‘Lazarus' – Original Cast Recording (including the Most Recent Studio Recordings from David Bowie)

So here I sit on a Sunday, nearly 48 hours after my first chance to listen to what many are billing as the last new David Bowie studio recordings have been available for me to play from CD, and I still haven’t been able to listen. I mean, if I listen to them will I ever get to hear anything new and unheard from the man ever again? Maybe not, but then again maybe yes. We know there is Bowie stuff in the vaults, we know other songs were recorded for ‘Blackstar’, and a read of a Danny McCaslin interview in the current music monthlies confirm that there is at least one more mixed and mastered complete track that has not been swept up in this release and also that these tracks whilst recorded during the ‘Blackstar’ sessions with the same band were not necessarily the last ones recorded, hence I’m referring to them here as the Most Recent Studio Recordings from David Bowie as the packaging itself does, not the final or last etc. So, with that in mind I’m ready to listen. Bowie unleashed these three songs into the world via ‘Lazarus’ the musical first so that’s how I’m going to hear them first, cast recordings then onto Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ band recordings.


‘No Plan’ at track six is the first to appear, sung by Sophia Anne Caruso. It sounds like a show tune, almost Disney Princess like, a song of aspiration for peace and calm outside of the realities of the world, to soothe and ease. ‘Killing A Little Time’ (tr.12) sung by Michael C. Hall is more recognisable as a song from the pen of Bowie, there’s anger and desire to be alone but in a far different way from ‘No Plan’. People will analyse the lyrics as more death song from Bowie, but remember these were written for ‘Lazarus’ the musical, purpose written to expand on the story being told, so the lines ‘I've got a handful of songs to sing, To sting your soul, To fuck you over’ might not be self-referencing, or maybe they’re knowingly double edged? ‘When I Met You’ (tr.18) is delivered by Hall again with Krystina Alabado, it displays plenty of Bowie-esque rock song construction traits and an intertwining lyric of the effect of one person on another in a life changing way. The three tracks here in Original Cast form have certainly got me wanting to hear the Bowie versions even more and stand up us great music in their own right.

The Bowie disc kicks off with ‘Lazarus’ itself, the only ‘Blackstar’ track that appears in the musical, so we’re already familiar with it and its creepy, sad and humbling video. The ‘By the time I got to New York, I was living like a king…’ line is already up there with some of my favourite Bowie moments, lyrically, aurally and visually. This is the same album version, a fantastic song and prepares the way after listening to the Cast Recordings for the Bowie ‘Blackstar’ band versions of the three songs above that follow in exactly the same order.  ‘Lazarus’ grinds to halt in its familiar way and ‘No Plan’ staggers in, here it’s shorn of its show tune stylings and sounds like it could’ve fitted into ‘Blackstar’ seamlessly, and more crushingly really sound like a message from beyond the grave from Bowie (I hate to draw that picture, it sounds too easy to say that, but that’s what it sounds like). How could lines like ‘Here, there's no music here, I'm lost in streams of sound, Here, am I nowhere now? No plan’ sound like anything else? A sister track to ‘Where Are We Now?’ though fuller and more fleshed out, after one listen its effect on me is more emotional than anything from ‘Blackstar’ on first listen, but then Bowie was still alive when I first played that album. ‘Killing A Little Time’ has already been written about as a nod to Bowie’s past (Ziggy type chiming guitar refrains etc.) and whilst that is there it’s also infused with the restless energy and spirit that informed ‘Blackstar’ to its roots. It’s far rockier than anything from that album, much more in line with the latter parts of ‘The Next Day’ album, but for me I would still have loved it to have been sequenced into ‘Blackstar’, it would definitely have complemented the album rather than jarred against it, perhaps at track 4 following ‘Lazarus’? Then ‘When I Met You’, (for now?) the last new Bowie song we may get to hear. Not cast here as a semi-duet, Bowie wrestles the vocal counterparts against his own deep in the mix backing vocals, it’s hard to see where this could have fit into ‘Blackstar’ though I’d still have liked it to form a part of a 10-track album. It’s thrilling, a little clunky, disordered, punky, untidy and all the more perfect for it. It’s a great affirmation that Bowie was creatively right back on it in his final years which make it all the sadder as we’d all’ve liked to see what might have happened next.

