Tomorrow night, the Toronto Maple Leafs play their first postseason game in what feels like forever (although it’s been all of nine years). I’m excited, although not quite as excited as I thought I’d be, and I’m a little anxious but on the whole, I’m feeling a little pessimistic: it’s been a long time coming and while Toronto was fun this year, I don’t think any rational person thinks the world of this team.
They’re fun and Kadri’s a blast to watch and there’s usually one or two moments a month where I think Reimer all but steals a game, but I don’t think there’s any way they get past the Bruins, ya know? Toronto’s a team with some serious holes. They don’t control the puck and their Fenwick Close at 43.80% is not good. As recently as April 22, it ranked behind Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Calgary and Florida. They’re a team that allows a ton of shots. And even with one of the better offenses in the league – they scored the 6th most goals in the league – they were scored on a bunch, too: 133 goals allowed, slighting above league average. And that was with James Reimer in net, who’s had one of the best seasons for Leaf goaltender in recent memory.
A short list of albums I like released since the last Leafs postseason appearance: Visions – Grimes; St. Vincent – Strange Mercy; Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall; Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene; Metric – Live it Out
Still, there are a lot of things to look forward to with this series. I don’t expect much from Phil Kessel, who’ll probably have Zdeno Chara up his ass all series long, but maybe Nazim Kadri or James van Riemsdyk will explode in a game or two. Maybe Tuukka Rask won’t have it on the same night Reimer is locked in. Maybe I won’t get tired of hearing about the Kessel trade, the Raycroft trade or any other of the recent history between these two teams. Maybe I’ll even change my tune on Bob Cole once again and decide he hasn’t lost a step and doesn’t get players mixed up.
I suppose anything is possible in the second season and teams have ridden hot goalies to improbable-seeming wins. And Boston did blow a first-round series against a divisional rival not too long ago…
Some people who have died since the last Leafs postseason game: Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Gerald Ford, Jack Layton, Jay Reatard, Evel Knievel, Norman Mailer, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Trish Keenan
Still, if I were going to bet, I’d take Boston. I think the series could end pretty quickly, but my gut’s telling me that Reimer has at least one standout performance in him and I’ve got enough faith in the Leafs to think their offense will better Rask once, too. I hope it’s not on the same night. My biggest worry is if something like this happens:
(CP) Toronto – It took a while, but Boston finally solved the Maple Leafs. Game four of the first round series is likely to be remembered for it’s length, with six sudden-death overtime periods making it one of the longest games in recent history. The clincher came well after midnight, when Nathan Horton put a wrister over the shoulder of Toronto netminder James Reimer to secure a 2-1 victory for the Bruins…
A low-scoring series is what I expect here, even if both teams have good offenses (and Boston’s is stacked, much deeper than Toronto’s). I’ll say Boston in six and hope I’m wrong.
Here’s a short post from the pile of “Stuff I wrote/pitched elsewhere that was passed on.”
Back in 1981, CBS Sports was a mess. This was before they were broadcasting baseball, the Olympics or March Madness, the days when they had NFL football on Sunday, the Masters in the spring and NBA basketball sometime at night. And the on-air presentation wasn’t much better either: maybe you’ve seen some of these broadcasts, which look barebones even by 1980 standards: a few cameras, the bare minimum of on-screen information. And lots and lots of Brent Musberger, their star commentator and host.
That year, CBS Sports lured away a young producer from ABC Sports named Terry O’Neil. Starting as a researcher, O’Neil had worked his way up through ABC Sports and learned how to produce a sports telecast under the legendary Roone Arledge. When he jumped to CBS, he went from a network with Monday Night Football to one that aired a made-for-TV NFL Cheerleader competition. As he writes in his memoir, The Game Behind the Game, CBS was woefully out of touch.
“Their production people had not been introduced to the fundamental techniques of attracting and holding audience. They hadn’t developed personalities among CBS’s star athletes, didn’t heighten interest by reporting real news, didn’t preview their coming events with live cut-ins during a broadcast day.” (pg 82)
And more to the point, they were bleeding young talent: both Al Michaels and Bob Costas fled the network after being repeated passed over for promotion. But things were changing: shortly after they hired O’Neil, CBS landed college basketball, which remains one of their core properties. They renovated the way they presented games, overhauling graphics and the way on-air talent reported during and between events. But O’Neil’s biggest move was about to come.
