Almost as quickly as ever before, Bowie was back with another new one, with much of the same band and production crew as on the satisfying Heathen. But while some have hailed Reality as a masterpiece, these ears were not nearly as wowed. The ingredients generally don’t add up and the covers—an unrecognizable “Pablo Picasso” by Jonathan Richman and “Try Some Buy Some” by George Harrison via Ronnie Spector—don’t seem to fit anywhere.
Something about “New Killer Star” manages to sound like a typical Bowie album opener, its jaunty meter belying the lyrics that seem to reference the recent attack on the World Trade Center. “Never Get Old” crosses the moods of Never Let Me Down and Outside, and it’s an odd transition into the depressing but touching lament of “The Loneliest Guy”. “Looking For Water” portends a doom that also may or may not be inspired by the aftermath of 9/11, while the tension in the opening verses of “She’ll Drive The Big Car” doesn’t last through the different chorus sections.
“Days” isn’t the Ray Davies song, which is a shame, since he could probably nail it. One of the more teasing tracks is “Fall Dog Bombs The Moon”, with its straightforward guitars, bass and drums riding a stop-and-start rhythm. The title track piles a lot of heavy sounds into a small space, making the lengthy closer “Bring Me The Disco King”, with its quieter jazz backing, easier to swallow.
Reality isn’t very exciting, no pun intended, but ultimately the good outweighs the bad. Bowie’s a trouper, so when he’s excited about something he promotes it. The subsequent tour was one of his better ones, covering all the highlights of his nearly forty-year career, until a health scare forced him to cut it short. The CD version of A Reality Tour (which had already been a DVD) shows off a terrific band, good sound and an extremely cheerful singer, yet suggested something of a finale for such a wild career. It was just as well; outside of a few guest appearances and the occasional catalog update, he stayed silent for his longest stretch in decades. Nine-plus years without new music had us thinking that he really had retired, yet, as much as we’d missed his input, something told us he was happy where he was. Finally.
David Bowie Reality (2003)—3
2007 limited 2CD edition: same as 2003, plus 8 extra tracks
David Bowie A Reality Tour (2010)—3½