Whatever Happened to the Thin White Duke?

Bowie broke nearly ten years of radio silence when he released his new hit single Where Are We Now two days ago. The track rocketed straight to number one here in the UK, and news of the spaceman’s return rippled out across the cosmos, or the blogosphere at least. People are hailing his new track as a ‘brilliant’ return to form and an ‘outstanding’ effort. Does it deserve the hype? No, not at all. Here’s why

When Bowie clawed his way into the public eye in the early 70’s it was the novelty, the strange, alien vitality of his music that made it so appealing.

He was a writer of unwatched quality, but also an excellent innovator, and a keen pioneer. Five Years broke new ground, Aladdin Sane was a smorgasbord of complicated and wholly original textures, heroes was novelty personified. Bowie’s latest offering, however, is practically just a rehash of his 1976 cover Wild Is the Wind. Everything, from the gentle movement of the brass, the strange, lilting rhythm  the gradual, almost imperceptible lifts, all belong to his earlier, and much better work. In fact the only thing that really sets this new track apart is that it lacks the lyrical power, or the intensity of Bowie’s earlier slow songs. It’s more detached  more hollow than even the most solemn of Bowie’s synth pop dirges.

I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that, after a ten year hiatus, the ‘chameleon of rock’ has proffered up stale fare rather than a sumptuous banquet of vibrant new music. While Where Are We Now is certainly immediately recognizable, while it still evokes that same, dizzying sense of nostalgia, it’s more a product of the Bowie we know, than the one we love.

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3 Responses to “Whatever Happened to the Thin White Duke?”

  1. Apparently the rest of the album is more up tempo. I liked the track – let’s see what the rest is like.

  2. I have a romantic relationship with this song, but know what you mean re the relative safety of it. I guess Bowie has nothing to prove to us?

    • I hadn’t thought about it like that actually. I guess if anyone has earned the right to rest on their laurels it’s Bowie, and he is getting older, it just seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to me. Still, as you say, a perfectly good slow song.

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