At the time, CBS’s top broadcasting duo was Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier. The network had decided to break it up for the start of the 1981 season, but wasn’t sure who would go where or make up their new top team. Van Gordon Sauter started pushing for a new color guy, at the time working on regional broadcasts and best known for starring in Miller Lite ads: John Madden. But, as O’Neil relates it, Madden had a quality you couldn’t fake:
“Madden showed promise. At that point, he was not the funny, outrageous Madden America now reveres. He was not doing the ‘boom, bap, whap’ routine yet. But he had something honest, real. The quality was had to define, which made it all the more appealing.” (pg 92)
But the question of who would call the top-market games was still up in the air: Sauter was pushing for Vin Scully, O’Neil for Summerall. Each represented a different way of broadcasting: Scully was a talker, who could (and still does) illustrate a scene with words; Summerall was the opposite, the Raymond Carver of broadcasting, using five words where another would use 15.
“With football’s faster pace,” wrote O’Neil, “there was no time for word pictures and with recent advances in coverage, there was no need. Now add Madden, who had plenty to say and frequently used the full 30 seconds between plays to say it. The combination would be too much. The viewer, I told Sauter, would be wrung out by halftime.” (pg 93)
Eventually, CBS split the difference for 1981: each would partner with Madden for four games and by the end of week eight, CBS would make the final call. And they’d go with Summerall and Madden.
It wasn’t a universally loved combination. Joe LaPointe of Knight-Ridder wrote a column condemning the decision, calling Scully the victim of behind-the-scenes politics. Even if he wasn’t, Scully was biting mad and left CBS for NBC Sports seven months later, becoming their lead baseball voice. And by Super Bowl XVI, one of the most iconic broadcasting duos was set. They’d broadcast together for the next 20 seasons. O’Neil, after a messy spat with Musberger and CBS management was gone by 1987.
Every year I like to make wild and baseless predictions on the NBA playoffs. Usually they’re on Twitter or something, but I wanted to write a few words on each series this time.
1. Heat vs 8. Bucks
Probably not a series that’ll last more than five games. It’s cool how the Bucks snuck into the playoffs while being six games under .500 while out west, while two .500 teams were left out of the playoffs. I expect this one to be over in a hurry. Heat in four.
2. Knicks vs. 7. Celtics
Is Boston/New York a NBA rivalry? I don’t think so, but ESPN and some other places are really hammering at it so who knows, maybe a bunch of people will whip themselves into a petulant frenzy over this series. Again, this is another one that could be over quick: Boston is an aging team that’ll rely a lot on Kevin Garnett and they’re missing Rondo, easily their best player. But New York is also banged up (they’ve got five probables for game one), missing Amare Stoudemire and will be relying hard on Carmelo Anthony. If Boston can keep him under control (and I can see that happening), Boston might be able to squeak this out. Still, I think this is the Knicks series to lose. Knicks in six.
3. Pacers vs 6. Hawks
The Pacers are a tough, defensively minded team that plays an agressive, physical style of basketball. They had the closest thing to a full-on brawl I saw this season and don’t look now, but Roy Hibbert is quickly becoming one of the better young centers in the NBA. And Paul George is a beast, too. Meanwhile, I’m not big on Atlanta: Josh Smith is a gunner (last year in the playoffs he was taking something like 18 shots a game) and Al Horford is another good young center (I’m looking forward to seeing him and Hibbert go at each other, actually) but I like the Pacers a lot in this series. My gut tells me it’ll be ugly, but compelling. Pacers in five.
4. Nets vs 5. Bulls
Two fun-to-watch teams who match up well. First, their SRS are right around each other and second, their defences/offensive ratings make for an interesting match: Chicago’s offence is 23rd in the league, Brooklyn’s defence is 17th; Brooklyn’s offence is eighth, Chicago’s defence is sixth. I do think Chicago has it’s flaws (they’re missing Derrick Rose for sure and maybe Joakim Noah) but they have bright spots, like Carlos Boozer (who I wrote about in January) and Jimmy Butler. The Nets, meanwhile, are great inside (Brook Lopez) and out (Deron Williams) and might make quick work of Chicago. On paper, this could be a close series but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nets tore things up early and often. Nets in five.
