Today, we continue on with the impossible playlist, a there-and-back-again greatest hits mixtape of songs that haven’t scored a spot on David Bowie’s final career-spanning restrospective. Having kicked off with ‘Lazarus’ and ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’, we come to…
3: Fall Dog Bombs The Moon (2003)
In the previous track, the subject had a dangerous past, stealing from friends, leaving mysterious messages in parks. Bowie’s narration pursues this figure through a concrete city painted wet with rain and blood, wishing upon it a terrible, lonely death.
If only every murderer could suffer so, in the darkness. ‘Fall Dog Bombs The Moon’ tells a more mundane story. Our subject is “a moron, someone to hate.” A corporate stooge, a politician, a figurehead? Whatever he is, the subject of the song is “cruel and smart”, making “a devil in a market place, a devil in your bleeding face.” This is Bowie as witness to terrorism, slumped in the depths of the Bush administration, obliquely political, his deep anger shot through by sadness.
If ‘You Feel So Lonely…’ played after ‘Fall Dog…’, you could imagine it as comeuppance – the dog being finally put down. By reversing them, the stooge has avoided punishment. Life continues on, as it always has, unfairly choosing the wrong people to die or survive.
The resonance of theme aside, choosing this track was a tough choice. Bowie toured heavily off the back of Reality but, perhaps with the exception of single ‘New Killer Star’, few tracks came anywhere close to the zeitgeist. That plays well into the ‘deep cuts for beginners’ feel of what transition | transmission is trying to accomplish, spoiling me for choice. I was first tempted to move to ‘Never Get Old’, Bowie’s cheerful dismissal of critics telling him to drop off the perch. At the time it seemed a little naff; now, it’s a plea from the fans to the great man. I was tempted still further by the mash-up ‘Rebel Never Gets Old’, which steals the distinctive riff from ‘Rebel Rebel’. It would have been a cheeky way of getting that song – a shoo-in for any Greatest Hits compilation, and therefore excluded here – onto this list, but ‘Rebel Never Gets Old’ suffers as a composition by being, well, not particularly good. It’s key redeeming feature, riff aside, is this videoclip which shows Bowie and band on tour. Taken in the months before his heart attack, he’s so full of life that it almost hurts to watch.
‘Fall Dog Bombs The Moon’ was never released as a single. It can be found here.
4: I’ve Been Waiting For You (2002)
The predecessor of Reality was Heathen, released in 2002 to some of the standard ‘Best Bowie since Scary Monsters…’ reviews that dotted the turn of the century, but met with moderate ambivalence from the general public. It’s a great album – not his best by any means, but nothing is more Bowie (as we’ll find out) than an album that’s three-quarters killer, one-quarter filler. The album’s opening track, ‘Sunday’, provides the line “nothing has changed / everything has changed” that graces his final anthology. Perversely not appearing on that compilation, I’ve decided to continue that perversion and skip it here too.
Instead, we have ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You‘, a tight little gem scraping in at under three minutes. By the time this track starts, we’re already 15 minutes into our hypothetical mixtape, so it’s time to learn that Bowie can crank out taut rock songs as well as the more cerebral, wandering mini-epics. This song reminds us that sometimes he is simply looking for a woman – and in this case, she will save his life. The guitar swirls and dives, much as it does in ‘Fall Dog…’; it is disconsolate, accepting that perhaps the quest for “tomorrow” is just as futile as justice in war, or fairness in death.
It is, also, a cover. Bowie would frequently cover others’ material, and 2002’s Heathen was no exception. Not just the great synthesiser of fashion and glam iconography, Bowie complimented many artists by performing their songs, just as countless artists have performed his – and will continue to do so. ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ is placed here to remind us that, as a phenomenon and oeuvre, Bowie is a broad church indeed.
5: Something In The Air (1999)
One of life’s eternal mysteries for me is how Nothing has changed, a compilation spanning decades, managed to fit not one, not two, but three tracks from 1999’s ‘hours…’ into the mix – as many as the famous Berlin trilogy combined. The challenge facing me, from this, is how many other songs of note could there be on one of Bowie’s most underwhelming releases?
Thankfully, I have ‘Something In The Air’ to turn to. Like ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’, this song concerns itself with the intimacy. In ‘Something in the Air’, the relationship is at an end rather than yet to occur; “it feels like we never had a chance; don’t look me in the eye,” he sings. After questing for completion in the previous track, here he has found a place of “no return” in love, having “lived with the best times” he has now “left with the worst… I’ve danced with you too long.”
‘Something in the Air’ was never released as a single, although a remix did make its way onto the American Psycho soundtrack, and it is as least a good a song as its album’s singles. It can be found here. For further analysis and links, Pushing against the Dame is a fantastic resource as always.