A new David Bowie single
Last Tuesday around 7.30 am I heard Radio 4 talking about a new single from David Bowie and what a surprise this was. It was apparently making digital waves across social media. They played a snippet. Bowie has never been a central musical figure for me, though I like his glam period, so I haven’t followed his career for sometime. My first impression was how fragile Bowie sounded, and that it was a slow ballad with seemingly nothing out of the ordinary going on. But something about the fragility of the voice piqued my curiosity to hear the song in full and watch its video. A few hours later I found ‘Where Are We Now’ on the web. It was an unexpectedly moving experience.
I haven’t had the opportunity to fully analyse the chord progression, but a couple of listens have made it clear that the verse is in F major and the chorus in C, so there’s a key contrast. This is achieved in a smooth and seamless manner. It’s only when the chorus drops to Em (second chord) from F that you realise it must have changed. The chords of the verse are more complex than first hearing suggests. It is also clear that slash chords and inversions are also playing a part in the expressive effect. The song also makes a seamless transition to an emotional last section which is also a surprise climax. Bowie could easily have milked this, go on repeating it and added more and more to the production, but he shows great taste in just singing this section twice and then backing off. It’s under-stated.
It’s a song soaked with elegiac feeling, as Bowie recounts fragments of his life in Berlin 30 years ago, a Berlin which itself has changed greatly. The video is haunting too. It’s a song that feels like a generational milestone. For people who were teenagers when they discovered Hunky Dory or Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane it seems almost unbelievable that Bowie can be in his mid-60s. As he once sang, time is waiting in the wings …