Having scored numerous hits, reinvented himself several times and amassed truckloads of credibility, David Bowie was already an icon of rock music and pop culture by the time the '80s were half over.

Having scored numerous hits, reinvented himself several times and amassed truckloads of credibility, David Bowie was already an icon of rock music and pop culture by the time the '80s were half over.

So it's a bit odd to hear him relay that for the better part of the past 15 years, when he finished a record, he was more or less treated no differently than the latest alt-rock signee or hip-hop newcomer on his label, Virgin. Like them, he would have to get worked into the company's release schedule. Regardless of clout or status, his records would be released based on Virgin's calendar, not his.

Well, not anymore. Thanks to his recent deal with Columbia -- through which he created his own label, ISO -- Bowie isn't doing too much waiting these days. Under the agreement, Columbia is issuing Bowie's albums soon after they're finished. And with the new "Reality," released Sept. 16, Bowie fans have a reason to be excited. "Reality" arrives only slightly more than one year after "Heathen," his debut for Columbia.

What's more, it finds Bowie once again working with Tony Visconti, the producer behind such landmark Bowie sets as 1977's "Low" and "Heroes." After years apart, the two reunited last year for "Heathen." And that union, Bowie says, is something that will continue for the next few years. Essentially, Bowie and Visconti are once again in a groove.

"We weren't even tentative when we went in with 'Heathen'," Bowie explains. "We kind of knew that we would produce something really excellent, although we didn't know quite what it was going to be.

"And it just kind of fired our motors, I think. We charged into 'Reality' absolutely gung-ho that we really could do what we used to do, which is produce a signature sound and an interesting construct that would sound not like anybody else's work. It would be identifiably a kind of a Bowie/Visconti production. It would just have that special thing that we have when we work together."

Bowie adds that he and Visconti are "already half-talking about the next album."

Bowie's new deal with Columbia and his reunion with Visconti are among a number of factors that have him feeling more energized and "absolutely on track again."

The live unit he has been working with since the late '90s has also provided him with new enthusiasm for the stage and studio, he adds. That group, which includes bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and former Soul Asylum drummer Sterling Campbell, played on "Reality," which features songs penned by George Harrison ("Try Some, Buy Some") and Jonathan Richman ("Pablo Picasso").

Bowie says it was this particular team's tour of New York's five boroughs last year that inspired his first world tour in more than a decade. The jaunt begins Oct. 7 in Copenhagen. In fact, he says the songs were built to play live. Many of the cuts feature the singer on guitar and carry what he calls a "quasi-demo feel.

"It's not the second reading of an idea," he says. "We tend to really work in first-take situations. I kind of learned that from reading what Dylan said in an interview many years ago: If it doesn't work in the first take, he abandons the song. And I also tend to do that."

The album closes with an exception to that rule, "Bring Me the Disco King," a song Bowie has tinkered with for more than a decade. The track finally came together after Bowie stripped it down and let it breathe, he says.

New York -- Bowie's home for the past decade -- proved a huge influence on "Reality." Beginning with the lines, "See the great white scar/Over Battery Park," album opener "New Killer Star" was inspired by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "She'll Drive the Big Car," meanwhile -- arguably the album's best track -- is a song about suicide that carries images of a death-bound driver racing along the Hudson River.

On "Never Gonna Get Old," the 56-year-old Bowie sings, "Looking at the future/Solid as a rock."

Does he feel solid as a rock? "Yeah, I do," he says. "I feel as contented as one can feel in these particular times. I think that's the best way of saying it. My marital life, domestic life, personal life, whatever you want to call it, are just wonderful. And my work has been going so well.

"So I'm a really lucky guy in that way. When I was in my 20s, I'd never thought for one second that my life would be this good, in fact. This age didn't exist for me when I was 20. 'Fifty-six? Are you kidding me? I'm never going to make it there.' You know, all these romantic, nihilistic dreams that teenagers have, and you think, 'Oh, I won't survive above 30,' " he says with a laugh.

And with an even more robust laugh, he adds, "And of course the horror when you do!"





Excerpted from the Oct. 11, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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