Wednesday, December 04, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Nineteen "Outside"

"OUTSIDE" (1995)

COVER: Modern Art Is Rubbish.

Doctor Who.  Formula 1.  David Bowie.  All long-running obsessions for me, and all marked by eras with a single figurehead - actor, champion, persona.  Different people fill these roles at different times.  Broadly speaking, the one that leaves the biggest scar on an impressionable mind will forever be enshrined in it as The Real Deal.

Before the release of "Outside", I had no real conception of David Bowie, no fixed idea of who he might be.  My parents had some of his records and tapes, which I listened to quite often, and occasionally old footage would be on the television, but it was all once removed; lacking in the cultural proximity required to resonate more totally.

In 1995, there was finally a definitive collision between Bowie and myself.  "Outside" was nothing if not well promoted, with all the major music magazines, talk shows and even the burgeoning Internet carrying interviews and live performances - not to mention the recently-installed cable box bringing the dear departed MTV Europe to our living room.  That channel was playing the holy bejesus out of the first single from the album, "The Heart's Filthy Lesson".

Ah, that single - it got them talking.  Whilst several pop gems can be found amongst the spoken word pieces and the creeping dread, this was not one of them, with Mike Garson doing his skeleton dance across the piano, Reeves Gabrels shattering the solid backbeat with salvoes of jagged noise, and David pleading with his invented antagonist - "Oh, Ramona...  If there were only some kind of future..."

What's happened, then?  How did we get here from "Buddha Of Suburbia"?  Two words: Brian Eno.  With the madman and his deck of Oblique Strategy cards behind the desk, and a group of virtuoso outsider musicians for them to corral, Bowie was back to his frustrating, unpigeonholeable best.  Together they served up "Outside": a 75-minute album with a storyline that spanned several decades, about a ritualistic murder and the odd characters that had been caught in its web. 

Most controversially, the album had a mid-nineties sound, showing the influence of modern dance music, industrial noise and cut-up sound collages on Bowie.  Others have said this shows a sad continuation of his fall into imitation from innovation, but I see this as a logical extension of his ever-present instinct to co-opt the forms of the time and regurgitate them, shot through with this own slant.

This album couldn't be made in any year other than 1995.  Pre-millennial excitement was really kicking in, but with it came the desire to pack up the 20th century, to sort it neatly, put it away and label the box for future generations; a seeming need amongst contemporary humanity to sum up 100 years of conflict, progress, love, loss, evolution and revolution in 20 words or less.  From Blur to Prince to McAlmont and Butler (sort of), everyone had jumped on the once in a lifetime millennium music bandwagon.

"Outside" was meant to be the start of a several-album project - three, maybe five, depending on who's counting - documenting the end of the century.  Having allegedly recorded 24 hours of material for this first instalment, it seems that Bowie was crushed by the weight of his own idea, and nothing else emerged.  So we may never know who killed Baby Grace, and whether or not it was art - but this album certainly IS art, and is ignored at one's peril.

The aforementioned pop gems are in there, albeit in slightly skewed form.  "Strangers When We Meet" is presented in completed form, feeling like the full painting to the roughly sketched version on "Buddha Of Suburbia", and "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town" and "Thru These Architect's Eyes" are excellent packages with substantial potential for wider appeal.  "No Control" is right on the button of the times, "Outside" almost a musical counterpoint to "Heroes" - but this is only half of the story.

For once you're hooked, the macabre ringmasters will snap you right back to something like "Wishful Beginnings", which sounds like fetid decay, the horrible beginnings of ill feelings in the back of your mind; or "The Motel" finds our narrator reporting from a slow purgatory, slowly building to the proclamation that "there is no hell like an old hell"; or the utterly inhuman "I Am With Name".

Witness also the astounding relentless pounding of "Hallo Spaceboy", later remixed for a spirited attack on the charts by the Pet Shop Boys.  Having heard a rumour from Ground Control, he turned this into the third Major Tom song, but I wonder if he's not the extra-terrestrial we're waving goodbye to here - perhaps Bowie was packing his 20th century away too, and the Ziggy Stardust character with it, trying to claim a last chance to escape from its long shadow.

Look: I've gone on too long here.  Every other entry in this series is about seven paragraphs, and this one's already eleven; that should tell you something.  Let it be this - you have got to hear this album.  If just one of you goes and listens to this and finds something of worth, all of this pointless bloody writing, which distracts me from useful things I could be doing and brings me nothing but self-imposed disgust at my inability to keep a decent schedule, will be worth it. 

But please: do it right.  Do it 1995-style.  Read the damn short story.  Get your headphones on.  Immerse yourself.  Give it a chance.  And if you like it, tell your friends.  Tell them this album is Garreth Hirons' David Bowie at work, and it is awesome.

