Style: Glam Rock
Release Date: 10 Apr 2020
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Here's something special that's at once utterly out of time and exactly when it needs to be. Beau Bowen is a young Australian who lives in London and I'm sure he wasn't alive in 1970. Hell, his parents may not have been alive back then, but listening to this debut album feels to me rather like it must have felt back then listening to David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World.
Now, throwing a name like Bowie's out in that context may seem like ruthless hyperbole but I think it's highly appropriate and not merely because some of it sounds like early Bowie. It's because Bowen is utterly confident in what he's doing, as vocalist, guitarist and especially songwriter, and he clearly doesn't care what he's "supposed" to sound like in 2020. The point is that I don't think anyone else sounds like this right now but, like Bowie in 1970, everyone may sound like this tomorrow. And this is a debut album.
Much of it is what might be termed singer/songwriter but rather than fitting into the usual indie/folk/country mindset, it's phrased through one of glam rock. Bowen knows exactly how to strut and swagger and he does both rather a lot here, but he's also telling stories with his voice and that often means quiet and introspective instead, crouched over a piano pouring out his soul. What makes this so special is in how Bowen transitions between these and how far he goes each way. I haven't heard dynamics like this in forever.
The Great Anticlimax and A Rock 'n' Roll Story both run the gamut from those achingly personal moments to full on glam rock belt with wailing solos. Some of it is clearly Bowie, T. Rex and Mott the Hoople, but some of it is a long way from anywhere they went, almost up to Guns n' Roses. Bowen's voice is an early Bowie echo when he's quieter, with occasional Marc Bolan touches, but he gains some of Axl Rose's twang in heavier sections. What's important is that all these songs keep that grounding in glam rock wherever they go, even when it's not overtly glam.
The guitars get heavy, for instance, but without losing that early seventies glam rock vibe, as if Queen had stayed in the style of their first couple of albums for a lot longer than they did. The Life I Chose for Myself is right out of that early Queen songbook, as frankly is all the play with dynamics, as Queen were always masters of that. There's some Guns n' Roses there too, especially on Universe in Reverse and part of Bisolar Disorder, especially the Guns n' Roses we know from their cover of Live and Let Die.
The guitar effects, which I initially thought were keyboards, cross over to space rock, especially midway through A Rock 'n' Roll Story, though nothing here turns into Hawkwind even a pair of interludes named Cosmic Renaissance. There are also dips into rocked up classical music, but they owe as much to Tomita as to Yngwie J. Malmsteen. That's evident not merely on the obvious Messianic Indulgence, but in the progression of Time is an Illusion Baby.
And there's prog everywhere here, but it's never King Crimson or Genesis or Yes, it's just glam rock progged up. It's mostly in the effects and the odd little touches like using a flamenco guitar to start A Rock 'n' Roll Story. It's there in the structure too, because there's a lot of carefully moulded music, solid riffs dancing wildly with effects but then cutting out entirely to a heartfelt piano section.
I liked this a lot, but I'm fascinated to see where Beau Bowen will go from here. He's set the bar really high, not just by making quality music but by making quality music in this particular way. There are precedents, of course, especially given that he's apparently trying to be Brian May as much as David Bowie, but the Bowie of the early seventies had pretty big boots to fill. The good news is that we can just look at the album cover to see how far Bowen is ahead of us. If he stays ahead of us, the next decade is going to be quite the ride.
Now I'm going to wander off and wonder how I'd never grasped quite how much Axl Rose took from David Bowie.