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Review: Hallo Spaceboy: The Rebirth of David Bowie January 30, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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David Bowie's "A Reality Tour" - April 22, 2004

Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage.com, according to the metadata that came with the cover image from the ECW website and got automatically dumped in here, so there you go.

ECW Press recently put this book on sale, so I picked it up because it looks at a relatively underchronicled era of David Bowie’s career, after 1980.

Dave Thompson is a very prolific writer. I read a lot of his stuff in Alternative Press, back when that was an alternative rock magazine instead of a mall punk/nu-metal magazine, and I’ve read one or two of his other 80 books. I don’t know how much original research he does; most of his books seem to rely on published sources, like other quickie music books, but he is very much a fan of a lot of the music he writes about, so that compensates a bit. I don’t think he’s a cynical opportunist churning out pages for money. Certainly not in this case, anyway; it’s very clear that he’s a big Bowie fan.

Hallo Spaceboy seems to exist to argue that there’s a lot of good Bowie music after Scary Monsters, something I’m reasonably inclined to agree with. He looks at the creation of each of the albums, including the Tin Machine period, and while he can be dismissive of some of the material, he argues strongly for a lot of the music.

I think his fanboyism gets the better of him at times. Talking about Bowie’s live albums, he casually dismisses 1978’s Stage as abysmal; while he likes some solo Morrissey, he writes off the Smiths as hopeless. He also, in my opinion, greatly overstates the importance of Tin Machine. I remember that at the time Bowie talked a good talk about being influenced by the likes of Sonic Youth, which seemed promising. But instead of working with anyone like that for Tin Machine, he got a couple of ’70s rockers and Reeves Gabrels, who seems to have come from more of a proggish background. The result was something that played it a lot safer than Bowie’s “Brancasonic” talk. Clean, disciplined hard rock, without the experimental strangeness I expected. To spin this as the obvious precursor of grunge, as Thompson does, is… well, fanboyish, to use that word again. Nirvana didn’t cover “You Belong in Rock’n’Roll,” they covered “The Man Who Sold the World.”

Still, it’s good to have a book that tells the story of Never Let Me Down, the Glass Spider tour, and so on through the more critically acclaimed Outside, Heathen, and other late comebacks. The book also discusses a lot of soundtrack, movie, and collaborative work I hadn’t been aware of. There’s also a lengthy discography. That doesn’t make The Complete David Bowie or Bowie on Bowie any less necessary, but it complements them.

It’s unfortunate that Hallo Spaceboy ends before The Next Day, never mind Blackstar, but there’s probably another book in the last few years.

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1. [META] Blogroll expansion! | A Bit More Detail - March 9, 2016

[…] Roby, containing short reviews of books, television, and other forms of pop culture. I liked his review of a book on David Bowie that concentrated on the post-Scary Monsters period of his […]


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