David Bowie By the Threes: A 50-Year Retrospective, Part 2
2003: Bowie's Last Transmission...?
By 2003, Bowie had performed his final reinvention. After delving into industrial, electronica, jungle, and drum and bass music in the late '90s, including tours with Nine Inch Nails and Bowie dressing like some kind of British cyberpunk techno-rebel, Bowie let it all hang out. He stripped away the experimentation and started wearing the stylish three-piece suits he's now known for. He quit hiding his age behind dyed hair and makeup.
Musically, he moved into a classicist sound, recording good, solid rock music with an indie flavor to it. This was no longer innovative music, but it was the strongest music Bowie had recorded in many years. Two thousand two saw the release of Heathen, featuring covers of the Pixies, a lot of introspection, some harder rock, and a lot of throwbacks to the sound people most loved from him.
Heathen saw Bowie's commercial horizons expanding once again. It was seen as a major comeback, both in terms of sales and critical reception. With the release of the album, Bowie described himself as a "realist" and the songs reflected that newfound attitude of acceptance and forthrightness in his life.
Fittingly, Bowie released an album titled Reality in 2003. Picking up where Heathen left off, it is in my opinion the strongest Bowie album recorded since Scary Monsters in 1980. Reality is a strong summation of Bowie's career up to that point, taking a stark look at it as a whole and describing his evolution, his time on the top and his eventual death in frank terms.
Reality was the seeming punctuation mark on Bowie's career, closing out with an extended eight-minute track inspired by lounge-jazz called "Bring Me the Disco King" that seemed to be saying goodbye and ultimately accepting that Bowie had reached the peak of his career and, indeed, the end of it.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, that seemed to be it for Bowie. He launched a massive world tour starting in 2003 and ending in 2004 when he suffered a cardiac episode that required immediate surgery. Then everything went dark.
Bowie disappeared for the next decade, leaving behind a song or a performance here and there and not much else. Most felt that Bowie's career was not only over, but that he was satisfied with retirement. After all, if one could choose an album to end their career with, Reality was a more than adequate cap to a long, brilliant run.
But as you all know, 2013 marks Bowie's return to recording to put another entry into the book. Will it be as great as his previous records? Will it be worth coming back to, or should he just have left off with Reality? We'll find out in March. But one thing's for sure, you should never count the man out.