Crash Course for the Ravers
Album: Tonight, 1984, and Absolute Beginners, 1986
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Minimal (with Tonight)
Three-Word Review: Pleasant, superfluous, haunting
It’s 1984, and it’s generally agreed that David Bowie’s mojo has taken a powder. Some fans and critics genuinely hate Tonight, not to mention what it presages. I don’t hate it, but I do find it largely unnecessary. If I want fake reggae by white folks, plenty of artists got there first. I do find myself humming ‘Tumble and Twirl’ here and there.
Received wisdom cuts Bowie some slack only for ‘Loving the Alien,’ a genuinely haunting song that’s this year’s edition of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ for the sheer bizarre surrealism of its video.
It’s also the latest entry in Bowie’s catalogs of anti-organized-religion and historical/political awareness. The proper response to much of history is mourning, I often say, and this song strikes me as a cool meditation on a similar theme. Biographer David Buckley suggests that the song imagines Jesus as an alien, which, in the most literal sense, he was/is: someone from outside this reality entering it through nontraditional means. You know, like Superman.
On a happier note, this was also the era of the ridiculous film of Absolute Beginners and its lovely, lovable title song. ‘Absolute Beginners’ is one of the most simply ravishing recordings Bowie ever made, and that’s saying something.
Admittedly, I have a weakness for any vocal line soaring over a chugging countermelody, no doubt a legacy of my showtune upbringing. And this is a showtune, if barely. It has very little to do with the plot or feel of the film it’s in, much (much) less the plot or feel of the book it’s “adapted” from, Colin MacInnes’ 1958 novel where, to some extent, Mod was born.
And then there’s this thing.
Dopey to the last drop, but I always find something to appreciate in performances where the singers are just having a good time, quality be damned. (See: the entire career of the Traveling Wilburys.) Also, homoerotic much? My favorite moment has to be the very end (as it were ) where they’re swishing off down the street and Bowie clearly thinks oh crap, my trenchcoat is covering my bum! And my bum is so cute!