David Bowie’s No Plan dropped as a download-only EP Sunday past. Coming out on the anniversary of his birth, it recalls the release his twenty-fifth and final album a year ago. Two days after Blackstar‘s release, Bowie died.
Like Blackstar, the EP features the song Lazarus, and the other songs on the EP were written by Bowie for the musical of the same name. As such, it doesn’t carry the same weight as Blackstar did when its title track dropped from nowhere, or that penultimate album The Next Day did when it pulled the same trick after a decade’s absence.
On musical terms, the EP is a perfectly serviceable set of late-period Bowie numbers. In addition to Lazarus, the title track – shorn of the context of the musical – has an elegiac quality. Second Avenue is just out of view, there is no plan for what is next, but there’s nothing to regret, either. A soulful saxophone coda echoes that feeling as it peacefully meanders over the final horizon, even as it’s understandably reluctant to take its final leave. Killing a Little Time is heavy art rock replete with doomy chords and well-judged stabs of atonal sax. When I Met You chugs along on the back of a strummed guitar, with chord changes that are reminiscent of old mucker Freddie Mercury and Queen’s A Kind of Magic. Of course, the production from Bowie and Tony Visconti takes the track in a different direction, and its hypnotic groove has an insidious staying power.
The No Plan EP has enough quality to make your reviewer miss Bowie all over again. Yet, the nature of its appearance is lacking in comparison to the way Bowie orchestrated prior studio releases. There wasn’t enough time left for a final reinvention like the one inspired by jazz composer Maria Schneider and Donny McCaslin’s sextet for Blackstar. And it’s hard to imagine that the Bowie who came up with the little flicks of genius behind the cover for The Next Day would have countenanced No Plan‘s ‘will-this-do’ artwork for an original release. But then, why should Bowie’s posthumous career be so much different to anyone else’s? It’s too much to hope for that the late innovator could have downloaded his prior work into an app that would synthesise it with events in the modern world and current musical developments to create brand new Bowie work in perpetuity.
But I’ll check this space next year, just in case.