Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Seventeen "Black Tie White Noise"


COVER: Alone again, naturally.

He's BACK!  Out of nowhere, an unexpected solo album drops, and he's definitely not touring - sound familiar? - but at least we've got him back.  No more Tin Machine, save for the track "You've Been Around", which has all trace of the band's personnel scoured from it.  No more fannying about.  Let's get our chin-striking hands ready for another multi-layered classic!

For all the spirit of renewal, we're saying some quite poignant goodbyes on this album, and given the circumstances let's get them out of the way early: number one, the figurative laying to rest of Terry Burns, David Bowie's half brother, whose unfortunate psychiatric illness had given rise to many a lyric in the past, and here inspires a cover of Cream's "I Feel Free" and the original track "Jump They Say".  Burns had passed away in 1985, but this seems to be the first album since which decisively deals with his legacy.

We also bid a tearful farewell to Mick Ronson.  If you can remember back a few months to when we discussed him, Ronno was the alpha Spider From Mars, considered as much an architect of that period's sound as the man himself, and plays with Bowie for the last time on "I Feel Free".  Hatchets buried, it would seem, but too late for a Martian arachnid resurgence; Ronson was dead a scant four weeks after the album's release.

I know I built this one up like it's the second coming of Schumacher or something, but it's actually a tepid affair, aside from one or two tracks which show he's still capable of putting all the pieces together in an utterly compelling order, of which "Jump They Say" is first and foremost.  The lead single from the album sounds like he's writing the future again and won Bowie plaudits from all sides.  See also the fantastic double header of "Pallas Athena" and "Miracle Goodnight", which serves well to prepare us for a more challenging journey in the near future.

There's also disappointments and missed opportunities.  An arch cover of Morrissey's "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday", which confusingly was Morrissey's attempt to sound like Bowie, falls short of the artistic intention by some way.  "Black Tie White Noise", his reaction to the Los Angeles riots, is just plain boring, and also sketches close to the whole Tin Machinian ideals of social conscience.

But the main problem here is that the album has one core sound that is never deviated from - a slick, politely funky and largely unobtrusive feel with bizarre interventions of skronking saxophone, one that immediately sounds compelling and different compared to our recent forays but takes a massive toll by the end of the album, so whereas I felt vaguely excited by "The Wedding", I was verging on homicidal by "Looking For Lester".

So it's not quite job done, but it's a positive step in a more compelling direction than has been taken since the last time Nile Rodgers was on board.  Where this all winds up is somewhere entirely different, but hey - it is the Nineties, and there is time for Klax!

Join us next time for an album with "Strangers When We Meet" on.  HA!  Can't tell which one, can you?  You'll just have to tune in then, won't you?  Eh?  Yeah, you're coming back.  I got you.

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