It’s the album Bowie doesn’t remember making. And while the artist’s love may not be a side effect of the cocaine, it’s a fair bet the ten minute long opening track is.
It starts slow, with roughly a minute of droning, followed by the same five bars repeating for another two minutes. Still, Bowie’s dealer must be very good, because – even taking into account it’s length – the track is really kind of brilliant.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that the whole “thin white duke” thing is particularly captivating, and certainly the verses can be less than exciting. But once he sings the line “once there were mountains on mountains” the level of tension reaches territory that Bowie has never visited. A big claim for a man who’s been to space.
There are only six tracks on this album, and I decide to do some sprinting work to suit. I walk to the oval across from my apartment, where I hope to sprint the first lap around. I make it half way, and stop to lean on a bin as I gasp strenuously for breath. For a even a low-level germophobe such as myself, this is a big deal.
When I’ve composed myself, I resolve to walk the rest of the way to my starting point, and sprint half way again. Reality defies me, and this time, I make it only three quarters of the way. My lungs burn, and I walk back to my starting in shame as Golden Years begins.
It’s the only real bridge from Bowie’s work on Young Americans, and it’s also the first time I realise what a huge change this album is from the last. I know I should be used to it by now, but the chameleon thing is incredibly apt.
Golden Years is a track that you could easily dismiss because of its ubiquity. If you were born in the ‘80s, it’s one of those songs you’ve heard in the background but never quite paid attention to. But, like Station to Station, it possesses a subtle sense of urgency at points that is impossible to dismiss. Like this part:
In fact, this sense of urgency carries on all the way through this album. On TVC15, the verses come in like an attack. Things slow right down just before the chorus. When the chorus does hit, it’s surprisingly understated. Bowie’s band really do their thing. The keys flourish, the guitar grounds it firmly, with single distorted strokes on all but the last beat of each bar. Again, each instrument creates tension.
Once I get through this track, my running is at an end. Despite the amount of progress I’ve made on the distance front, my ability to run with any sort speed would at best that of an infant. I know that these things don’t necessarily carry over, but I had hoped for better.
I’ve always had a problem with speed (Out of context, I’m sure Bowie would be proud of that statement). Prior to beginning this challenge, I ran the infamous beep test. Being a reasonably fit person, I was shocked when at level 4 (which is apparently poor even for retirees), I found myself dry heaving, struggling to remain upright.
I will continue to add this to my routine, but after today’s run I am reasonably convinced that I have asthma. The last two songs, for me, are both disappointments. Word on a Wing, if it is taken seriously (and I believe it is), is a sort of corny treatise on religion “Just because I believe don’t mean I don’t think so well. Don’t have to question everything between heaven or hell”. I would hope that even the most adamantly religious person would reject the notion that one should question anything. The last track comes on. I have listened to it many times in the past, and I never remember anything about it. It’s a cover, and it’s one that I think should have been left off.
As I make my way back up to the apartment, I’m acutely aware that my girlfriend’s birthday celebrations are coming up this weekend, and this may be the final run for a while. I am sore, tired, and have run very little comparative to my previous efforts. Still, sometimes a little pain and disappointment can be good for the soul.