Tag Archives: David Bowie

Best Albums of 2016 – Part One

It’s that time of year again, when music bloggers go through the year’s releases and highlight the best of the year. The usual caveats apply; these are the best records of 2016 I’ve actually had the chance to hear. I only have a finite CD budget, and even though I’m a part-time music writer, not every record company sends me free promos.

We’ll start with 25 to 11. Except that they’re not ranked in any order, because that would be next to impossible.

Update Because I missed out one record by mistake, this year’s list now goes up to 26. You will have to guess which one it was yourselves.

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David Bowie, Suede, Mantra Vega, Steven Wilson, Dream Theater, Megadeth. Can anyone remember so many high-profile releases in January?

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Giles Fraser, David Bowie and Adolf Eichmann

I’m often in two minds about Giles Fraser’s columns in The Guardian. He’s always thought provoking, sometimes insightful, but sometimes completely wrong.

His unwavering humanitarianism and willingness to speak truth to power can be genuinely prophetic, especially when he speaks about subjects such as the current refugee crisis. Rather less attractive is his anti-science and anti-technology Luddism, which can be as deeply reactionary as his humanitarianism is progressive.

His recent joyless piece on Bowie was one of the worst things I’ve read on the subject; Giles Fraser came over as claiming Bowie was bad because he sang about space, and that was a sinful distraction from more important things. Keep your head down and focus on your chores, rather than look up to the sky or dare to dream. He compounded that by singing the praises of Paul Weller and Billy Bragg, who set gritty social realist lyrics to what to my ears was always drab and colourless music. I have never had much time for puritanism, in whatever form it manifests.

His piece published on Holocaust Memorial Day about the last letter from convicted war criminal Adolf Eichmann is on far more solid ground.

“There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders,” Eichmann’s letter pleaded. “I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”

In other words: not my fault, I was only obeying orders. His self-delusion was unassailable, even at the end. Eichmann’s request was denied and two days later he was hanged in Ramla prison.

In her famous account of the trial, the philosopher Hannah Arendt described Eichmann as a small-minded functionary, more concerned with the managerial hows of his job than the moral or existential whys. According to Arendt, Eichmann wasn’t a man for asking difficult questions, he just got on with the job of managing timetables and calculating travel costs – thus her famous phrase “the banality of evil

I can’t help but think yet again of Iain Duncan-Smith’s regime at The Department of Work and Pensions. No, his treatment of the disabled, callous and inhumane as it is, cannot be compared in scale to the industrialised mass murder of eleven million people. But when it comes to the banality of evil, and the indifference to suffering caused as a direct result of his actions because it all happens out of sight, the parallels are obvious.

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David Bowie

All day my social media feeds have been pretty much nothing but tributes to David Bowie, who died just four days after releasing his final album.

You know you have a seriously doughnut-shaped record collection when one of the giants of 20th and 21st century music passes on and you realised don’t own a single one of their records. But his biggest hits were still stuck in my head this morning, “Life on Mars”, “Space Oddity”, “Starman”, “Heroes”. His standards are part of the air we breathe. And his artistic legacy is woven into the DNA of just about every genre of popular music that came after him. To quote Matt Stevens, he’s in the same league as Miles Davis and The Beatles.

Like Lemmy, David Bowie was a one-off who did it his way without following trends. One thing that made him unique was they way he stood outside and above narrow musical tribes; he simultaneously belonged to nobody and to everybody. He combined both ground-breaking style and genuine musical substance in a way unmatched by anyone else. He left whole genres in his wake; artists who based their entire sound around just one period in his ever-changing output after Bowie himself had moved on to something else. He also had great taste in musicians to act as a foil. Just look at the guitarists he worked with over the years; Mick Ronson, Robert Fripp, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nile Rogers, Earl Slick.

Even though I’ve never been a hardcore fan, it’s difficult to imagine popular music without him. So enough of those who would police other people’s grief, whether it’s a snobbish disdain or some elitist claim of exclusive ownership as a “true fan”. It’s one of those times when if you have nothing positive to say, it’s better saying nothing. Music clearly never touched some people’s souls, even if when some of them started their writing careers supposedly as a music critics. Can’t they even sit on their self-righteous thinkpieces for a couple of days?

David Bowie was one of the true greats, whose work had a huge impact on music and on wider culture. Let us celebrate and remember that.

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