David Bowie is apparently trying to tell us something. That he's not trying to sing us something is immediately evident on his latest release - "Heroes" (RCA AFL 1-2522).
"Heroes" is a continuation of "Low" (RCA CPL 1-2030) but, though the music is equally tuneless and mechanical on both records, the new one implies some philosophical changes on Bowie's part that require some serious contemplation.
Listening to "Heroes" is not just a matter of dismissing Bowie as another artist past his prime and reaching for the next record in the stack. He has been too much of a force for too long to be taken lightly and it's obvious that he doesn't expect this ne work to be taken as anything but a second step in his current evolution. And he's right. "Heroes" should be taken for what it is: an attempt to force his sound and vision down our collective ears.
Bowie has always been a musical visionary. It was he and Alice Cooper who made the rock 'n' roll stage show an acceptable theatrical commodity. It was Bowie who became the major proponent of glitter rock, an important phase in the development of pop music, and then transcended it when the form became passe.
It was his "Young Americans" that showed the Gamble and Huff were not the only ones reworking the Philadelphia story (and that you didn't have to be black to capture the sound), and his "Fame" helped give disco music a sorely needed credibility. Stated directly, David Bowie has always been important.
Things began slipping around the time of "Station to Station" (RCA AFL 1-1327). Suddenly Bowie was talking to Playboy magazine about fortunes and fascism and to Dick Cavett and Dinah Shore about how his new stage show would be just him and the music. Bowie plays Sinatra.
He tried it here at the Capital Centre in March of 1976 and flopped. A star he was, Sinatra he wasn't.
The critical acclaim he received for his role in Nicholas Roeg's film "The Man Who Fell to Earth" seemed to affect his musical stance. "Low's" jacked featured the movie's poster photo and the album's music was heavily science fiction-oriented.
"Low" featured Bowie, and his old friends Brian Eno and Iggy Pop, trying out a futuristic techtronic system involving feedback, distortion and multiple tracking. The result proved interesting but not commercially successful, the proverbial noble failure.
Granted, there is always an adversary relationship between art and its mass appeal potential, but true artists - especially in mass-market music - generally compromise or risk popular excommunication. What is most disappointing about "Heroes" is the realization that Bowie has no intention of compromising.
On "Heores," Eno is back with former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp (thankfully, Iggy Pop is not) and, again, Bowie sings like Darth Vader. Side two follows "Low's" structure of having one all-instrumental side and is broken only by "The Secret Life of Arabia," probably the closest thing to melody on the album.
All the lyrics are chillingly delivered so the impression left on the listener is a bit like the feeling you get after watching a particularly violent scene in a dark movie theater.
What Bowie seems to be doing is making music for his pals while he waits for the rest of us perplexed consumers to wise up and understand.
Maybe his burgeoning movie career allows David Bowie the luxury of relensing records that are more experimental than listenable. Maybe he really believes this type of sound is the wave of the future.
Whateve his seasoning, David Bowie seems to have ceased caring about music and is now more interested in being a pioneer in new directions. What is sad is, in taking that approach, he may cease to matter altogether.