6. From German recluse to French pantomime clown (1979) Bowie wrapped up the ’70s reprising his Major Tom character and wearing more makeup than he had since 1974. This was when he dressed like a French pantomime character for his "Ashes to Ashes" video, up to then the most expensive music video ever made at a cost of 250,000 pounds. That was the hallmark of Scary Monsters, the album that forever would be the line in the sand for critics who wanted an album to point to whenever he returned to form.
7. From pantomime clown to toothless Baal (1980-1982) Few people on these shores noticed when he portrayed Bertolt Brecht’s Baal in a BBC production which had him dressed in rags, plucking banjo, and sporting decrepit teeth. Once again, Bowie was ahead of the curve, predicting the look and sound of Dexy's Midnight Runners.
The non-commercial Baal EP was how Bowie chose to leave RCA Records to become an ’80s MTV star. No finer extended middle finger was ever given to a former label.
8. From "Let's Dance" playboy to flat faced Jenie (1983-1985) Upon signing with EMI Records, Bowie entered his most commercial phase yet, churning out radio friendly dance hits like "Modern Love," "Let's Dance," and "China Girl." He tried to tweak his newfound popularity as a golden-haired pop idol with the "Jazzing for Blue Jean" longform music video. In it he played another fictitious rock star, Screaming Lord Byron, a guy who dressed like a genie. He did, however, wear makeup that drew exaggerated shadows on his face. Yay, everyone cheered, for the weird Bowie of old's return. Yet it was an effect that was neutralized when he appears in the rest of the video as some schlub with a bandaid on his nose and a Michael J. Fox haircut. Why was it so important that Bowie look and sound so normal in the Reagan ’80? Maybe it was to support other career moves, but for much of this period he did seem like a guy up on morals charges dressing like an upright citizen to fool a judge.
9. From Blue Jean to Glass Spider (1985-1987) Things hit an all-time low with the misnamed Never Let Me Down album and the accompanying Glass Spider tour, where too many years at the popular kids' lunch table made it seem he couldn't even pull off his old Wizard of Odd role anymore. It is at this time he threw all his eccentricities into an acting career and reached its oddball zenith with Labyrinth, which looked as of he were auditioning for Old Deuteronomy in the musical Cats.
10. Tin Machine (1988-1992) For four years Bowie submerged himself in a democratic group and came up with his most cutting edge sounds in years. Yet for some strange reason, people didn't like seeing him play with Iggy's old rhythm section and Reeves Gabrels, who would wind up playing on Bowie's next seven albums. Time revealed Tin Machine a whole lot better than the footnote in Bowie's career they are accorded.
11. Elder Statesman (1993 - 2016) From Black Tie White Noise on out, Bowie has played the role of elder rock statesman with occasional forays into weird-behavior territory, whether it was touring with Nine Inch Nails, one in which Bowie bravely refused to play any of his hits, or turning an album into an interactive game of Clue for Outside, the album where he reunited with Eno. With nothing left to prove, you could count on Bowie to send himself up as an insensitive rock star on Ricky Gervais' Extras or Zoolander. He never again would he adopt a new persona for an entire album, but he did appear as two different characters for a 1999 video game called Omikron. In it, he played a revolutionary and a singer in a fictitious rock band, two things he'd already done in the Spiders a long, long time ago. Rest in peace, David Bowie — man of words, man of music, man of 1,000 faces.
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