And that - all of that I've just battered out on my terrible keyboard, all of the above - is why "A Godawful Small Affair" was nearly called "The Heart's Filthy Lessons", why I wound up buying and listening to every other Bowie album, why I'm still coming up with new takes on the murder mystery - The Minotaur did it, but who was The Minotaur?  ALL OF THEM! - and why other Bowie fans regard me as some sad mutant who's clearly got it all wrong because I prefer this album to "Hunky Dory".

In conclusion: Peter Davison is The Doctor.  Nelson Piquet Snr is the greatest Formula One world champion.  And David Bowie is a middle-aged industrial musician in bad eyeliner, who sings near-future detective stories.  These things are clear to me, and I would not ask for them to change.

Join us next time as we neck some Mick Mills and get down in a field in the middle of the night - or not, for legal reasons - it's "rave granddad" time!

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Eighteen "The Buddha of Suburbia"


COVER: Well, really it should be this one...

But that'd break the run of all-artist-centric covers, so here's the 2007 re-release...

Ah.  That's better.

I'd like to pretend that the reason it took so long to write this piece was my reservations about whether this should be counted as an actual entry, or one of the ever-expanding "Extra Credit" series that has so far encompassed Iggy, Tin Machine and a soundtrack (but not "Labyrinth" - oh, lord, anything but "Labyrinth").

For this purports to be the original soundtrack album for the BBC adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's extremely well thought of and quite probably reasonably autobiographical novel "The Bud - you know what, I think we all know the title by now.  It's been on screen three times for heaven's sake.  I'm not here to spoonfeed you.  I'm barely here at all.

In the end, given that it seems little if any of the album wound up on the titular show, I'm going the whole hog and calling it a David Bowie Album.  Not that there's any shame in being a soundtrack, unless you're written by Murray Gold - it's just that this isn't one, instead being an expansion of some of the ideas he used in doing said project.

It's also really quite good.  It has a playful experimentation and a willingness to jump between styles, even including a return to more ambient instrumentals, yet despite its willingness to meander and stray, it's still pound for pound a more consistently good album than "Black Tie White Noise". 

More future oriented than the false start of its predecessor - "Sex And The Church" may be hard to love, but it's inorganic qualities are beckoning us towards our next entry - yet similarly stocked with more standard pop fare like the title track and "Strangers When We Meet".  They intersect on the indescribable (bah! Lazy journalism, Hirons) "Bleed Like A Craze, Dad", a robust, funky and above all else, bloody weird little gem that always raises a smile with this lazy journalist.

Featuring Bowie mainstays Mike Garson, Erdal Kizilcay and Len...  Lenny Kravitz?  Must be a typo...  This is well worth a listen.  But anyone who knows me will know where we are know, and that I'm just getting this one out of the way.  Come ye back soon, friend, for what may be a Giant-Sized A Godawful Small Affair - it's time to defend MY David Bowie, industrial art rocker and rave granddad, as he takes us Outside one last time.

Join us next time as we fail to find out who's been wearing Miranda's clothes.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Engine Blood: Special "Mindbending Driver Merry-Go-Round" Edition

* Bloody hell - we take our eyes off the ball for two minutes (er...  Or about three months, to be more realistic) and the whole blummin' thing goes ape crazy.  Let's take a look at the driver moves in medium depth - the only depth we do!

STAYING: Sebastian Vettel
IN: Daniel Ricciardo (from Toro Rosso)
OUT: Mark Webber (to sportscar obscurity)

Insert final Canberra Milk Kid joke here.  Yes, we can no longer lazily post that video from YouTube in lieu of any jokes or anything to say - we'll actually have to come up with some material for once.  They've replaced him with Ricciardo, a younger Australian who stands as an important symbol of Red Bull's commitment to its driver development program, having come through the lower formulae and Toro Rosso to get his chance.

All upside for the team then, but for us the end of an era, as there's clearly no way that we can mine this deserving and talented gentleman for cheap, The Unfortunate Vitaly Petrov-style laughs.  We'll merely publish this photograph of him and offer our respectful congratulations.

On the other hand, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship...

STAYING: Fernando Alonso
IN: Kimi Raikkonen (from the poorhouse, apparently)
OUT: Felipe Massa (to Williams)

We've covered this one before, so we'll be mercifully brief.  In notable developments since then we've had a tantrum from the Finn, who hasn't been paid for his graft this season and therefore decided to have a back operation early.  On the plus side for his new employers, this would have needed sorting anyway and at least he should be fully recovered by the dawn of the new season, ready to hound out the increasingly marginalised Alonso.

