Thursday, 26 November 2015

Blackstar: Bowie's Back

Have to jot something down about David Bowie's ten minute treat, Blackstar. 

H insisted I watch the music video the other day, and I resisted at first, having grown weary of David's recent output. Songs like Where are we now and the Stars are out tonight were a bit...easy, with nothing like the freakery or inventiveness of what defines proper Bowie. No album of his since Outside, in fact, had enticed.

So I'm surprised to find myself singing Blackstar to myself in the shower, on the street, even at work. There's something about it. The video is especially delightful, made by someone who knows how to draw Bowie's freak out from his fashionista's shadow. A good thing too. I'd missed freaky Bowie.

The opening four minutes of the track brings to mind Radiohead: ominous bass, lamenting vocal, twitchy electronic drums. That might put me off in other circumstances - but David's wearing a button-eyed blindfold! Plus, he's giving his all to some beckoning, finger-waggling, shivery choreography of which a Bausch or a Schector would be proud.

But what makes the video really loveable is that the Director, Johan Renck, so loves Bowie's face - not just the eyes, but the whole wonderful, ageing structure, the great arch that spreads from his eagle nose to his mouth. It's all examined in fine detail, and new things are discovered. I'm not sure anyone else has so delighted in Bowie's teeth before. Who knew those ivories could clench into that skull-like, nauseous arrangement? Check him out around 1 minute 20 - it's a treat.

Even better, after four minutes Bowie gets to take off the blindfold and pull on his funky boots, launching into the best song I've heard from him in a decade. While he's at it he struts and poses and wags his finger, and makes you remember the spindly force he can generate with that physique. By the time he grasped his lapels and sang: 'I'm the great I am' I was giddy with joy.

A few people have had criticised the video - I read some snooty comments about the scarecrows - and I have to admit I was hoping to see more of the diamond-skulled spaceman we glimpse tumbling into a black star.

Still, the main theme - the girl with the tail, the dancers, the solitary candle - is a feast for me. I have seen an awful lot of modern dance through H's work, and it's rare that I take such pleasure in it. I suppose it works here because I can easily picture David passing an afternoon stood in his attic, shivering and jerking, communing telepathically with writhing scarecrows on distant worlds.

Welcome back Bowie. It's a treat to be humming your stuff again.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Ian Fleming's voodoo spectre

Halloween was the perfect night to take in Spectre. James Bond always makes a good watch this time of year. He's the closest thing we British have to a Voodoo Loa spirit.

Bond personifies an idea of British power and prestige that is long dead - but the lure of his Church endures. Generations of Priests, from Hamilton to Mendes, summon him again and again, outfitting him with the potent symbols of tux, car and watch. Like a good congregation we assemble in the dark cinema space, hypnotised by his convulsions, his theatre of fire and blood - however absurd and superstitious it may seem in the light of day, however gruelling the 140 minute ritual may be.

As a spirit, there seems no way to kill Bond. Austin Powers weakened him, briefly, by making a joke of his myth - but Bond simply took possession of a new body and rose again, relying more than ever on the compelling power of his sacred songs, dances and modes of service. There are countless "just shoot him" moments in Spectre, but Bond's congregation don't care. These traditions are part of the rite. Villains no longer even require a plan; they are a symbol, part of the service, to be banished by the Bond Loa to the realm of the dead.

Bond's is a vain, violent, trickster spirit, yet his appeal only grows. His mysteries withstand reality, making him our very own island cult, as powerful and notorious as Haiti's.

Can his spirit ever be crushed? Perhaps some misguided future Priest will attempt to change his rites, and break the spell. Maybe his altars will become so obscured by merchandise that the spirit is forgotten, snuffed out.

Perhaps only Baron Samedi can say for sure. He certainly had a good laugh on that train...