1.Thunder vs 8. Rockets
Are the Thunder the best team in the NBA? Well, no, that’s Miami, but they’re a close second. In most years, Kevin Durant’s 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game (not to mention nearly 19 Win Shares) would be enough for serious MVP consideration. It’s only because Miami has been so damn good that he isn’t. I do like some of the subplots to this series – James Harden takes on his old team, will Jeremy Lin explode in the postseason, etc – but let’s be real here: the question is only how many games it’ll take the Thunder to win four and they’ll do it quickly. Thunder in five.
2.Spurs vs 7. Lakers
One the fun end-of-year stories was seeing the Lakers go on a late tear and make the playoffs. It’s too bad it was derailed when Kobe Bryant went down last weekend. True, they still have Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. But San Antonio has Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan. Without Bryant, this one will be over in a hurry. Spurs in four.
3.Nuggets vs 6. Warriors
This’ll probably be the most fun series of the first round: the Nuggets are a blast to watch, score like it’s nobody’s business and have one of the most enjoyable players in the NBA, JaVale McGee. Golden State scores a bunch, too (seventh in the NBA for points-per-game) and Stephen Curry is jacking up 18 shots per game (I expect this will only go up, too). This series will be worth staying up late for and I expect at least one wild shootout. But who will win? I’m going with what I want to see and that’s more McGee. Nuggets in seven.
4.Clippers vs. 5. Memphis
Remember when the Clippers were lob city and everyone loved to watch their sweet jams? And then Blake Griffin started becoming a little unbearable and the team started flopping often and everyone I know turned on them. They’re still a good team on both ends of the floor and Chris Paul is a dark horse for the MVP (one could make a case for him over Durant) but they’re awfully hard to cheer for. Memphis, though, is a legitimately fun team: Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are fun to watch and Ed Davis was my favorite Raptor (and I hope he tears shit up in the postseason). And for what it’s worth, they have the best defensive numbers in the NBA. I think they have a great shot at this one: if they can contain Paul, the Clippers are a lot less dangerous. Grizzlies in six.
A Mark on Music classic, from the Flashfact.org archives.
In his lifetime Frank Zappa released over 60 albums, a slate ranging from rock to jazz to classical, with stops all over the place: albums recorded by computers, comedy songs, side-long instrumental jams. It’s easy to break his career up into various stages, usually his backing band.
First were the original Mothers of Invention. Later on came the 20-piece Wazoo band, the first of his large ensembles. In between those two came his Flo and Eddie band, maybe the most maligned of his career. If the names sound vaguely familiar, they’ll sound instantly so when listened to: they’re Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, the two vocalists from The Turtles. They were joined by multi-instrumentalist (and longtime Zappa collaborator) Ian Underwood, bassist Jeff Simmons, jazz legend George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar, who narrowly missed out on drumming for Jimi Hendrix and King Crimson.
This group released four albums while active, plus another one issued in the early 1990s and a live set released late last year. Most of these albums were recorded live, showing this band at what Zappa must have felt it did best: making jokes and telling stories on stage.
Two of those live albums are Fillmore East, June 1971 and Just Another Band From L.A., and each features a long suite of mostly dialogue. Fillmore has the groupie routine, a skit about being in a band and getting action from a local groupie; the other has “Billy the Mountain”, a long story-song about a mountain, his wife Ethel (a tree) and their trip cross-country. They’re both interesting documents of this band, but the jokes haven’t especially aged well. And the best part of this band is hardly shown at all: these guys could play.
For years, the best document of this band was the first album they appeared on: Chunga’s Revenge. It’s sort of a hodge-podge of material, containing a live jam, leftovers from Hot Rats and two scorching instrumentals between a few Flo and Eddie songs.
While the album never exactly keeps a certain feel, it shows a little bit of everything in and shows off everything this band did well: make you laugh, make you scratch your head at how well they interacted on stage and make you play air guitar over some of Zappa’s more ferocious licks.
On the title track and Transylvania Boogie the band rocks out like it’s nobody’s business, while songs like “Would You Go All The Way” and “Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink” have Flo and Eddie at their funniest: the second is about the musicians union, featuring Rudy (who wants to buy you a drink) and isn’t kidding around (he carries a gun to keep musicians in line). The live cut, an excerpt from a performance of “King Kong” shows the band interacting, playing off each others improvisations and eventually getting the crowd to join in. And “Twenty Small Cigars” is one of Zappa’s most underrated gems: a tidy little fusion number that should be a jazz standard. Despite it’s disparate parts, it’s the most constantly entertaining album this group released.
