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Felt - Forever Breathes the Lonely Word Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the misanthropic pop perfection of the indie British band’s sixth and best album.
In November 1986, a writer for NME visited the flat of indie-pop enigma Lawrence. The mononymous musician lived in a quiet suburb outside of Birmingham, England, alone except for a collection of records, a set of first edition Kerouac paperbacks, and enough cleaning products to stock a small hospital ward. “A platoon of Airwick Solids stoically occupy strategic vantage points; the toilet bowl harbors not the usual one, but a breeding pair of those Cartland-pink santisers; a wicker basket provides a mass grave for spent aerosol air fresheners.” Since he rarely left the antiseptic apartment, Lawrence explained that his days were typically spent wasting time with mundane activities, like assiduously washing his floppy brown hair.





David Bowie - Glastonbury 2000 Music Album Reviews

The workmanlike renditions of hits he hadn’t played in years don’t rank among his best live takes, but there’s still a thrill in revisiting this curious point in the shape-shifting star’s career.

According to many British music publications, David Bowie’s headlining set at the Glastonbury Festival in 2000 is the greatest performance in the history of the legendary event. (NME, ever effusive, called it “the best headline slot at any festival ever.”) But it’s greatest that’s doing the work here, not performance. It’s not individual highlights that make the set so fondly remembered, but the overall gestalt. Like the old saw about climbing Everest, Bowie’s Glasto set mattered because it was there.

By the time he took to the Pyramid Stage, Bowie had spent 15-odd years in the mainstream-music wilderness—first, post-Let’s Dance, making milquetoast megapop no one particularly liked, then rebuilding his reputation with experiments in everything from Pixies-inspired garage rock (Tin Machine) to concept-album Eno-industrial (Outside) to a Nine Inch Nails/Goldie hybrid version of drum ’n’ bass (Earthling). Different people liked these experiments at different times and in different amounts, though never at the level of his 1970s and early-1980s output. (Earthling rules, for what it’s worth.) During much of that period, his greatest hits were largely retired from service in his live sets.

But now, with a generosity of spirit as lush and flowing as his hair—which hadn’t been that long since Hunky Dory—Bowie was back! Resplendently coiffed and backed by a familiar band of musicians (including pianist Mike Garson, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, and guitarists Mark Plati and Earl Slick, all of whom worked with the star for years), the once and future king of art pop was welcomed by the sprawling home-country crowd like Arthur Pendragon returning from Avalon.

The resulting set is an ebullient greatest-hits package anyone who was ever a fan is sure to enjoy, almost automatically. Actually, make that mostly automatically. How Bowie performed songs like “China Girl,” “Changes,” “Golden Years,” “Ashes to Ashes” (which he misremembers aloud as being the most recently recorded song in the set at that point, though he’d already sung “Absolute Beginners”), “Let’s Dance,” and so on is much less important, both historically and to the festival audience, than the fact he was playing them at all. And sure enough, none of these hits—not even the surefire crowd-pleaser “Under Pressure,” which he’d dueted on so memorably with Annie Lennox at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert a decade earlier—do anything more special in this performance than exist.

The band works much better when the material allows it to lean into its sleazy, session-pro sound. “Fame,” the John Lennon lost-weekend plastic-funk collab that seems to leave a trail of slime across eardrums whenever it’s played, sounds as dashing and debauched as ever. Recorded when Bowie was just a few months deeper into both 1975 and cocaine psychosis, the teutonic-occult behemoth “Station to Station” is another standout. Both the off-kilter groove of its main section and the barreling braukeller climax, with its guitar squalls and yelps of “It’s too late!,” feel made for massive crowds. (Which, as far as the Thin White Duke persona of that period is concerned, was sort of the point.) Moreover, hearing Bowie warble Kabbalistic jargon like “one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth” to said massive crowd serves as a helpful reminder that he remained, even then, one of the weirdest people ever to achieve festival-headlining success.

The anthems also fare comparatively well. Sterling Campbell’s drums and Mark Plati’s guitars on “Ziggy Stardust,” for example, hit each downbeat in the song’s legendary glam hook so hard that it’s like they’re trying to beat the doomed pop-star character’s crazed fans back down off the stage. It’s immediately followed by another of Bowie’s career-defining hits, “‘Heroes’,” which has achieved an iconic second life of its own in the “David Bowie Is…” museum exhibit and Julien Temple’s Glastonbury documentary. Bowie and company ease into this one, downplaying the desperate romance and holding the soaring Robert Fripp guitars back until after the second chorus; by the time Bowie scream-sings “I, I will be king/nd you, you will be myyyy queen”—adding the possessive pronoun to deepen the connection between himself and the audience, to whom he reaches an outstretched arm on the DVD—they’ve taken to the skies and don’t set down again until the song ends.

Occasionally, intimacy works in his favor, which is no mean feat in front of a 150,000-person festival crowd. The set opens with his Station to Station cover of the Johnny Mathis ballad “Wild Is the Wind,” a terrific way to throw people who want to rock the fuck out off balance. After regaling the audience with a plea to sing for him should his recent bout of laryngitis prevent him from finishing—a charming bit of openly bogus self-effacement, given the brassy late-career warble he’d already deployed for four songs—Bowie drastically rearranges the vocal line on “Life on Mars?” to suit his aged range. Listeners inured to the song’s grandeur by decades of repetition now have to hang on to every word and note to see where it’s headed. It’s a brilliant maneuver by one of rock’s canniest communicators.

But more often, such shifts weaken the songs’ power. The rip-roaring disco/hard-rock hybrid “Stay” comes across like a soundcheck in its too-quiet chorus, and “Under Pressure” is underplayed to its detriment. Understandably, Bowie fares better in the set’s happily confrontational closer, “I’m Afraid of Americans,” which makes his lower range sinister and sneering—a far cry from the back-to-back bangers “Rebel Rebel” and “Little Wonder,” recorded nearly 25 years apart, neither of which bang much at all as presented here.

Whatever its historical import, Glastonbury 2000 is primarily a pleasant run-through of beloved songs for a gigantic, besotted crowd—a signal to people who were dying to love David again that, yes, he wanted to be adored. The DVD that accompanies the CD package conveys both the awe-inspiring size of that crowd and the excitement they and the artist shared about being there that night, making it almost certainly the proper way to experience the set. But compared to other official live Bowie releases, from the coke-addled craziness of the Diamond Dogs-era David Live to the far more muscular A Reality Tour set recorded a few years after Glastonbury… Well, as an album, this makes a helluva souvenir. It’s a chronicle of a particular moment in time, not a revealing glimpse of movement in a mercurial artist’s storied career. You kinda had to be there.

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