17 July, 2013

Review: Valentine's Day by David Bowie

As much as I enjoyed The Next Day it wasn't until I heard Where Are We Now playing in a shop in Essen that I understood how little of the album I'd considered. On my iPod, Where Are We Now was a pleasant tune with a nice tinge of nostalgia. In Germany, it was suddenly heartbreaking. "Fingers are crossed, just in case" plays differently when the the person in front of you might be East German. I walked out to a bench, thinking about that moment. What was it like, to be the East Germans when the wall fell? Walking freely into West Germany, was it surreal? Frightening? Welcome? A relief? A burden? An East German is currently the face of Germany, but the wealth divide between Ossi and Wessi remains.

The video for Valentine's Day provides a similar experience. On the iPod it's a sweetly swooping song, maybe you don't listen to the lyric's too closely. The content might elude you. The video is confrontational, contemptuous. The singer has no love for Valentine. This is the Goblin King in all his cruel glory. Part of me finds it all too easy. Valentine's Day. Massacre. School Shootings. Part of me finds it a refutation of Pearl Jam's Jeremy. This is not a song looking for sympathy. The narrator isn't wondering what went wrong when he focuses on Valentine's icy heart. Unlike the bullied and suicidal Jeremy, Valentine fantasizes about murder. He loves contemplating the power of it all.

As a visual artist Bowie is hit or miss for me. His theatrical tendencies can take him to conceptual places that border on the obvious or overwrought. It's always interesting to see what he comes up with. I never interpret a song quite the same way after seeing one but I don't consider them definitive statements on the track. Bowie makes the album he wants, whether it's the Adler Diaries or a video game soundtrack. The joy of being a Bowie fan is watching them unfurl through your life, changing as you change, revealing new aspects of even the most familiar tracks. With the video for Valentine's Day Bowie urges the listener to understand. Valentine isn't okay.

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