Starting the year off with two legends
Toy by David Bowie
The release of Toy, the highly anticipated album by late visionary David Bowie, has been a long time coming. Superfans of Bowie might know that Toy has a special place in the mythology of the Man Who Sold the World. Originally recorded in 2001, it entered the narrative as a long-lost project when contract disputes caused the album to be shelved for over 20 years.
The album delivers as only a project with such a rich history can, providing the kind of catharsis unique to the release of decades-old anticipation. The tracklist also contains reworkings of songs recorded prior to the establishment of the Bowie myth, from the years preceding Bowie’s first masterpiece Hunky Dory. The early tracks include 1965’s “Can’t Help Thinkin’ About Me,” whose slithering bassline infuses the tune with the trademark Bowie danceability. Another early track, 1966’s “I Dig Everything,” included lyrics rife with all the surrealism and nihilist optimism one would expect from the mid-sixties. These callbacks provide sharp-eyed, history-minded fans with the treat of revisitation and introduce new listeners to the origins of a phenom.
However, the magic and mystery that shaped David Bowie into the idol he remains now are not on full display in Toy. The album was a self-proclaimed passion project for Bowie, not a product of serious artistic investigation, but one of sheer musical joy. Accordingly, the album does not contain the philosophy that is a driving force in many of his earlier works. Listeners will not find a thoughtful and cohesive investigation on gender fluidity, for example, or celebrity, identity, or death. They will also not find the prescient musical experimentation that continually defied the generic borders of rock and roll, pop, and all of their many subsidiaries. These are the qualities that made Bowie one of the most interesting artists of the twentieth century. Toy is not the place to watch them work.
Bowie is, nonetheless, in fine form across the record. His vocals are alternatingly smooth and emphatic, and he handles both vibes with equal ability. Although he was over fifty years old at the time Toy was recorded, he remained a skillful singer. More importantly, he remained in control of the Bowie persona in a way that makes every track on the album, regardless of its other artistic merit, immediately recognizable as a Bowie tune. For many of his adoring fans, the distinct character of Bowie himself is all that is needed to make a little magic.
“Conversation Piece”: this dreamy, drawling ballad mixes a little bit of Nick Drake with a little bit of Leonard Cohen and executes it in that distinctive Bowie way that makes it completely its own. Its careful storytelling calls back to Hunky Dory-type folk inspiration, but it never sheds the trappings of camp that Bowie donned to such great effect throughout his career.
“Liza Jane (Alternative Mix)”: a blues romp with undertones of psychedelia mainly manifested in “Rocky Mountain Way” styled vocal effects and mysterious, vibrating howls that fill the gaps between chorus and verse. The stepping baseline and simple drums keep it classic with a blues framework, while the vocals, effects, and guitar mix and meld until they become one entity. A really fun ride.
DAWN FM (Alternate World) by The Weeknd
Dawn FM, The Weeknd’s fifth studio album, was released almost one month ago, and if I may be blunt — it just did not deliver. I was never a diehard Weeknd fan, even though I do love his music. But I’m part of that group that liked the old Weeknd, you know, the Trilogy and Beauty Behind the Madness Weeknd.
Many of the songs on this album mimicked those in After Hours, which came out just two years ago. This leads me to believe that this is not a new Weeknd, but rather the same pedo-stached, red blazered Weeknd running around in a house of mirrors at the 2021 Super Bowl. I guess I was just expecting that with this new look, there would also be a new sound.
The first part of the album has a few fun songs that are definitely inspired by the ’80s, with drum machines and synthesizers. “Gasoline” is full of those influences. Having a dad that listened to a lot of new wave in the ’80s, I too grew up with those sounds, and so I actually enjoyed this song. There was definitely an upbeat start to the album, which gave me hope. Sure, it still sounded a little commercial — like something I’d hear on the top hits station — but then again, they are top hits for a reason.
“A Tale By Quincy” brought a shift to the album, kind of a new tempo. The song, which isn’t even a song, has audio of Quincy Jones reflecting on the troubling relationship he has had with the women in his life, first with his mother, and then his step-mother, and later with the women with whom he has been romantically involved. The music playing in the background perfectly transitions into the next song, “Out of Time”, which is more lyrical and brings a calmer, less synthetic energy.
“Here We Go… Again” sounds just like the Weeknd I know and love. The shade alone, with lyrics clearly aimed at ex-girlfriend Bella Hadid, and of course Tyler the Creator’s verse, make this one of my favourite songs on the album.
The album ends with “Phantom Regret by Jim”, which has Jim Carrey recite a poem. While it’s nice to see Canadian artists supporting fellow Canadians — why? Although this was probably the most interesting part of the album, I didn’t realize it was Carrey until I saw the writers’ names on the bottom of the lyric page.
To conclude, the album is, in a word, alright. While some songs stand out, it’s not an outstanding album. Most songs follow the same basic, mainstream sound that we heard on his last album. The whole album feels like a space-filler. It’s almost like he’s keeping his fans busy until he releases the real shit, because let’s be honest: The Weeknd is extremely talented, but this album does not convince me of that. These random personas he keeps creating with each album are making it harder for his music to last — he is no Bowie. I literally cannot stand seeing red items of clothing anymore because of the infamous blazer, and it almost makes me resent his music even more. I downloaded the songs I like, and I guess they’ll tide me over until he releases his next album.
“Gasoline”: this song really reminded me of the new-wave tunes my dad would play around the house. It’s totally something I could dance to in a club, and the different sounds just make it an all-around fun tune.
“Here We Go… Again”: as I mentioned previously, this is The Weeknd that I love to hear. His falsetto voice and the lyrics made this the type of song I’d keep on repeat.