The Daily Telegraph - 13th September 2003

CD of the Week: Reality

Lynsey Hanley reviews Reality, the new album from David Bowie

David Bowie, Reality Columbia, 2 CDs 16.99

David Bowie: has just released his 26th album, Reality.

When you're a rock legend with a new album out, it's always a good idea to be photographed on the cover of Q magazine draped in a human scarf made of 100 per cent nude Kate Moss. That's what David Bowie has done this month, proving not only that he continues to age better than most of his contemporaries, but also that he still has an eye for the fabulous image that will make his every new release spangle like a De Beers necklace worn by Iman.

Bowie's 26th album is not, repeat not, "his best since Scary Monsters". Indeed, this lazy summing-up of his every release since 1980 should be made redundant once and for all. No matter how much his fans wish he still lived in Berlin and wrote songs about psychosis while looking like Dot Cotton on hunger strike, this is the work of a 56-year-old, happily married, New York-residing, drug- and drink-free father and should be seen in that context.

His artistic resurgence began in 1995, with the excellent, dreamlike Outside, and has evolved, through the jaunty drum'n'techno experiment Earthling and the subdued existentialism of Hours into a mature, adult rock style that sounds brilliant when played live. Like last year's Heathen, however, Reality suffers from two major flaws: too many cover versions, and too many fillers.

His version of Jonathan Richman's Pablo Picasso is perky yet pointless - if he remains so obsessed with covering his favourite songs, why doesn't he make another Pin-Ups compilation? - while Never Get Old (written for a Vittel advert, the sell-out) and Days fail the more stringent quality control that would come with being less prolific.

These gripes aside, there are several songs here that hold up to the scrutiny of the Bowie-idolising rock fan. She'll Drive the Big Car and Looking for Water both capture the slightly desperate search for life's meaning that characterises his best songs, and the sorrowful Fall Dog Bombs the Moon shakes its head at the state of the world. He's still got it, but in patches rather than in spades.