Spinning in the ‘rock room’ today with a touch Fall in the air is David
Bowie’s first new musical (at the time) composition since 2013’s The Next
Day. The adventurous single “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime), is a
seven-minute jazz epic with the 17 piece Maria Schneider Orchestra. The song
was originally featured as a new addition to the forthcoming Bowie Nothing
Has Changed compilation. The song vocally elicits images of Tim Buckley’s
atonal late-1960s albums more than anything from Bowie’s previous work. Instrumentally
the song flows over rocks and flashes imagery across an aural silver screen
through punctuated horn lines and orchestrated counter melodies.
Opening with water drenched swells and sensual horn blasts, “Sue” moves
kinetically on erratic teletype percussion. In contrast, longing horns and an
elastically crooned melody line react to each other like to repellant magnets.
The track breathes with an internal pulse of a stand up bass. Bowie is in great
throat, and enters into hand-to-hand combat with the swelling horn punctuation’s.
When his vocals dissipate, it’s all about the racing jazz kit and blowing
The song’s rhythm continuously drops in and out of consciousness,
disorientating the listener and detaching then from the song proper to dip them
into unknown aural mysteries. The sounds fell like Bowie has stirred his
eternal pot of influences into one cerebral and cinematic display. Miles ends
up meeting Frank Sinatra, who then rings up Frank Zappa, as this multifarious
compositional display unfolds.
A sinister theme develops in the lyrics. Is someone helping or hurting? Has
the narrator given up and committed the ultimate crime? The claustrophobic
orchestration drops away leaving cinematic swells and brisk snare work at the
point in which the narrator finds Sue’s note. Bowie moans in spooky omnipotence
Chaos ensues, the horns moan Bowie’s melody line before submerging into a dizzying
array of rising bubbles. It is in this sparkling drift that the remainder of
the song sinks to silence.
A promotion video for the track can be found here, a gritty urban film noir representation of the song.
The cut would later be re-recorded for Bowie’s final studio LP, 2016’s Blackstar featuring as an album track.On this version from the album, the loose jazz improv is been reigned in to a
tight pocket where the central pulse is played by electric guitar. A number of
substantial peaks roar with white noise swells and static following each Bowie
verse. Spectral drones and moaning glacial keyboards wash Bowie’s haunting
vocals in. Bowie reached differing levels of menace in both versions of the
song, a testament to his continued creativity even in his later recordings. Both of the versions reveal an aural personality
aspect through their unique explorations.
Once again, David Bowie had given his fans a unique and inexpiable
musical statement that holds onto no preconceived ideas or past glories. “Sue”
was an amazing precursor to what the reclusive legend had percolating in his
mind for his next and sadly final move. Obviously, Bowie’s work was still
leaving all possible labels and descriptions behind and reaching for new