WHERE ARE WE NOW? / DAVID BOWIE
Updated: Nov 13, 2018
UK Chart Position: 6
Always a master of timing, was there ever a more perfect exit than that of David Bowie? Releasing your final farewell to the world before waving a real goodbye a few days later felt like – typically – an expertly controlled exercise in a career defined by a tight grasp on telling us what we wanted before we knew what to ask for. David Bowie passing away was the pop equivalent of the Queen dying. Someone who didn’t have to do very much, who probably peaked in the 70’s, traded on past glories, but whose mere presence meant you felt rooted in something. But three years before his actual death, this arrived, like a surprise gift from another planet. “Where Are We Now” feels like a time capsule sent from the future, to explain the past.
Listening to it now, it feels like he was already speaking to us from beyond the grave. He acknowledges this himself, observing that he’s “walking the dead.” The vocal itself feels hesitant and unsure of itself at first until the final minute, where it hits its stride. Until then, we’re left with a love letter to Berlin, obviously referencing his past but not dwelling on it. Dschungel and Nurnberger Strasse are name checked, but he raises an eyebrow to catching a train to Potsdamer Platz, observing that “You never knew I could do that.” In many ways, Berlin is the perfect Bowie city in that it constantly changes and is always on the move.
The whole effect of the song makes you feel like it was just effortlessly breathed out at once. As it builds to a pulsing end, he ends on an optimistic note, with the life-affirming claim that “as long as there’s me. As long as there’s you.” But it’s sung by a marked man who probable knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of “me” left to go.
Given the very messy geo-political situation we find ourselves in from 2016 onwards, with “Where Are We Now”, it feels like David Bowie was asking a very prescient question, three years before we woke up and realised we needed to ask it ourselves. In this song, he claims he’s a “man lost in time,” but – ever the visionary – he was really pointing the way, before his final disappearing act.
The moment: From 2:34 when the drums kick in.
In a word: Forewarning