Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)

Summary

"Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)"
The cover art for David Bowie's 2014 single "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)", featuring "Parlophone Record" in big letters on the top and bottom, with an LP disc in the center with the artist and song title
Single by David Bowie
from the album Nothing Has Changed
B-side"'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore"
Released17 November 2014 (2014-11-17)
Recorded24 July 2014
StudioAvatar in New York City
GenreExperimental jazz
Length7:24
Label
Composer(s)
Lyricist(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)
David Bowie singles chronology
"Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy for the DFA)"
(2013)
"Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" / "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore"
(2014)
"Blackstar"
(2015)
Music video
"Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" on YouTube

"Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" is a song by English musician David Bowie released on 17 November 2014 as the lead single from the 2014 compilation album Nothing Has Changed. Co-produced by Bowie and longtime collaborator Tony Visconti, the song originated after the two saw bandleader Maria Schneider perform with her orchestra in May 2014. They began collaborating on Bowie's first major project since The Next Day (2013). Following workshop sessions in mid-June, the track was recorded officially at Avatar Studios in New York on 24 July 2014, with contributions from Schneider's orchestra.

Although he had experimented with jazz earlier in his career, "Sue" marked Bowie's first explorations into experimental jazz. Musically, the song contains an array of instrumentation and is driven by a brass and flute motif. Saxophonist Donny McCaslin provided the solos. Inspired by the writings of poet Robert Browning, the lyrics of "Sue" are open-ended, depicting the fall of a marriage. Premiered in October 2014, the song garnered positive reviews from music critics, but some felt its inclusion on a compilation album downplayed the track. A music video directed by Tom Hingston promoted it.

Bowie re-recorded both "Sue" and its B-side, "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" for his twenty-sixth and final studio album, Blackstar (2016). The new version features players from the original, including McCaslin, drummer Mark Guiliana and guitarist Ben Monder, along with pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem on percussion. The remake is more stripped down than the original, featuring a harder, punchier sound influenced by drum'n'bass, while Bowie's vocals are more subdued. Many critics have praised the remake as superior to the original recording.

Background

A black and white photo of an older woman holding a microphone with her hand out
Bowie collaborated with bandleader Maria Schneider (pictured in 2008) for "Sue".

On 8 May 2014, David Bowie and longtime collaborator Tony Visconti visited the Birdland club in Manhattan to see the bandleader Maria Schneider perform with her orchestra. The two were, in Visconti's words, "totally floored by the beauty and power of her music". Bowie contacted her shortly afterwards, hoping to collaborate on a new song; it would be his first major project since The Next Day (2013).[1][2] Beginning with a home demo, Bowie and Schneider began work on the track in mid-late May. Of the process, Schneider stated: "I sat at the piano there in front of him and played around with harmony a bit, and I then said, 'maybe I can imagine doing something with this.' I experimented on my own for a couple weeks before we again met and started working collaboratively based on those ideas."[1]

At Schneider's insistence, Bowie travelled to the 55 Bar, a jazz club in New York on 1 June, to see an experimental quartet featuring saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Mark Guiliana. Ten days later, Bowie emailed McCaslin, inviting him and Guiliana to collaborate on the new track. McCaslin gracefully accepted, later saying, "I tried not to think about it too much. I just wanted to stay in the moment and do the work".[3]

Recording

Workshop sessions

Initial workshop sessions for "Sue" began at Euphoria Studios in Manhattan in mid-June. Schneider wanted Bowie's thoughts on the composition's direction and structure before official recording began. Along with McCaslin, Guiliana, trombonist Ryan Keberle and bassist Jay Anderson, Schneider recruited avant-jazz guitarist Ben Monder, an occasional member of her orchestra.[1][4] Monder told Yahoo! Music in 2016, "I had not played with Maria for a while prior to this project ... But she said she could hear my sound for that particular track, so David met with me and Donny."[5] Monder thought highly of Bowie: "We just had one rehearsal for the Maria Schneider session and he was very down-to-earth, very nice. He seemed to make an effort to make you feel like you weren't in the presence of a rock deity."[5]

According to Visconti, who co-produced the track with Bowie, Schneider and the core members of her band "jammed to the bass line for several hours ... over the course of three long sessions in a rehearsal studio".[4] Schneider told biographer Chris O'Leary that the initial workshop version of the track was "very different". She initially had the players improvise over an E major chord, but felt it was "too much", and changed it to a "B section" for Bowie, which allowed him to continue to revise the lyrics up to the final recording. The rhythms began to form and Bowie found his lyrics after a few more sessions.[1] After the final workshop session, Bowie and Schneider met to finalise the arrangement and structure.[4]

Final session

"Sue" was officially recorded on 24 July 2014 at Avatar Studios in New York;[1] Bowie had intended to use the Magic Stop, the studio where he had recorded The Next Day, but it proved too small for the 17-person orchestra. Bowie handed out his lyrics to the musicians at the start of the session; the track's title was revealed on the music sheets. The song's arrangement provided the musicians with a substantial amount of freedom during the session. Guiliana later recalled: "Aside from David and Maria's overall direction, the chart I was playing from was quite minimal ... More of a guide, rather than a specific notation."[4]

