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 A Dose of 'Reality'

Blacklight Bar

David Bowie's new album offers only a trace of his past '70s glory.

by Marc Weingarten in Entertainment Weekly

David Bowiehere have you gone, Thin White Duke? Where is that savoir faire, that cool elegance and total command of craft that made you one of rock's most compelling figures all those years ago? There is trace evidence of David Bowie's former self on his new CD, Reality (Sony, $13.99), but certainly not enough to warrant a hearty "hip, hip, hooray!" from long-suffering loyalists who wait in vain for Bowie to throw down with an album that's as worthy as his brilliant work of the '70s.

David Bowie - RealityReality's core flaw is the same one that has marred Bowie's work since 1993's Black Tie White Noise: studio-slick production that drowns even the best musical ideas in digitally processed canola oil. Bowie simply couldn't stop tinkering with his arrangements, piling on so many synthesized strings, chiming guitars, and reverb-heavy bass lines that they begin to take on the awful sheen of remedial '80s pop. Surprising, then, to find that Reality was co-produced by Tony Visconti, the man in the control booth during the making of great Bowie records like Low and Heroes. If any musical icon could benefit from the indi-rock analog treatment, it's Bowie (paging Steve Albini...).

The writing on Reality is an improvement over Bowie's previous few albums -- less banal, more heartfelt. A handful of the songs seem to address post-9/11 emotional and spiritual dislocation. "I lost God in a New York Minute/I don't know about you but my heart's not in it," Bowie sings on "Looking for Water." On "New Killer Star," he witnesses a "great white scar over Battery Park" and tries to find some solace in "the stars in your eyes." But it's not until the last track that Bowie proves he's still capable of summoning some of the eerie drama of yore. An after-hours elegy for club crawlers, "Bring Me the Disco King" slinks seductively to pianist Mike Garson's tinkling angularities and a brushed snare, and features Bowie at his crooning, brooding best. Ground control to Major Tom: Ditch the the new reality and go back to the old school.C+ 

 Midnight Ramblers

Blacklight Bar

The Rolling Stones certainly have a helluva story to
tell -- but maybe they're just not the ones to tell it.

by Malcolm Jones in Newsweek

According to the Rolling Stonest's not surprising that Keith Richards is the most interesting talker in According to the Rolling Stones (Chronicle Books, $28), the band's own oral history and coffee-table photo book. In interviews, he's always been the most thoughtful, the funniest and certainly the frankest member of the group. (Best Keith line here: "I've always thought of songs as gifts that just arrive... I mean, after all, I'm the guy that wrote 'Satisfaction' in my sleep.") What does raise an eyebrow is that the second most interesting person in this book is not Mick Jagger but Prince Rupert Loewenstein, their business manager.

Prince Rupert is one of the people (Don Was, Sheryl Crow, Ahmet Ertegun) whose testimony is tossed into the book periodically to break up the round-robin story the band itself tells. He's the one who explains, although not this bluntly, that as their record sales have stagnated, touring on a global scale has become more of a financial imperative, as have merchandising, corporate sponsorship and licensing. (Remember Rolling Stones Visa and MasterCards?) He probably didn't mean to, but the prince has put his finger on the Stones' biggest problem. Their creative energy these days all goes toward things like stage designs that can be seen from the back of a football stadium. So, while they haven't managed to put out of first-rate single in a quarter century, they've gotten very good at selling the Rolling Stones.

According to the Rolling Stones, their latest piece of merchandise, comes from Chronicle Books, publisher of the best-selling Beatles Anthology, which was clearly the inspiration for this book. The problem the Stones have is that, unlike the Beatles, they've never gone away. So they have no nostalgia to capitalize on and precious few new stories. There may be fans who have not wasted quite as much of their lives as this reviewer has reading about the death of Brian Jones, Altamont or Keith's '80s feud with Mick, but it's doubtful. And the surprises (Jagger, ever the contrarian, doesn't care much for Exile on Main Street) are just too few. Reading this book is like hearing some late-period Stones turkey like "Emotional Rescue" on the radio for the umpteenth time: you expect more from the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band. 

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