The erstwhile David Jones is often described as a musical chameleon. This is nonsense.
A chameleon blends in with its surroundings to avoid detection; David Bowie never blended in with his surroundings.
He was always far too outré and innovative for that. With his shock of orange hair and stagey make-up, Ziggy Stardust could never have been seen as that guy at the party that no-one claims to have noticed. The wasted, skeletal form of the Thin White Duke was just as enthralling, in the same way as slow-motion footage of crash test dummies is weirdly captivating. Heck, even the beard he sported in his Tin Machine phase was ahead of its time, pre-emoting hipsterism by nearly two decades. A chameleon he was not.
In fact, people – fans – tried to blend in with him, copying his clothes, hairstyles and so on, but by the time people did that, he'd already moved onto some other equally evocative reimagining of himself. Well, that is until he vanished – whoosh! – like the Goblin King character of the beloved Muppet-fest that was ‘Labyrinth’.
But, at 68, maybe he really is a chameleon after all.
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Bowie is now officially of what most people think of as a sensible retirement age. With his more leisurely release schedule and a rather long vacation from the music scene, Bowie is finally blending in with other people of his age group. We might well think of his recent uptick in album releases as a bit like your retired father deciding that, actually, sitting about the house and doing the crossword all day waiting for ‘Countdown’ isn't all it's cracked up to be; ‘The Next Day’ and ‘Blackstar’ effectively represent Bowie getting himself a part-time job.
This latest, undoubtedly deliberate and conscious reinvention of himself shall, therefore, be henceforth known as Bowie’s B&Q period.
It's not exactly what he did before – the old trade, so to speak – but a slightly different job; something that allows him to keep his hand in and keep himself busy, using some of the skills he learned during his more active working years without needing to trouble himself with all of the various hassles and inconveniences of his most productive years.
He may not know where you can find the rawlplugs or energy-saving lightbulbs necessarily, but he still does a pretty decent job of it all told, switched on to new trends and pretty good at thinking creatively even though no-one really expects him to do that any longer. His colleagues all think he's a dependable, likeable, if occasionally uncompromising sort, though he doesn't exactly talk much and no-one really feels like they've got to know him terribly well.
Bowie’s decidedly low-key return to music should, of course, be celebrated. Clearly it's great to have such a looming musical figure back in business, and right now he seems to be doing a passable job of not destroying his legacy with woefully sub-par albums that detract from his various accomplishments.
Many artists returning from extended and possibly self-enforced hibernation seem to flounder, caught between trying to showcase something new while recognising that the real value lies in drawing careful attention to the back catalogue. Bowie is remarkably self-assured in this regard, somehow walking that perilous tightrope with complete conviction, still finding new routes to creativity without damaging anything he did before, and still with just as much carefully-controlled mystery and intrigue as ever.
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David Bowie's new album 'Blackstar' is set to be released on January 8th.
Words: Mat Smith (@DocEvidence)