So, this final EP of four Bowie songs finishes, it is worthy of being a final offering, it’s strong and there’s no let up of the quality of the more recent Bowie recordings. I think ‘Blackstar’ would have been strengthened with the inclusion of these tracks, though perhaps made slightly more imperfect, but then that’s the charm of these songs by definition. They are great, but they can’t be perfect, because a full stop to Bowies life, career, music and creativity is hard to accept as perfect or faultless through the negative aspects of what those very words imply. But if you’ve enjoyed latter-day Bowie or simply clever, intuitive, finely crafted modern day alternative rock then you’ll love these songs. 

Pixies - 'Head Carrier' - a review

Thirty years since they formed, the Pixies release their sixth album proper, the second since reforming in 2004 and the first since then recorded as an album (2014’s ‘Indie Cindy’ was a collection of EP’s). Despite the stop and slow start nature of their career trajectory there is still a flow to their recordings, not least visibly as British designer Vaughan Oliver heads the design of their releases still. And there is a flow in the music too.

Image result for vaughan oliver

Still nurturing the bass heavy beats and highly influential style of indie rock that they did all those years ago, ‘Head Carrier’ opens with its title track which could have been lifted from almost any point of their recording life. Lyrically not as dense as earlier songs this still manages to carry off being a song about a guy who is beheaded by a three headed monster but who then carries his head six miles down to the river before dying. ‘Classic Masher’ attempts to be just that, it’s a foot stomper with a much simpler lyric and though original bassist Kim Deal has departed, replacement Paz Lenchantin reproduces her style and backing vocal ability easily (the Pixies only do female bassists with ebullient childlike backing vocals). ‘Baal’s Back’ is much more screamy Pixies, and to me is all the better for it. The Pixies have always stood out more when at their most challenging and noisy, but this soon gives way to the more ordered ‘Might As Well Be Gone’, promising a classic Pixies quiet loud quiet ploy however it stays quiet (well melodic anyway) even as the chorus kicks in. ‘Oona’ channels its inner ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ vibe carrying it off very nicely and underlines the intent of the band to try and outperform their own best, 1989’s ‘Doolittle’. They don’t carry it off it has to be said, but this collection sits there at least with the two albums that followed ‘Doolittle’ as the original incarnation never really managed to surpass that albums promise. ‘Talent’ is again more formula Pixies, it’s OK but it’s not standout.

The albums second half (side two?) kicks off with ‘Tenement Song’ and is the most mildly paced bit of music here so far. Like many of the songs so far it’s a piece of music about music, again, it’s not bad, but it doesn’t smell of classic either. And so it is with ‘Bel Esprit’. ‘All I Think About Now’ is the song that most steals from the band past here, which says something as its sung by the bands newest member and is basically a thank you letter to founding member Kim Deal. It’s a lovely tribute, and an album highlight. As is ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ the albums lead single. When I first heard this back in July I was little (shrug of the shoulders’ ‘OK…?’, but this track has grown on me, it’s a bit more mindless, heads down boogie, and benefits from not being overthought. The album reels to a rapid close with ‘Plaster of Paris’ and ‘All The Saints’. One a sprightly pop song and the other an interesting half song. And after 34 minutes the album is over. It doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, and in that sense it is a proper album in the classic sense of the art form.


On first listen, I was a little underwhelmed by ‘Head Carrier’, there seemed to be not enough memorable about it, and the band seemed too self-referential. A couple of listens later and without concentrating on it fully there seemed to be an approachable easy feel to things, the hooks were coming through. Sitting down and listening to it properly again I’m certainly more appreciative than I was on first listen. Though for me, ‘Indie Cindy’, the album that wasn’t an album was more the sound of a band pushing themselves to be relevant far more than ‘Head Carrier’ is, it’s still good, but not career defining and not the masterpiece that many long-time Pixies fans would’ve hoped for, not even really paving the way for a masterpiece next time out. But that is the joy and unpredictability of music, who’s to say that Pixies album number seven won’t be chock full of great tunes and crazy words? Here’s hoping.