During the session, Schneider instructed the musicians to improvise around Bowie's vocals. McCaslin and Keberle contributed multiple solos throughout the session; Visconti used McCaslin for most of the final recording, with Keberle's work appearing, according to O'Leary, "in the out-of-time section after 'Suuuue...goodbye!'"[1] According to biographer Nicholas Pegg, besides Guiliana, Monder, Anderson, Keberle and McCaslin, the remaining orchestra members who played on the recording were: Jesse Han (flute, alto flute, bass flute); David Pietro (alto flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone); Rich Perry (tenor saxophone); Scott Robinson (clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet); Tony Kadleck, Greg Gisbert, Augie Haas, Mike Rodriguez (trumpet, flugelhorn); Keith O'Quinn, Marshall Gilkes (trombone); George Flynn (bass trombone, contrabass trombone); [and] Frank Kimbrough (piano).[4]

Composition

Lyrics

"Sue"'s open-ended lyrics depict the fall of a marriage in eight verses. At the start, he got the job (an echo of The Next Day Extra track "The Informer"), they will get the house. However, things go awry when the narrator says that Sue is ill, the clinic called and the "X-ray's fine". Sue's motif throughout the song is the four-note phrase played by the brass and flute sections, and sung by Bowie in the first two verses. As the track continues, the narrator's accusations begin, which leads the motif to change throughout.[1][4]

Eventually, the narrator accuses Sue of betrayal ("I found your note that you wrote last night / It can't be right you went with him") and murders her ("I pushed you down beneath the weeds"), kisses her corpse and says goodbye. Following her murder, the narrator finds a note that tells the whole story ("you went with that clown"). Bowie starts the last verse "Sue, I never dreamed", which was the title of the first song he ever recorded, with his first band the Kon-Rads in 1963.[1][6] Pegg credits the writings of poet Robert Browning, specifically "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess", as inspiration for the lyrics.[4]

Music

"Sue" is Bowie's first exploration into experimental jazz. Although he had experimented with jazz on Black Tie White Noise and The Buddha of Suburbia (both 1993), he used rock and R&B musicians primarily rather than true jazz musicians.[1][4] Other reviewers have suggested the track has elements of jazz-pop and post-industrial music.[7][8] Regarding the track, Visconti stated, "This is truly modern jazz. They don't play bebop, there's nothing traditional about them."[4]

Over seven minutes in length, the song features an array of varied instrumentation, some of which complement Bowie's vocals while some counteract him. O'Leary describes the array of instruments as "jostling factions — instruments in loose confederations that soon break apart, moving at different tempos".[1] The bass line played by Keberle borrows heavily from Plastic Soul's 1997 single "Brand New Heavy", which earned that song's writers, Paul Bateman and Bob Bhamra, co-writing credits on "Sue" with Bowie and Schneider. McCaslin's playing is prevalent throughout the track, often emphasising the lyrics. In the closing section, his saxophone takes center stage, with the remaining orchestra playing around him.[1] Both Bowie and Visconti praised McCaslin's saxophone contributions, with the latter telling Mojo: "It's one of the most soulful saxophone solos David and I have ever heard ... It always made us weep, especially the end part. He's such a passionate player."[4]

Release

BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Guy Garvey premiered "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" on 12 October 2014.[9] According to O'Leary, reception was mixed.[1] Parlophone released "Sue" as a 10-inch single, with the catalogue number 1ORDB2014,[10] and as a digital download on 17 November 2014 in the United Kingdom and 28 November 2014 in the United States.[4][11] "Sue" was also included on the compilation album Nothing Has Changed, released on the same day.[12] Kory Grow of Rolling Stone praised the track as "captivating", calling it a fitting addition to Bowie's catalogue.[7] In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis gave the track a positive review, saying it was an indication that Bowie is not afraid to continue experimenting in new genres. He felt it was more of a "statement" than a song, after the "superior but relatively straightforward rock [The Next Day]". He was, however, critical of the song's inclusion on Nothing Has Changed, writing this makes it appear as an "afterthought".[13] Michael Rancic of Exclaim! agreed, feeling its inclusion on the compilation "downplayed' the track.[14]

Alongside the full 7:24 version, the single included the B-side "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" and a radio edit of "Sue", with a length of 4:01. This single edit, which contains only six verses instead of eight, is accompanied by a monochrome music video directed by Tom Hingston, who previously created a short clip for The Next Day track "I'd Rather Be High".[1][4][15] Shot in London, the video features clips of Bowie performing in a studio alongside the orchestra that were filmed during the July session by Jimmy Miller. Concurrently, lyrics are projected onto a wall while a silhouetted figure weaves in and out of lamplights on a darkened street. Pegg describes the video as "a noirish assemblage with echoes of The Third Man".[4]