It’s an album easily lost in the shuffle. Chunga’s Revenge was released in October 1970, the third album Zappa released that year. He’d release two more in 1971 and Just Another Band From LA followed in early 1972. And like most of his albums it was out of print for years, even recently. But as of early this month, it’s been released, with a much better mix to boot: the sound’s a lot dryer, with the drums sounding more crisp and natural and the lower end less muddy than previous CD issues. It’s a great album for those interested in this era of Zappa and it’s finally back in print.
But like I said above, this was only a snippet of this band and mostly studio work, to boot. And this was a band that was best on stage. For those who already know about Zappa and have a bad taste of this era – too many dirty jokes, not enough good music – the Zappa Family Trust put out a four-disc set last winter that does nothing less but revolutionize this band’s legacy.
The set takes its name from the location: Carnegie Hall. It’s a collection of two shows Zappa played there in late 1971, the only time he played (or desecrated, as he says during the recording) this stage. It’s an admittedly long set, but it’s basically two complete concerts and for once, the music’s isn’t limited by a release format.
Two of the songs here are more than 30 minutes long: a “King Kong” that’s stuffed with jamming and solos and an extended “Billy the Mountain”, complete with new passages and solos, that goes for over 47 minutes, a song longer than either live album from this group. Both of these go a long way to showing how talented this band was: they were just as good at improvising for an extended period as they were at a scripted mock-rock opera.
The rest of these shows show this band – Zappa, Flo and Eddie, Underwood and Dunbar were joined by Jim Pons on bass and Don Preston on keyboards and Moog synth – in full flight, from another mock-rock opera (“Divan”, the story of Creation and also a giant couch in the heavens), to precision-level playing on rock passages (the twisting “Sleeping in a Jar”, the jazzy “Peaches en Regalia”) to the poppy “Tears Began to Fall,” a song that should have been a hit for this group (below is a different version of this number).
There’s a few surprise treats, too: an electric blues arrangement of “Who Are the Brain Police”, the early Mothers number “Anyway The Wind Blows” and a grateful Zappa announcing because of union rules, it’ll cost him $600 to play one more song but he’s more than happy to do it before launching into a jammed-out version of “The Mud Shark” from Fillmore East. These may mean little to the non-Zappa fan, but to the converted it’s a big deal: this is an artist who changed how songs were played between nights, let alone bands, and just because you’ve heard one version of “King Kong”, it doesn’t mean you’ve even scratched the surface.
But the best thing about this album is what it does for this era of his music. It’s been long looked over and just jokes and groupie talk. The 1992 album Playground Psychotics did little to remedy this: sure, it had an essential set where John Lennon sat in with the Mothers, but it’s long stretches of dialogue and audio verite marred what should have been an essential release. This doesn’t quite have the same quality as those recordings (it was recorded surreptitiously by Zappa in mono, although it sounds exceptionally good considering the circumstances) and the music isn’t quite as legendary as a Zappa/Lennon jam, but it shows just how good this band could be on any given night.
And this band could be pretty damn good.
(Carnegie Hall is available only through Barfko-Swill. At $42 it’s an expensive album, but when you think about it, it’s about $10 a CD. Not too pricy and a lot cheaper than paying to see Zappa Plays Zappa shamble through similar material.)
Originally published at Flashfact.org Aug 28, 2012
A crappy Raptors season is winding down and with it comes change in the front office. This offseason, where the Raptors don’t have a pick and their cap’s loaded with giant contracts, should still be one of change: Bryan Colangelo’s contract is up this summer. He’s on the proverbial hot seat.
But he’s not the only person surrounded by rumors. Coach Dwane Casey is also being speculated on. And perhaps not unfairly: his rotations this season have been questionable and there have been some strange moves during the season. But is it anything worth firing over?
Going by the Pythagorean Win formula, a measure using points versus points against, the Raptors record should be a couple of wins higher. This makes sense when you look back and remember how poorly the team’s done in close games: they’ve dropped eight games this year by three points or less. Some of this goes on questionable moves late, but sometimes it just goes on the other side hitting a late shot or the referees missing calls, including one the NBA recognized they got wrong.
And for as bad as the season has gone, it’s not like the Raptors have played below expectations, either. Looking at preseason predictions for this year’s squad, most had the Raptors in the bottom half of the league. ESPN’s John Hollinger had them with 33 wins, which seems uncannily accurate now. The National Post’s Eric Koreen had them winning between 31 and 37, too. Despite what a few people – Basketball Reference, Zach Lowe and a few Raptors blogs –predicted, I wouldn’t call a finish that puts them with something like 33 or 35 wins and a tenth spot in the conference completely unexpected, at least from a season-starting point of view.
