Ah. 2016. THE YEAR OF DEATH.
The death of the European dream (or Britain’s part in it). The death of American sanity. And the deaths of too many stars and superstars to count.
It started on 10 January with the passing of David Bowie. What followed was an onslaught: Prince, George Michael, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, Rainbow’s Jimmy Bain, The Beastie Boys’ John Berry and Pete Burns. That’s just some of the musicians. There were others. And then there were all the other actors, comedians, novelists and miscellaneous well known faces from all walks of life.
It would be all too easy (and, it goes without saying, appropriate) to select a song from David Bowie’s farewell long player, Black Star. The particular record is a masterpiece. I sometimes wonder what the collective opinion of the record would have been without the direct association with Bowie’s death a couple of days after release; the record and the artist’s death will be permanent fused together in the mind.
But Black Star very obviously does stand out as a record of immense value outside of its connection with the tragic circumstances of its release. It’s challenging and experimental and raw and intense and incredibly beautiful.
And yet… and yet… I’m not going to pick a song from that album, perhaps because the choice of song would be too difficult. It would be like choosing your favourite square inch of the Mona Lisa. Black Star stands on its own as a single entity to be absorbed in a single hit. Like records always were supposed to be enjoyed.
Instead, I’m going for something from the Beyond the Wizards Sleeve album, The Soft Bounce. And there’s a fair bit to choose from. Where Bowie’s record is a one hit wonder (in that it’s a wonder and you need to take it in one hit), Beyond the Wizards Sleeve’s album is a pick and mix bag of delights (even if they don’t value the use of apostrophes like proper human beings do).
You’ve got the Stereolab-ish ‘Creation’, the mournfully beautiful soundscape of ‘Tomorrow, Forever’ and the freakishly brilliant kaleidoscope of weirdness that is the Jon Savage narrated album closer ‘Third Mynd’.
Somewhere in the midst of this though is ‘Black Crow’. It’s a luscious, heartfelt tale of…well, I’m not really sure what it’s a tale of. But it’s an intense, densely plotted tale involving the Devil coming round for tea and kings sending their subjects on doomed missions. There are deals made and debts that need honouring. Love is offered and rejected – or simply not needed. A sacrifice may be necessary. Oh, and someone has gone to the effort of rendering an image of their father in stencil form.
It’s a whole boxset full of high drama wrapped up in three minutes. Who needs Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Twin Peaks when you’ve got this?
The whole things is delivered via a thrashing of drums, gorgeous strings, trippy beats and haunting echoing vocals. There is nothing to not like about this song. Absolutely nothing.
And you can quote me on that.