No Plan EP (Sony)
While essentially an addendum to Black Star, the final statement/album from David Bowie released just over a year ago, this four-track, post-death release fleshes out not just the final year or two of Bowie’s life but also any “message” we took from Black Star.
That final period was when, knowing he was dying but not necessarily certain it would happen quickly, Bowie was working on both the album and a stage show based on the character he played in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth.
The EP’s lead track, Lazarus, appeared on Black Star, and on that album it was seen – after his death at least - as a foreboding or perhaps a way to prepare us, with lines such as “look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”.
That it is a ballad of disquiet, with guitars intruding in the background even as saxophone provide a buttress, suits such an interpretation. It remains a queasily compelling song of undoubted dark beauty.
In another context though, as the “title track” of the musical drama which opened in New York with Michael C Hall as Thomas Jerome Newton – the alien who fell to earth – that song and the three others herein are less foreboding but no less disturbing of your equilibrium.
A man out of place as much as out of time, Newton, as envisaged initially by the author Walter Tevis and then by Bowie and playwright Enda Walsh, can’t die but wants to die; can’t fit in but has no other place to go; can’t be someone for having lost that part of him which defined the someone.
Connected musically to both Black Star and the almost as wondrous album which preceded it, The Next Day, the songs here are never stygian in their bleakness but they do extend the murkiness of life. This isn’t a “nice” ending to the Bowie music story.
The EP’s title track is an elegant, mournful song with Bowie crooning in his best Scott Walker meets Bing Crosby manner as he finds himself where “there is no music here/I’m lost in streams of sound”. The music similarly floats above the surface, tethered by the saxophone solo but always a strong breath of wind away from being lost forever.
Solidity arrives quickly enough though in the guitar-fractured Killing A Little Time where “this rage in me … this furious reign” is manifested in something much closer to Bowie’s early ‘90s Tin Machine experiments than the more obvious ‘70s alienation.
The guitar and saxophone here are combative, kept apart by the drums which brook no interference, and there is no resolution. None sought and none given.
What resolution there is No Plan is found in the final track, When I Met You, which works in similar territory to the ‘70s redux playground of The Next Day. It has an urgent groove, interlocking background vocals and the unease of the dislocated (whether that is an Englishman man in Berlin or an alien in New York), ending with a half-grasped understanding: “when I met you I was too insane/Could not trust a thing/I was off my head, I was filled with truth/It was not God’s truth”.
It’s unlikely that No Plan was intended as the definitive “final” word; Bowie wanted to do more. But as a further piece in the puzzle, a continuing element in his discussion with us, it’s a satisfying contribution.