Of course, there’s a monkey wrench in this: the midseason trade that brought Rudy Gay aboard and changed expectations for this team. I’ve speculated before that the trade was to justify Colangelo’s time here and try to buy him an extension. It was an all in kind of move, shoving the chips to the centre of the table and, as it turned out, into someone else’s pile.
If the trade was a move designed to make Toronto better in the short-term, it worked: the Raptors won their first game with Rudy Gay. One month after the trade, Toronto had gone on a five-game winning streak and won six of 11 games. It was around then that the floor fell out: through March then went on two separate five-game losing streaks, including losses to teams like Charlotte, Detroit and Washington. Whatever potential was there was gone nearly as quickly.
Indeed, the most interesting thing to come out of this stretch was a Grantland piece by Zach Lowe about the Ghost Raptors and the SportVU system. Even this was depressing: the YouTube clips attached showed the Ghost Raptors routinely out playing the real thing, actually making plays and not making idiotic passes. What was even more interesting, and not getting nearly the same attention, came buried in a followup post by Lowe. In it, he explained the dichotomy between making smart moves like the VU system and signing players like Bargnani or DeMar DeRozan to big deals or trading for the inefficient (at best) Gay. To wit:
“The Gay trade was a calculated risk … it represented an understandable move from a team that doesn’t attract star free agents and needed to monetize both an expiring deal (Jose Calderon) and a non-core asset about to go up dramatically in price (Ed Davis). Gay’s next contract will be telling, though.”
In other words: the team wouldn’t be able to land a free agent with Calderon’s expiring deal and couldn’t keep Ed Davis in Toronto. Never mind that Davis reportedly cried when told the news and was visibly shaken when seen leaving the ACC.
But of course, these are all moves that are on Colangelo, and along with many others – everything from Jermaine O’Neal to Hedo Turkoglu to trading for Gay – have kept the Raptors in a perpetual state of mediocrity. That’s enough to not extend his contract. But what about Casey? How much of this season’s end results can we put on him?
The biggest change from last season is on both ends of the court. Last year, Toronto was one of the worst-scoring teams in the NBA: they finished ranked 29th in Offensive Rating. But they could defend, or at least play slow enough to finish with the 14th best defensive rating in the league and the ninth best points-allowed per game. This year, their pace has stayed about the same, but flipped the results: 16th in the league in scoring, 22nd in defense. They’re allowing nearly 100 points per game.
And what of Casey’s moves? He’s commonly leaning on players like DeRozan, Gay and Lowry while Terrance Ross and Jonas Valanciunas sit on the bench. It’s a lost season at this point, so what harm would come from giving extra minutes to the rookies? Why is Ross playing fewer minutes per game than Landry Fields or Mickael Pietrus? These are on Casey.
As a whole, I’m still not sold on him, but I don’t think blaming him for this season is entirely his fault, either. The right course is probably the easiest one: let Colangelo’s contract expire and let Casey have another season. His contract is up at the end of year anyway and if the Raptors continue to tread water, or even move backwards, let his lapse too. I’m not really sure anyone could a better job with the pieces Colangelo’s given him.
Tuesday was opening night for the Blue Jays and arguably the most anticipated home opener since, well, since last year. All the November trades aside, every spring in the past couple seasons has come with expectations and words about how this year’s team is going to make the team a winner. And that’s cool: they gotta get butts in seats somehow, so it’s okay.
But the Jays lost. It’s a very Toronto way to begin the season (they lost their home opener last year, too) and gives more fuel to the self-loathing Toronto fire. So rather than write a full recap of the game and it’s hype and hoopla, I’m going to focus on a few things that stood out to me on Tuesday night. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a few clichés in rock journalism: that Bob Dylan’s leftovers are better than most artist’s bests, that the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star is a long song and, biggest of all, that David Bowie is the chameleon of rock, because he’s shifted and changed so much over the years.
In a sense, it’s true: Bowie has refined his looks over the years. If one really feels the need, they can break his career up into several, bite-sized digestible chunks: his Ziggy Stardust period, his Tin Machine period, his mainstream rock crooner period, not to mention a dozen or so more. But the problem with that is how marginalizing it is to his music, which when he was really good, has constantly evolving and changing throughout his most creative period.
