CD Reviews

DAVID BOWIE

Reality

(Sony)

Bowie's time-honored strategy of nursing his inner alien, utterly oblivious to the current zeitgeist, has often resulted in stunning and prescient music. For instance, in 1977, at the height of punk and disco, he abjured his increasingly grandiose style in favor of going to Berlin and making the proto-electronic masterpiece, Low. But sometimes living on Mars could result in albums that were dead on arrival (do you remember Tonight? No? Good). So when the cartoon Bowie on Reality's album cover fixes a blank stare at us through huge glassy anime eyes, you have to wonder if he even knows what the hell he's doing anymore. Reality, another team-up with veteran producer Tony Visconti, is sharper, more assertive, and more visceral than 2002's Heathen, but is that enough? There's no overarching concept here, just straight-up rockers and sensitive-guy ballads. That isn't to say Bowie's Reality is anything resembling our own. Sure, it's laced with poignant references to his New York City home ("See the great white scar/Over Battery Park") and elegiac lyrics reflecting on his own mortality. The problem is that Bowie's artifice has always been more compelling than his authenticity. A few moments shine: "Never Get Old" sounds like a defiant answer to 1980's exultant "Because You're Young," and there's an unexpectedly energetic cover of the Modern Lovers' "Pablo Picasso." But mostly he sounds like he's flagging, an effect redoubled by Reality's liberal use of backing vocals and smoothed-over Sting-esque flourishes (Spanish guitar?!), which make some songs sound dated when they should sound timeless. Memo to Bowie: Distortion is your friend. GEETA DAYAL

David Bowie plays the Paramount Theater at 7:30 p.m. Sun., Jan. 25. $48.50-$84.50.

MATTHEW DEAR

Leave Luck to Heaven

(Spectral Sound/Ghostly International)

Now that rave is out of the way, techno can finally get on with its mission: exploring futuristic sounds and effects rather than just banging 808 drum loops. Matthew Dear's Leave Luck to Heaven claims the middle ground between his own minimalism as False on Richie Hawtin's Plus 8 label and his microhouse alias, Jabberjaw, on Germany's Perlon. Dipping calculated drum clicks in a syrup of sticky pop melody and emotion, LLTH packs the quirk of a bedroom producer while maintaining enough momentum to slap a smile on weekend club faces. "An Unbending" launches shuffle-step attacks with Pong-like keyboards, static vocal hiccups, and metallic hints of time-stretch deconstruction, while "Reason and Responsibility" buries a pulsing bass line and rushing whispers behind minimal clicks and a synth mirage. "When will you come clean/With all the lies you're telling me," he begins on "Just Us Now," as an accordion's chords (now that's techno!) drift across a background that gurgles with the determination of percolating coffee ready to scald, while "Dog Day" induces giggles with a cascading hook and '80s backslapping funk bouncing around Dear's lyrics: "Tell another story to your body so it makes sense." It does, again and again, and it highlights the album's biggest strength: Dear can glitch as subtly as anyone, but Heaven's dubby electro-pop that gives it a wider appeal. JUSTIN PAUL

ARTHUR RUSSELL

The World of Arthur Russell

(Soul Jazz, U.K.)

Arthur Russell was never well known during his lifetime: By the time he died of AIDS in 1992, he'd only been interviewed by one journalistDavid Toop, who incorporated Russell's quotes into both his groundbreaking 1995 book Ocean of Sound and a sterling feature on Russell in the current issue of U.K. avant-music mag The Wireand was largely unknown outside New York, where he lived. But his turn-of-the-'80s aesthetic, which took the most compulsively hedonistic disco and tilted it till it stood as crooked but right as a Thelonious Monk piano solo, has undergone a rightful revival in the '00s, and this compilation is a key explanation why. Even a seemingly straightforward dance cut like "Is It All Over My Face" (credited to Loose Joints and presented here in Larry Levan's brilliant remix) teems with weirdness, from the sketchy, scratchy guitar figure that pops through the glutinous, glossy keyboards to the nagging vocals (bedroom-diva female, just-passing-through mumbling male) to a groove so down and dirty you feel like you need a shower after the song is over. Russell's roots in post-minimalist composition and his obsession with echo push through nearly everything here: "In the Light of the Miracle," a hypnotically oceanic shuffle, decorates its perimeters with inventive cowbell and conga, and Walter Gibbons' mix of "Let's Go Swimming" abstracts a Latin freestyle-ish drum-machine beat till it seems to shimmer from the speakers. So does nearly everything else on the disc. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

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