February 2017 was the one year anniversary of both David Bowie’s death and the release of his final album Blackstar.
Rock is a medium saturated with milestones for retrospection. Anniversary editions = repackage our old favourites and resell them to ‘£50 Man’ and his nostalgia filled middle age spread. And we’re buying.
As I make my first entry into this blog I’m listening to the No Plan EP Bowie (or Bowie’s people) put out to celebrate his birthday one year on, it occurs to me this little vanity site is my ‘Remasters’. I’m Jimmy Page curating my record collection as if it were my life’s work. My opinions are about to get the remixed, remastered and expanded treatment.
I’m replacing pub conversations from two decades ago about the best Mudhoney album or who is more punk, Patti Smith or Debbie Harry with one sided virtual chatter. Feel free to argue with me or buy me a virtual pint in the comments sections below.
No Plan is excellent though. The brevity of an EP means you give every track full credit, no chance of filler when each song is a quarter of the release.
So Lazarus is a Blackstar album track. In old money we’d call this the A-Side. It’s a chilling epitaph in hindsight. Of course the world first heard it while Bowie was still with us… Just. The lyric ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’ set the tone for the Blackstar album, for this EP and for the last 12 months of Bowie fandom. ‘Ain’t that just like me?’
No Plan itself is the track Bowie wants you to hear one year on from his death. It must’ve been hell to sing it in his dying month, but mentally Zavid is already on the other side. Dour and mournful jazz is sprinkled with stardust and beautiful lilting 80’s inflected keys. ‘Here is my place without a plan’ he sings swoonfully. A torchsong in every sense.
When I Met You can be interpreted as a love letter to his fans. It can also be taken as a straight ballad with a groovey bassline and semi acoustic beat generation twist. Again it’s introspection is painful to bear when he’s so recently passed, but the vocal layers and call and response chorus lift the song to a brighter mood.
It doesn’t feel like he’s been gone a year as there has been a constant trickle of live tributes, cover versions and documentaries keeping him centre stage throughout 2016 (the year Death picked it’s own greatest hits playlist)
Killing a Little Time is the No Plan EP’s ace in the hole. It’s a noisy garage band rumble. It’s fun in a proto heavy metal way, it’s throwaway teenage angst performed by a band old enough to remember Rock’s infancy. It’s back to basics, it’s a reminder why anyone ever got hooked on the rush of Keith Richards, Tony Iommi or Wanye Kramer ripping into their instrument. It could veer into emo were it not for the woodwind section and the goth tuning. The Goblin King is just as big a part of Bowie’s legacy as The Thin White Duke and Ziggy Stardust. The heavy rock crowd felt the loss as hard as any other.
For me it speaks loudly about the obvious love of the artform. Despite all the baubles hung on rock and roll, the outsiders finding a home, the performance, the packaging and the rush of a familiar chorus in a crowd it’s fun to kill a little time with this stuff.