After all, he wasn’t always revered in rock circles. After playing in various bands throughout the mid 1960s, Bowie’s solo career started with him trying to hack it in folk circles before he capitalized on the space race with Space Oddity, the iconic song about getting lost in space (even if it’s full of trite rhymes like “Ground control to Major Tom, take your protein pills and put your helmet on”). That song, the best track off his second album, was a hit for Bowie, but what’s often overlooked is what happened next: nothing else from his second album charted, and neither did anything from the next one, either.
It wasn’t really until 1970’s Hunky Dory that his sound started to gel, especially on the hooky pop gem Changes and the crunchy-guitar driven Queen Bitch. He’d continue to refine this sound on his commercial breakthrough Ziggy Stardust and never really left it, even as he flirted with soul, progressive rock and ambient music: all throughout this decade, his albums were good for at least one really good guitar-driven rocker, even the often-overlooked Pin Ups.
So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his creative song swan, the album that capped his most productive period, is dominated by snarling guitars. And make no mistake: Scary Monsters is a great guitar album, with some of the best playing to come out of the late 70s.
Stylistically, Scary Monsters is something of Bowie’s post-punk record. Put it’s raging guitars, screamed lyrics and Tom Verlaine cover right next to a Mission of Burma album and nobody’s really going to bat an eye. It’s got a harder sound than anything Bowie had done in years. The experimentation of his Berlin trilogy – the exotic instruments, slick instrumental tracks, and deconstructed song structures – has been left behind.
This isn’t to say it’s free from tricks. Right from the get-go, it’s got everything from the sound of a needle dropping to frantic Japanese lyrics to Bowie screaming “SHUT UP!” as both Carlos Alomar and Robert Fripp’s guitars careen out of control. And we’re not even five minutes in!
Indeed that opening track sets the tone for this record: it’s Bowie looking back on his career, discarding what he’s finished with and moving on to new things. “To be insulted by these fascists, it’s so degrading,” sings Bowie. Is that a shot at a music press who insisted his best years were behind him? Or is it a sly reference to his Thin White Duke era?
Throughout this record, there’s a feeling of paranoia and anxiety. It goes from talk of suicide (“Put a bullet in my brain, and it makes all the papers”) to madness (“When I looked in her eyes, they were blue but nobody home”) to alienation (“I really can’t remember last time I saw the light of day”). Even a cover of Tom Verlaine’s Kingdom Come adds to this mood: “Sun keeps beating down on me, wall’s a mile high / Up in the tower they’re watching me, hoping I’m gonna die.” Without a doubt, this is Bowie’s darkest album.
The most memorable track here, and the one that everybody’s familiar with, is his kiss-off to his most famous character: Major Tom. In Ashes to Ashes, Bowie asks listeners if they “remember that guy from space” and spills details about himself, about drug abuse and trying to stay clean. For a guy often seen as hiding behind characters, it’s a startlingly direct song: more than anything else on the album, this is a song about how fucked Bowie had become. It’s easy to forget, but before decamping to Berlin, Bowie had developed both serious cocaine and alcohol addictions.
If Ashes to Ashes was his dismissal of a decade of problems, his re-recording of Space Oddity was the capstone to a decade of success. A track that didn’t make the album proper – it wound up as a B-Side and a bonus track on the Rykodisc reissue – his revisiting of his first hit is more fully fleshed out than the original. It’s more confidently delivered, the work of someone who knows exactly what he can do and how to get it done, and is utterly lacking in the little flourishes that distinguish the original.
The album ends on another version of the title track, It’s No Game. But where the opener is frantic, urgent and driving, the closing track is restrained. The music’s kept in check, the Japanese lyrics translated to English. It’s as if Bowie’s exhausted, his statement made.
Taken as a whole, Scary Monsters can be a little much. But while it’s edgiest album, it’s also one of Bowie’s most powerful: this is him at full power, looking back at a decade’s worth of work, ten of the most creative, productive and successful years in rock. Bowie took a break after this album, waiting three years to release Let’s Dance, and he’s yet to recover the momentum he had here (another rock cliché: every new Bowie album for the past two decades has been his best since Scary Monsters).
But that’s kind of missing the point, too. I wrote above about how Bowie’s career has been divided into sections and chunks. Sure, he changed characters, but the only time he actually stopped something was here. There’s only two Bowie eras: the one that came before Scary Monsters and the one that happened after it.
Originally published at Flashfact.org during July 2012