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Analog Reality 1986: The Right Way

‘The Right Way’ is the final release in a series of 3 albums that focus on music produced in the mid-1980’s, after ‘Analog Reality 1984: Dreams and Come Trues’ and ‘1985: Cosmic Connection’.

The title of the album refers to the first commercial release in 1986, a cassette album with 20 minutes of music. Besides the title track also the songs ‘A Little Bit Longer Everyday’, ‘A Romance Waltz’ and ‘Bridge’ were part of that cassette. ‘Bridge’ was also featured on the 2004 Anthology album ‘Almost Lost’ as was the ballad ‘You’, both songs being now labeled with a ‘2020 Remix’ tag with a superior mix compared to that on the 2004 album.

The original cover of the 1986 ‘The Right Way’ cassette

The 1984 and 1985 album saw the first journeys -and discoveries- into the world of multitrack recording. By 1986 the possibilities of the -then- modern studio technologies were taken to the next level. The experience in composing, arranging and recording over the past years showed off in strong confidence and direction. The opening track ‘I Wanna Be Where You Are’ is a convincing statement showing how the studio tools were mastered. Throughout the album a consistent -yet still modest- set up was used. The DX-7 and TX-7 were the core of the synthesised sounds, while TR-707 and Simmons drums laid out a solid rhythm base. The role of the guitar was minimal: only the Beatlesque ballad ‘Hey Girl’ was mainly build around the guitar as a lead instrument.

The big step up was without any doubt the introduction of the Tascam 246 as a recording device. Although limited to 4 tracks, the music saw a steep quality increase compared to the Fostex X-15 that was used on the previous 1984 and 1985 albums.

Tascam 246, the device used to record ‘The Right Way’

‘Pretty Nurse’ is an interesting song that shows a different type of sounds that Yamaha’s FM synthesis was able to produce compared to what usual is being associated with FM synthesis, giving the song an almost psychedelic rock-like qualities. Nevertheless it is not difficult to understand why ‘The Right Way’ is the key song of the selection. Through it use of the QX-7 sequencer and sequenced drum sounds it was a spectacular example of how ambitions and the ability to realize them had grown over the past 2 years. Compare this song to the first song of the 1984 album ‘Anyway You Want Me To’ to understand how fast this development had gone.

The album finishes with ‘So Little We Know’ an unfinished recording from 1986 now finished with the Dolceola as the main lead instrument with a sound recoginzable from the music of Ennio Morricone. The final song ‘The Sweetest Girl’ is a segment from a short demo, demonstrating the process of composing a song.

Review: Blackstar – David Bowie

January 2016 will be remembered as the month when the initial euphoria about a new David Bowie album, titled Blackstar, suddenly changed into the mourning of one of the most significant artists of pop music from the past 50 years. The revelations about his medical condition after his 2004 heart attack does not only put his last album Blackstar in a different light, but also his 2013 album ‘The Next Day’ in retrospect comes across as an album of an artist who realized that his earthly existence was coming to an end.

One can not help to listen back to his final two albums from that perspective: here was not a man at work that wanted to breathe new life into his carreer, but rather an artist who was in a hurry to make his final artistic statements. Maybe not coincidental, the title of Blackstar may refer to a song of one of Bowie’s own big influences, Elvis Presley:

Every man has a black star
A black star over his shoulder
And when a man sees his black star
He knows his time, his time has come

The song Blackstar and the accompanying video are full of references to the subject of death. The video seems to be situated on a different planet, where a group of women put on a burial ritual for a deceased and stranded astronaut (Major Tom from Space Oddity?). This scene is varied with Bowie performing with some dancers a zombie like ritual, with Bowie’s head wrapped in a bandage. Actually Blackstar is a multi themed song: after the initial dark jazzy atmosphere the songs changes into a more ballad like intermezzo.

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried:
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

​And towards the end of the song the initial opening theme returns. The Blackstar album is characterized as a ‘jazz’ album. It is true that jazz musicians formed Bowie’s backing band for this albumand therefor naturally contributed to a jazzy atmosphere of the album. Especially the saxophone has a big role in all the songs, but the music is still strongly vehement within the pop and rock idiom.

Unconsciously one is also inclined to search for other lyrical clues in retrospect about Bowie’s phase of life. The beautiful song Dollar Days is probably the most outspoken in that respect, with Bowie proclaiming I’m dying to(o). Towards the end of the song his voice seems to dissolve in atmosphere, as the intro of the more conventional song I Can’t Give Everything Away starts.

The other songs of the 42 minute album are also a truly wonderful final contribution to Bowie’s music legacy as an artist. ‘Tis Is A Pity She Was a Whore‘  (referencing by the way a 17th century play) is a rather chaotic song that will grow on the listener with every listening. This is probably the song with the most prominent jazz influences. It somehow reminded me of John Lennon’s 1972 album Sometime in New York that also contains a lot of these free format songs where the saxophone plays a prominent part. The single Lazarus was the other song from the album to be accompanied by a video and shows Bowie with the same bandage around his head on what appears to his death bed in a hospital. The lyrics are about a man speaking from heaven and reflects back on his earthly existence.

AFter the initial release of the album I wrote on Twitter: From Space Oddity to Blackstar…what an amazing journey! Little did I know by then that Blackstar would be the ultimate and final chapter of Bowie’s legacy as an artist. Blackstar is a worthful and beautiful statement for an artist that experienced the final phase of his earthly existence that may serve as an introduction for a newer generation to his outstanding oeuvre he created over the past 5 decades.

== Den Haag, 31th January 2016==