The Return of the Thin White Duke – Some thoughts on Bowie’s new single

So unless you’ve had your head under a rock this week, you’ve probably heard that David Bowie surprised us all with the release of a new single. A surprise, because we’ve had nothing but radio silence from him for the past 10 years.  You can see the video here, directed by Tony Oursler (who I suspect also created projections in previous Bowie videos like Little Wonder and the bouncing eyeballs in his late 90’s performances). It’s deceptively simple.

Watch the video here: Where are we now? 

In the video, funny and touching, Bowie appears as an old man. Metaphorically walking the dead, like walking the dog through deserted streets. The projections are ghostly, particularly of the faces. (Watch for the optical illusion at the end when they remove their heads from the cut out holes). All the time they are there but not there. Trapped in this weird body that cannot move, like Hamm in Becket’s End Game who can not see out the window, they can not see the projected ‘window’ of the streets behind them. (In fact the title, Where are we now? could even be a reference to Hamm who requires the view from the window to be described to him.) The song references Berlin, just as the album cover references ‘Heroes’ which Bowie recorded there. And in the video we see the lyrics as text, Bowie a man who often plays with words, this time wants us to see what they are in their ordinariness and absurdity.

David Bowie- The next day- Cover Art Review

Some have been quick to condemn, saying they hope it’s not another ‘Hours’ (a panned 1999 album). But having recently rediscovered Hours, my affection for it has grown, and it and the album Heathen are clearly this single’s closest relatives. Bowie’s later releases are tinged with melancholy and tenderness for lost youth, and fondness for his previous incarnations; as evidenced in the video for Thursday’s Child, and Little Wonder, and in cover versions on unreleased 2001 album TOY of songs sung in his early career, like ‘I dig everything’ and the haunting ‘Conversation Piece’ made all the more poignant sung in his old man’s baritone.  Some have complained that the cover art for the forth coming album (above) is trite or ‘too clever’, but I disagree. Obscuring the face is frustrating, annoying even, but that is the intent. It says a lot to me about the elusive artist (publicly missing for so long), it’s not a new image, and we still can not see enough. There is an obliteration of self, and the past, while a suggestion that the past and old images are all that we really have… It makes me sad and I don’t like it. But i get the feeling we’re not meant to.

What do you think of Bowie’s new release? Are you a fan?

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4 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Sean Azzopardi.

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  2. I thinks he’s fascinating and have enjoyed his work for years. I’m happy to see him creating. And I liked it quite a bit across the first few listens.

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  3. Lauren aka Giddy99 · · Reply

    I’m a fan, absolutely! Glad to hear that he’s done something new!

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  4. Great write-up on the new song, as well as the video. I only listened to it once, since I prefer to hear songs in the context of their albums, so I’m reserving judgment until the album comes out. Based on my one listen, it wouldn’t be out of place on either of his last two albums, and that’s a good thing. Based on some articles I read earlier this week, the rest of the album is much more upbeat. Tony Visconti was surprised by Bowie’s choice of first single, but that’s Bowie being Bowie and confounding critics and audience alike. All I know is, I can’t wait to hear the album. After revisiting his entire catalog about a year ago, I’m primed for this one.

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