By Mof Gimmers
“Nobody ever knows when to call it a day” – David Bowie
David Bowie’s return to music took many by surprise because that’s exactly what David Bowie wanted. No promo, no murmurs of a return, he just appeared with a new song and immediately, the whole of the music press started performing somersaults for him.
This, in part, had a lot to with everyone assuming he was dead. The rumours have stirred for a while, so to hear him crooning away was rather pleasing. He seems like a nice enough bloke and it is nice to have him around, like that eccentric, sweet uncle who thinks he’s much more clever than he is, but means well.
And this is how most people look at old rock stars. They’re comforting and take up painting when their star has waned, and try to elevate themselves above being a ‘mere’ pop musician. They get into painting and being in films. They buy fleets of classic cars and have ex-model wives and become lifestyle tourists, coming back to make albums that steal a little of the indigenous music of their holidays. Basically, all rock stars become George Harrison.
However, like all old rockstars, fuck Bowie.
Away from the cosy feeling one gets from knowing David Bowie hauling his bones about the place, his utterly unremarkable return has prompted the most nauseating media circle-jerk since The Last Famous Person Died Who Everyone Was At Pains To Wax Lyrical About Like They Were Always A Fan.
Bowie’s new song shows just how conservative music writing has become, with a collective whooping with glee that an old man has managed to release an album without telling anyone first! So what? Most records get released like that. It isn’t forward thinking – it’s frugal. And critics massaged each other at how Bowie had made a record that “sounded his age”, cooing at the melancholia and, ostensibly, lack of youthful influence (people weren’t nearly as kind when ‘Little Wonder’ hit the record racks, because they thought he was Midlife Crisis Uncle then), when elsewhere, old rockstars acting their age (musically), is roundly ignored or sneered at. Critics are indulging in a competition to see who can piss highest with praise, only succeeding in covering everyone with their piss.
When it comes down to it, Bowie has made a record that sounds like ‘Free As A Bird’ (another lousy nostalgiafest) and has been greeted like he’s shown young bands a thing or two about being brilliant and innovative. And that’s bunkum.
Bowie is, and always has been a phoney. People have foisted their idea of the perfect popstar on him, looking at his changeling ways like he’s a daring, inventive artist, rather than someone with a short attention span and an admittedly admirable contempt for his own fans. He does what he wants and you have to go along with it or lump it. Just like Dylan, Bowie has turned his selfishness into a career, with each falling mask revealing something else that doesn’t necessarily speak for anyone but the artist’s own flights of fancy. That’s not a criticism as such, because artists are advised to be restless and curious, but it showcases a problem with critical thinking, post 2000.
The canonisation of old rock stars is now reaching breaking point. Thanks to Bowie throwing out a half-arsed ballad to wistfulness, we’re faced with a unified approach by the music press that, thanks to a modicum of tastefulness (taste? Ha! Who needs it!) in the shape of a beige ballad by a man with a famous voice, Bowie is brilliant. If some young upstarts recorded ‘Where Are We Now?’, it’d be roundly ignored, and rightly so. Bowie has recorded a pretty tedious tune that only excites with context. The context being: “Here’s a song you haven’t heard with a very familiar voice on it and it won’t embarrass you like Scott Walker might while he’s singing about his death and throwing sides of beef at a bass drum”.
While it is perfectly fine for people to be pleased at Bowie’s return and cluck endlessly about how fabulous he is, you can’t help but wonder why the press at large isn’t fighting about it. If MOJO (a dead-cert for Bowie as their next cover star) ran enthusiastic pieces on him, you’d understand it. However, you’d hope that rags dealing with new music would tell Bowie to get fucked. There’s been an editorial handshake between everyone that says publications will back Bowie and no articles will be commissioned that says otherwise, which is patronising to the reader. Music magazines aren’t broadsheet newspapers with a political angle. They are supposed to fun, bitchy and filled with dissent. A magazine should be able to thrill about an artist on one page, and berate them on another. That’s what makes pop music so much fun. It isn’t a circle jerk. It’s about arguing (arguing about pop music is better than listening to it, and that’s a fact). Music writers are supposed to make musicians accountable for making boring records. That’s their primary role. Jagger’s ‘Super Heavy’ project was laughed out of town before anyone heard a note. Not one music paper is doing the same with Bowie, a true trad. arr. Rock Star.
Yet, all the culture sections and such have all decided that they like Bowie and no-one should say otherwise. I still think it’d be fun if the NME ran a cover that said “FUCK BOWIE” in huge letters. Writing about pop music isn’t uncovering a political scandal or child-abuse ring – it is supposed to be opinionated and silly, just like the very subject it covers. However, music writers have convinced themselves that they’re doing an important job, and in turn, musicians have convinced themselves that they’re serious artists.
And here’s the underlying problem: If music if filled with people who take themselves seriously as artists or reporters, what is our future? David fucking Bowie’s ‘Where Are We Now?, that’s what. I preferred Bowie when he polarised everyone by making a drum ‘n’ bass record. Sure, it sucked, but it wasn’t as boring as this return. It seems, like the shape-shifting Dylan, Bowie has revealed the final stage of his act – The Slippered, Pipe Duke, which sees an artist capable of so much, gliding into magnolia, rather than an explosion of embarrassing colour.
“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring,” said Bowie. If only he knew.