Crash Course for the Ravers
Album: The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Absolutely, utterly nil
Three-Word Review: Innovative, jazzy, sweet
When I say I used to be unfamiliar with The Buddha of Suburbia, I mean I didn’t even include it in my original syllabus for this ‘course.’ Somehow I had the impression it was just the one song for the TV miniseries based on Hanif Kureishi’s novel.
How wrong I was! As more eloquently stated here and here, Buddha is actually Bowie’s great comeback album, where he picks up all the pieces of his first decade of triumph and carries them bodily into the future.
Sure, a lot of the album is instrumental, as if it were a soundtrack, but same with Low. More relevantly to me, several tracks – I’m looking at you, ‘South Horizon’ – are instrumentals with what I think is an improvisational jazz feel. In other words, I don’t really get it.
The title track, though, is a terrific number. Bowie famously found the perfectly nice suburb of his youth a soulless wasteland, and he works it all out here. The slightly scattershot second half of the song quotes bits and pieces of the 60s and 70s, the time when Bowie himself was striving to shed the suburbs.
Sometimes I fear that the whole world is queer
Sometimes but always in vain
So I’ll wait until we’re sane
Wait until we’re blessed and all the same
Full of blood, loving life and all it’s got to give
Englishmen going insane
In this video, you can look at BOTH David Bowie AND Naveen Andrews. Perfection has been achieved.
Speaking of quoting the 60s, two other scraps:
I swear ‘Untitled #1’ is Bowie singing a duet with himself as Marc Bolan. Marc, nice to hear you, albeit in effigy. I missed that weirdo vibrato.
And I listened to ‘Ian Fish, U.K. Heir’ and then found myself humming, of all things, ‘Wild-Eyed Boy from Freecloud.’ (Anybody remember that one?) I’m not sure if the gentle little classical-guitar melody actually quotes the prior song or if those are just sort of traditional Bowie chords getting recycled.
And an impossibly trivial footnote: the ‘Buddha’ video was where I first noticed that Bowie’d had his delightfully fanglike teeth all straightened and capped. (That is, I knew he’d done it sometime, but I hadn’t noticed what year.) I guess it’s apparent in the Black Tie videos also, but they don’t feature such close-ups. Who the heck cares – but it does make him look rather more processed, a thing he’ll soon offset by growing his hair out.