Daily Mail - 15th August 2003

Another golden year for Bowie?

Preview by Adrian Thrills

HE PLAYED one of 200's most memorable gigs when he returned to London's Hammersmith Odeon for the first time since killing off his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego.

He also curated the Meltdown Festival, saw his Heathen album nominated for the panasonic Mercury Music Prize and watched contentedly as the Best Of Bowie collection soared up the albums chart.

Whichever way you look at it, last year was a very good one for David Bowie. After hovering on the fringes of the pop mainstream in the Nineties, one of rock's most visionary performers seemed keen to grab centre stage once more.

The Bowie renaissance looks set to gather pace with the release of a new studio album, Reality, and the announcement of a seven-month tour that will take the 56-year-old singer to 17 countries and more than a million fans.

Reality, his 26th album, is not out until September 15th.

And while the release of a new Bowie collection is not the event it once was, the album was still deemed important enough for an official premiere in a swanky London club this week.

First impressions suggest that it is a stronger and more immediate affair than last years Heathen.

Unlike its laid-back predecessor which was recorded in the rural seclusion of upstate New York, Reality was made in Bowie's adopted hometown of Manhattan and it buzzes with the energy, attitude and occasional paranoia of The Big Apple.

BEFORE embarking on the record with long-term producer Tony Visconti, Bowie played a week of small club gigs - the New York City Marathon tour - in the hope that the vitality of his live show would rub off in the studio.

And, while there are reservations, Bowie's loud-and-direct approach is largely a success. Reality is his most passionate offering in years. It features several tracks - including forthcoming single New Killer Star and the Stonesy Looking For Water - which could become Bowie standards.

However, there are also times when Reality veers too closely to Tin Machine, his ill-fated roots-rock band of the early Nineties; the instrumentation, while capably anchored by bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer Sterling Campbell, is often dense and cluttered.

My initial suspicion is that many of these songs might have benefited from a less adorned approach.

But from the opening chords of New Killer Star, it is clear that it is Bowie the rock 'n' roller we are dealing with. Upbeat and guitar-driven, the song gets the album off to a forceful start. Never Get Old, another potential single, maintains the rocking mood with its soaring harmonies, guitars and a churning backdrop which recalls I Am The Walrus, one of several occasions when Bowie drops in a fond reference to The Beatles.

But while the Fashion-style cyberpop of She'll Drive The Big Car and the album's overwrought title track both have a similar sense of urgency, some of the best moments come as Bowie slows the tempo.

The Loneliest Guy is a plaintive, piano-led piece while the outstanding Days is a flamenco-influenced acoustic song in which Bowie's quavering vocals recall the Anthony Newley-influenced phrasings of his formative years. And the final track, Bring Me The Disco King - originally written for 1993's Black Tie, White Noise - is not the dance number that its title might suggest, but a mournful, jazzy piece that would have been more at home on Heathen.

Perhaps surprisingly, given that Bowie remains an excellent songwriter, Reality is fleshed out with two disappointing covers: the first is a high-octane version of Jonathan Richman's Pablo Picasso which totally destroys the droll and charm of the original.

The second is a lacklustre revamp of Try Some, Buy Some, a relatively obscure George Harrison song written for Ronnie Spector in the early Seventies.

Despite such flaws, however, Reality finds Bowie with a renewed sense of purpose. 'I'm searching for the optimistic things in my life,' he says on the notes that accompany the album. 'And that's generated by being a father again. Maybe if I didn't have my three-year-old daughter running around, I wouldn't be writing this way.'

Back on a creative roll and due to open his world tour in Copenhagen on October 7, the still-slim but still-changing Thin White Duke is going to be hard to avoid during the coming months.