendency to find my criticisms to be amusing and helpful. As such, you weird, odd, and rare people should feel catered for. I mean, after all, you don’t get much of that sort of criticism online, do you?
But mainly, I’ve been doing so because this is a good album. It has a great sound to it, the songs have lovely riffs and work together pretty well. I guess that I could say that the narrative of the concept doesn’t hold up so much, and some of the tracks are patchy. But really, if you have ears, you probably like Bowie, and will want to hear this. So go do it, and let me enjoy the album in peace!
(Ok, it’s also to make it less obvious that I am a bit of a Bowie fanboy. Who knew?)
* Not a genre, just a date system. If I had my way, it wouldn’t be BC and AD; it would be Before ’77 and After ’77.
** And more english/less portuguese. Again, I’m going with the predictable comments and responses here.