STAYING: the drivers, unfortunately
OUT: Ross Brawn

Speaking of marginalisation, the tactical genius that brought you the Schumacher Decade has been pushed out of the team he rescued from major manufacturer inertia and turned into championship winners in one year.  It's a cruel world.

STAYING: Jenson Button
IN: Kevin Magnusson (from Formula Renault 3.5, apparently)
OUT: Sergio Perez (rumours suggest Force India)

It's official - Perez is the new Heikki Kovalainen, cruelly sacrificed during one of McLaren's occasional off-seasons.  Perez hasn't set the world alight and managed to upset teammate Button by scrapping a little too mercilessly with him, but looked to have done enough to secure a second season.  Magnusson, whose father Jan was spotted by Engine Blood winning the British F3 title at Silverstone some considerable time ago, must be something special to upset the continuity...

STAYING: Romain Grosjean
IN: Pastor Maldonado (from Williams)
OUT: Kimi Raikkonen (to paid employment)

Whither the talent?  Admittedly Grosjean has looked increasingly mature since taking over as de facto team leader for the end of the season, but Moneynado's millions can't mask his appalling attitude at Williams since both parties tired of each other.  It's a real shame that the Enstone team can't find better finances given their impeccable pedigree - not least for Nico Hulkenberg, who was nailed on for the drive had the money been in place.

We're going to be talking about Hulkenberg quite a lot now, as he's the missing piece of the puzzle in a lot of the remaining moves, so buckle up for a wild ride!!!!!  (Note: not a guarantee)

STAYING: Possibly Esteban Gutierrez; outside chance, Nico Hulkenberg
IN: Sergei Sirotkin (fresh from the womb); Adrian Sutil (from Force India, rumours only)
OUT: All, some, or none of the above

Sauber are also in financial strife, and hence also unlikely to keep Hulkenberg on if they can find someone with money.  Gutierrez helps maintain the links with Mexican finance, and step forward Sirotkin - barely out of the Russian equivalent of short trousers, and he's getting the call-up to F1, in a move seemingly designed to make us all feel very old indeed.   He may yet be denied the required superlicence, but Sauber have already run off with the roubles so it's all smiles for them.  Just to muddy the waters further, Slasher Sutil is rumoured to be joining up, but whether this is conditional on Sirotkin's status is currently unknown.

STAYING: Apparently no-one
IN: Sergio Perez (from McLaren, rumours only), Nico Hulkenberg (from Sauber, rumours only)
OUT: Paul DiResta (to Indycar), Adrian Sutil (to Sauber, rumours only)

The driver market has turned on a few key moves, and McLaren's lunge for Magnusson is definitely up there - if Perez wasn't on the market, cheap to a Mercedes-engined team, then Engine Blood believes we'd be seeing a Hulkenberg-Sutil pairing confirmed here by now.  Whilst it's not set in stone yet, it seems F1 will be waving a cheery goodbye to stereotypical grumbling Scotsman DiResta, whose attitude and performances left much to be desired this year.  It appears he will sulk off to Indycar, banging on interminably about gear ratios as he goes.

STAYING: Valtteri Bottas
IN: Felipe Massa (from Ferrari)
OUT: Pastor Maldonado (to pay Romain Grosjean's wages)

In our last post, we had this message for Felipe Massa: "A little tip: anything Williams or below does not count."  Ignoring our sage advice, he's plumped for the route his good friend Rubinho took, straight down the grid to Williams.  Sigh.  If they get a decent car under him he can still perform (Christ, it seems like only yesterday we were saying this about Barrichello - how time flies), whilst Bottas has looked ever more impressive as the season has wound on, and no-one who remembers the early nineties is likely to entirely count Williams out.


We feel a little unfair lumping TORO ROSSO in here, but we covered Ricciardo elsewhere and Jean-Eric Vergne is staying put, so we need only mention that another young Russian named Daniil Kyvat will be taking the second seat.  After a very impressive first season at MARUSSIA, promising Frenchman Jules Bianchi will get a second crack at it, not least due to securing a Ferrari engine deal for the frankly rubbish team.  Finally, CATERHAM have both spots free, largely due to no-one in their right mind wanting them.  Heikki Kovalainen may come back, Giedo van der Garde may stay - and deserves to, after a respectable first season - and Charles Pic may not.

However the remaining cards may fall, Engine Blood will be there periodically throughout the season, probably more at the start before tailing off a bit towards the end of the year.  So remember to make us about your fourth stop for Formula One news, views and reactions, largely because we can't offer anything over and above what the more well-financed sites do.  Yay?  Yay.

* Oh, go on then: