David Bowie

Reality (ISO/Columbia)

At this late date, only the acolytes await the latest Bowie release, the casual fan having been waved off by slow sellbacks masquerading as Low comebacks every few years. He'll never be as artistically rewarding as he was during the '70s or as commercially viable as he was in the '80s; it's a fact of life, sad if you want to be sentimental about it but realistic if you prefer to be pragmatic in this age of scary pop monsters young enough to be his grandkids roaming the charts. Fine with him, of course, as it frees him up to write about being a middle-aged man ("Never Get Old," as if) without fear of cash-register retribution. Like Dylan, he now proffers the oblique sneak peek into his life without giving away too much, only enough to pretend there's autobiography in those falsehoods. If you care, you care a lot; if not, you couldn't be bothered and shouldn't be blamed, not when the best songs on his last album were Pixies and Neil Young covers anyway.

Same goes here, with George Harrison-via-Ronnie Spector ("Try Some, Buy Some") and Jonathan Richman ("Pablo Picasso") standing tall among the sit-down rockers, who do the middle-aged shuffle without really breaking a sweat -- save the title track, at least till he starts singing about how "tragic youth was looking young and sexy," and then you just want to turn away from the man singing into the mirror. Problem is, all you've really got here is a batch of well-done come-and-go-and-gone songs and not singles, which, despite the concepts and costumes of decades past, was where Bowie thrived -- ya know, the anthemic arena sing-along, the dance-floor chant, the space-age boogie. Hate to say it, but Bowie thrived before he figured out how to sing, much less dance; now he's just showing off without much to show for it.

 
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