Reality (2003)



1. New Killer Star: Irresistible static-hazed riff that bubbles and pops against those intense guitars, weird chorus and shaky background singers, this robust opener sets the tone early with its instantly recognizable classic-Bowie timbre. 6.0

2. Pablo Picasso: Electric Spanish guitar introduces this cover of the Modern Lovers song. Bowie radically reworks this Jonathan Richman gem from the mid-70s, echoing trills, white-funk syncopation and an intense surrealism, however a forgettable and puzzling inclusion here. 4.0

3. Never Get Old: An energetic and rollicking live favourite, it’s also a curious and hugely addictive piece of wry self-observation and was used in a rather humorous Vittel water advertising campaign. The live version on A Reality Tour rocks the house down. 6.5

4. The Loneliest Guy: Atmospheric guitar treatments, a track far more real than its name implies. There’s a bare hint of strings and stray piano chords which fade with mournful uncertainty. No easy reading of this song is possible but it’s human, bittersweet, a mournful tale of regret and loss. A good pace-changer, but no classic. 5.0

5. Looking for Water: Could be sung from the point of view of our otherworldly hero Thomas Jerome Newton from The Man Who Fell to Earth (or not). Either way it bounces along on a nervous and desperate groove. 6.0

6. She’ll Drive a Big Car: New York referencing lyrics of a girl peeling along Riverside Drive before she just swings it off to the left and takes the whole lot down. “Bursting her bubbles of Ludlow and Grand, south along the Hudson”. She’s turning the radio up high so she doesn’t have to think anymore when she makes her decision to go over the edge (just ask DB). Seriously deep and haunting song with a vague 80s feels. 6.0 

7. Days: Quite a moving number and beautifully subtle and melodic with a gorgeous circular middle eight. This is the sound of an older man putting his affairs in order, mending bridges and significantly, restoring order to his life. 6.0 

8. Fall Dog Bombs the Moon: Bowie dips into his Burroughsian bag of tricks on this lyrically and melodically fine number. Quite a sad tone to this and just a little bit of resignation in his voice. I would not be so bold to tell you what I think it may be about. 6.0

9. Try Some, Buy Some: Covering Ronnie Spector’s version of this mighty George Harrison penned number from the early 70s, Bowie unfortunately ends up with something that’s a bit sappy and plodding with the waltz-timed over-orchestration. The track lacks any of the self-referential poignancy found elsewhere on Reality, throwing off the album’s nicely sequenced flow. Not horrible though. 5.0

10. Reality: The title track is a breakneck rocker and comes at a time when the album was screaming out for one. Unfortunately is sluggish and tuneless and is the lowest point of the album. 4.0

11. Bring Me the Disco King: Stripped down, woozy, off-kilter jazz homage, this track first surfaced around 1993’s Black Tie White Noise. At nearly eight smoky minutes, it’s an extraordinary closer dating back to the early 90s, however Bowie sounds thoroughly bushed amid Garson’s, as per usual, wonderful ivory improvisations. 6.5


VERDICT: Surprisingly released hot on the heels of Heathen, this is a rock ‘n roll album written and recorded to blast out in a live setting, and in 2004 it did. Like Heathen, Reality is produced by Tony Visconti and contains songs that deliberately recall a classic Bowie sound, retro in parts, both tuneful and adventurous, but at the same time dull and pedestrian. Without a central theme or any conceptualisation, Reality has an accessible AOR sound and an authoritative delivery. Like Heathen, this album contains its fair share of quieter, more introspective moments but does not cut as deeply as its predecessor. It is however an acceptable and worthwhile addition to Bowie’s superb generation-spanning catalogue, however I despise the album cover.

NEXT: Toy, anyone?

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