Bowie’s last three albums (Hours…, Heathen, Reality) have found him in a burst of creativity, firing off b-sides and remixes like a crazy monkey. (He was creative in other ways as well: I’m hoping his musical silence since Reality is largely accounted for by the fact that he and wife Iman had a child, Alexandria, who’s about five years old by now.) Here are a handful of those b-sides.
“Safe” (alternately known as “(Safe In This) Sky Life”) has a tangled history (according to the Illustrated DB Discography). It was apparently recorded initially in ’98 for inclusion in the Rugrats soundtrack but not used, it eventually appeared in 2002, initially as a BowieNet download, and then as the b-side of “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” and as a bonus track on the Heathen SACD. The track displays Bowie’s usual talent for artfully deploying somewhat unusual harmonic sequences and melody lines, particularly in the lead-in to the chorus.
“No One Calls“: It might be instructive to imagine this is a sort of cyber-reggae – in fact, as a sort of mutant dub version of “Safe” (they’re in the same key, more or less, and the main melodies of the two songs seem related). The tempo seems dipped in molasses; and it’s hard to figure at first what that opening bass and the first stirrings of melody have to do with one another. Despite that intrigue, this one seems a bit underdeveloped: I’ll admit that I really could have done with some sort of variation in the middle of this track. I suppose the pressing weight of sameness works well with the notion of no one calling – but form doesn’t always have to follow function.
“Fly“: This reminds me, for some reason, of an older song…but damned if I can figure out which one. A good example of the way Bowie can take in overt traits of various musical genres and (sometimes after a period of using them overtly) deploy them subtly in perhaps unexpected contexts. Here, for example, a fairly typical and straightforward rock song (including the phrase “dying for the weekend” yet) actually has quite a bit of abstract textural detail, though that detail initially comes across as more ornamental than essential. A thoroughly deconstructive remix (along the lines of what Brian Eno described in the interview I linked yesterday) might use only those moments, eliminating the parts that catch their flies with honey, to create a nicely aggressive and purely electronic track. A rather long and digressive bridge in this one, too.