No Plan EP – (The Final Studio Recordings)
The sad sub-title is quite a proclamation. Chronologically these may well be the last recordings of The Thin White Duke. But there surely will be further unreleased studio material to be put out, in time. Here we have distilled drops of tortured beauty, embellished by the NY jazzers that Bowie fell in with in his final years. Co-produced by David and Tony Visconti, these pieces surely sound as Bowie would have wanted them heard. That cannot be said for the Hendrix legacy or indeed Bob Marley’s, among many other artists.
Bowie is credited with acoustic and Fender guitars and vocals ; sax and flute Donny McCaslin, keys Jason Lindner, bass Tim Lefebvre, drums Mark Guiliana, guitar Ben Monder. The star design sleeve is complemented by a lovely shot of Bowie laughing by Jimmy King.
Lazarus uses a sombre, solid beat and ringing guitar motif, with electric piano and woodwind seeping in. It’s like a film score. The Bowie vocal is measured and punctuated fuzz guitar chord stabs. The music seems to float along..” I’ve Got Nothing Left To Lose “ he sings. The ensemble horn passages are almost funereal but the drums by contrast are lively, seeking, unsettled. The passion grows in David’s singing, he seems desparate that we understand his message. The sax cruises on a pronounced delay setting, chased by the drums as Pharaoh Sanders trills give way to ambient guitar notes. Is that a chill wind blowing in the background ? Sure sounds like it. At 6:18 it is gone
No Plan again sounds filmic, a steady beat introduces the piece. Bowie sounds as though he is in Outer Space, calm and knowing. The eerie keyboard strings patch coos in the background. The bass sounds stealthy and somewhat unsure. The chords shift a semi-tone this way and that. The song never settles but pursues a cyclic path, playing with the reverbs, such night-time music, sounding dark-blue..
Killing A Little Time snarls into earshot, the fuzz guitar pushing and prodding and the drums rockier. Bowie sings in a world-weary voice..”this rage in me “. The chordal pattern heaves along and the sax almost belligerent as if vying to impart important news. Notwithstanding all this, a beautiful melody pervades this nagging song. Then it’s gone.
When I Met You has an urgency underlined by the semi-martial drumming. The bass seems certain of its path, other instrumentation less so. That unique voice “I was the walking dead” he intones, as the impossibly romantic song builds, layered vocal adding to the tension. It is at once Other Worldly yet so affecting, so feet-on-the-ground. But juxtaposition was always one of Bowie’s strong suits. He never lost that or his mystery.
David Bowie’s No Plan EP – ‘The Final Studio Recordings’ is out now on Columbia/Sony.