magpie and chameleon


Bowie has worn his dilettantism proudly and, through his dabblings, created some of the greatest music of the pop era. He is blessed with one of the most versatile voices. His talent for mimicry, coupled with a willingness to adapt his vocal approach to the song at hand, sets him apart from the competition: you could never tell which David Bowie would be singing. He has always been the bravest among his otherwise simply successful contemporaries, and, particularly in collaboration with Brian Eno, took rock music places it had never meant to go. He has namedropped Nietzsche here and there, and his attitude towards self-renewal has always been that of the Übermensch or the “homo superior”, words he relished singing in “Oh! You Pretty Things” on Hunky Dory in 1971. Bowie has always been at his best when he leaves himself open to chance, starting from scratch: his fearless mixing of genre, his willingness to enter the studio with no material (as he did for his masterpiece Station to Station, 1976), his constantly re-invented recording techniques (for example, instructing guitar players to play a song without ever having heard it, then keeping their first take), his embrace of Eno’s “oblique strategies” for “The Berlin Trilogy” (Low, 1977, Heroes, 1977, Lodger, 1979, only one of which was actually made in Berlin). He fails when his instincts desert him, when he tries to recreate consciously what he does so well unconsciously. Bowie knows all this: it just leaves him in the uncomfortable position of having endlessly to rehearse for unpreparedness.

more from Wesley Stace at the TLS here.