David Bowie Memory Palace [part 25]


Neo-classicist Bowie beckons after dalliances with techno industrial came to naught

1998 [continued]

I got another David Bowie home video in 1998. I was sending at week at my company’s Reston, Virginia main campus and there was, of course, a record store nearby where I was staying, so naturally I ambled there to have a browse in the bins. Since it was the mid-late 90s, there were still lots of laserdiscs in evidence; oblivious to the fact that they would be obsolete in a mater of months as the just released DVD format would roll like a tank through the living rooms of the free world. One of these was the D.A. Pennebaker semi-legendary “Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” film of the last Ziggy Stardust concert. So naturally, I bought one. My wife would probably want to see this piece of history as well, I thought at the time.

Image Entertainment | US | LD | 1996 | ID5320LY

Image Entertainment | US | LD | 1996 | ID5320LY

I remember that RCA released the soundtrack from this in 1983 when Bowie was peaking commercially with “Let’s Dance.” I had never bothered with getting a copy, though. The long discussed but kept in a box movie finally got a release at that time as well. I’m sure that RCA were happy to have something “new” by Bowie to sell back at that juncture in time. The Pennebaker film was a straightforward documentation of the show on 16mm film. It’s a snapshot in time, but not my Prime Bowie®.


1999 brought some changes to the Bowiescape. After nine years, his RCA back catalogue transferred ownership from Rykodisc to Virgin in America. Disturbingly, all of the bonus tracks on those discs [some for better, some for worse] were consigned to the dustbin of history. I became aware of this but did not yet act upon it. I still lacked four of his Rykodisc CDs at this time:

  • “Space Oddity”
  • “David Live”
  • “Stage”
  • “Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars OST”

As the year progressed into the Fall, something would happen that finally prompted me to buy them; and then some!

Virgin | US | Lenticular CD | 1999 | 7243 8 48157 0 7

Virgin | US | Lenticular CD | 1999 | 7243 8 48157 0 7

I believe that someone had gifted me with a Best Buy gift card for my birthday that year. By 1999, they had marched into town a few years earlier and their attempt to wipe out all of the indie CD stores was successful enough so that their CD stock, once expansive and ridiculously cheap, was now a shadow of its former self. I found myself having a problem finding a single CD I cared enough to get, but the first week in October the new Bowie album dropped, and I might as well give it a spin. I opted for the limited edition 3D lenticular cover, which some erroneously refer to as “holographic.” Not quite.

The songs were a surprising throwback to the “Hunky Dory” sound and were a relief from the labored trendiness of his previous two albums, to put it mildly. The songs were very much a response to the middle aged singer-songwriter syndrome. They seemed confessional and concerned with mortality but one could not shake the suspicion that it was yet another of Bowie’s famous masks.  He was still collaborating with Reeves Gabrels, but this would be his swan-song after a decade as Bowie’s right-hand man. Apparently, the music came from music the pair did for a video game called “Omikron: The Nomad Soul;” wherein Bowie and his wife Iman were cameoed as characters in the gameplay.

Virtual Bowie

Virtual Bowie

Bowienet had a contest to write the lyrics for a finished song and it appeared on this album. Alex Grant was picked by Bowie to co-write “What’s Really Happening” and the end result neither bored nor offended. There was even some instrumental music [presumably from the video game] that was a close approximation to the side two of “Low.” I found that my wife and I were playing this one a lot. This sounded like a less contrived Bowie album than I had heard of late. When I listen to it now, the loops used in its construction sound dead to me, but in 1999 we were more innocent. At the time I was really hoping for a tour, but that was not to be. Buying and enjoying the album to the extent that we did did manage to list a fire of urgency under me to finally get my Bowie collection up to snuff. Those Rykodisc CDs should be in the Record Cell before they were OOP rarities beyond my fiscal reach, and there were even more albums to finally consider.

Next: …The Unthinkable

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to David Bowie Memory Palace [part 25]

  1. As mentioned previously, I loved Hours. For me, it was the return of the prodigal androgyne, with the sort of solid (but markedly gentler) songwriting and straightforward production. In particular, the opening track beautifully augmented the cover, which showed a “dying” NIN-influenced Bowie being cradled by a more hippie (youthful?) “softer” Bowie (it’s really a masterful, beautifully-photographed cover — one of my favourites, actually). Totally sets the tone of the album, which I read somewhere was actually going to be called The Dreamers.

    Contrary to the Monk’s view on the style as “yet another persona,” I felt at the time it was more Bowie’s confession that his previous, spiky-haired two-album attempt to be a “hard rocker” was the disguise, and that this album marked a genuine (or as genuine as Bowie gets) effort to speak plainly, without “hiding” behind production and wardrobe/hair stylings. It certainly reminds me more of the Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack in being “purer” Bowie than the two collaborative albums that followed it, though I did not actually own or hear BoS until after Hours, where it (in my opinion) fits better, as a further musing on his 70s output and influences.


  2. Echorich says:

    I have to agree, the personal/confessional Bowie on Hours has always seemed uncontrived and more than skin deep to me. By the mid-90’s a number of bands I liked and were still releasing albums were finding success/satisfaction in embracing their age and experience and I found this really appealing as a fan who had also grown and had a history of experience to look back on. This is what Hours provided for me. It was a very new Bowie – a Bowie standing to one side of any masks or costumes that made him something he never attempted to be before – approachable. Hour’s opening three songs are huge for me. Thursday’s Child has always been really special to me and listening to it over the passed 2 months now, it seems like a template Bowie returned to for the song that just destroys me from Blackstar – I Can’t Give Everything. Something In The Air channels Berlin Era Bowie in a rearview mirror sort of way and Gabrels shines in his sort of updated Belew/Fripp role. Finally Survive is both reflective and celebratory. It also gives all those Britpop bands who spread beige across the UK landscape for the best part of the 90’s a lesson in how to take advantage of classic sounds and make something stirring and new with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. SimonH says:

    Agree re Thursday’s Child. I liked the way the video had a real feeling of vulnerability.
    I can’t play I Can’t Give Everything when my wife is around – she finds it too upsetting.


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