At the 58th Annual Grammy Awards in February 2016, Schneider won the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement, Instrumental and Vocals for her work on "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)".[16]

Track listing

Side A
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)"
7:24
Side B
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore"Bowie5:27
2."Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" (Radio edit)
  • Bateman
  • Bhamra
  • Bowie
  • Schneider
4:01

Blackstar version

"Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)"
Song by David Bowie
from the album Blackstar
Released8 January 2016 (2016-01-08)
Recorded2 February, 23 & 30 April 2015
StudioThe Magic Shop and Human Worldwide in New York City
Length4:40
Label
Composer(s)
Lyricist(s)David Bowie
Producer(s)
Blackstar track listing

Recording

During the sessions for what would be his final studio album Blackstar (2016), Bowie decided to re-record "Sue" from scratch, using the core backing band of McCaslin, Guiliana, pianist Jason Lindner and bassist Tim Lefebvre.[18] Monder provided additional guitar overdubs, while James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem played percussion; his work on Arcade Fire's Reflektor inspired Bowie to create a remix of "Love Is Lost" for The Next Day Extra.[19] The original song's B-side, "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore", was also re-recorded during the sessions for Blackstar.[20]

Called "Re-Sue" in Bowie's handwritten notes for the album, the new version was recorded on 2 February 2015 at the Magic Shop in New York, using the original as a template. According to Lindner, the band attempted a "quartet arrangement" of the original, but found little success. Another attempt, using solely drums, bass and vocals, was recorded but quickly rejected. McCaslin said later: "The new version of 'Sue' took the longest because the original we recorded with Maria is so specific, with all the orchestration." He then decided to strip Schneider's score down to saxophone, clarinet and alto flute, which would become the basis of the new version. Bowie recorded his vocals on 23 and 30 April 2015 at Human Worldwide Studios in New York.[1][18]

According to Guiliana, Bowie instructed the band to "really go for it" during the recording. Lefebvre recalled Bowie and Visconti "gave us eight bars to just rage. Mark and I had played a lot of live drum'n'bass together, and it's shocking and amazing to hear that on a David Bowie record. They allowed us to do what we do." This section happens following the sixth verse, at the 3:07 mark. Pegg describes this part of the track as reminiscent of Bowie's 1997 album Earthling.[1][21]

Composition

Guiliana described the re-recorded version of "Sue" as "stripped down" and "a little faster" than the original.[21] In Bowie's handwritten notes for the track, he emphasised "strong bass". To compensate, Lefebvre used multiple pedals throughout the song, including a Pork Loin pedal, an Octave pedal and a Corona pedal. Towards the ending he plays what he called "EDM kind of stuff", utilising his bass's top strings. Monder plays in a similar manner as he did on the original. While he initially doubles Lefebvre's bass line, he then uses a hybrid Stratocaster and his 1982 Ibanez AS-50 to create reverb throughout. With two Wurlitzer organs, Lindner replaces the horns and woodwinds from the original, along with further reverb.[1] Compared to the original, Bowie and McCaslin are less prominent on the re-recording. Bowie's singing is more subdued, containing "less vibrato" and "more nuance". He sings the eight verses of the original at a much faster pace. O'Leary writes McCaslin performs "a wasp-like buzzing after the first verse .. introducing the 'Sue' motif on clarinet at 2:02".[1][21]

Many commentators have noted the remake's drastically different feel from the original recording. Pegg describes the re-recording as "a harder, punchier attack, driven by Guiliana's relentless drums, a brilliant, stammering bass line from Tim Lefebvre, and a series of atmospheric guitar overdubs from Ben Monder".[21] Similarly, Chris Gerard of PopMatters noted the "edgier groove" and overall "heavier vibe".[22] Stephen Dalton of Louder writes that the re-recording "feels sharper, denser and heavier", with added funk rock guitar lines and "percussive shudders".[23] NME's Sam Richards noted the drum'n'bass rhythm and how the overall vibe seemed to match the lyrics' "murderous intent".[24] In Rolling Stone, David Fricke describes the re-recording as having a "dynamic honing" take on the original, featuring "more malevolent programming".[25] Ben Rayner of the Toronto Sun calls the remake a "flailing, relentless tumult" that is "rougher-hewn [and] heavier" than the original.[26] Rancic writes the track "sounds 'jazzy'", but its "loose structure" doesn't have any real qualities of jazz evident.[14]

Release

The re-recording of "Sue" was released on 8 January 2016 as the fourth track on Bowie's final album Blackstar, sequenced between "Lazarus" and "Girl Loves Me".[27] Bowie died two days after its release, after having suffered from liver cancer for 18 months.[28][29] In his review of Blackstar, Andy Gill of The Independent described the remakes of both "Sue" and its B-side "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" as "like footnotes to the transitional experiments of 'Station to Station', but with less potent melodies, and less interest in pleasing forms".[30] Petridis praised the remake over the original, writing, "It sounds like a band, rather than Bowie grafting himself on to someone else's musical vision."[31] Rancic writes that while the original was downplayed by its inclusion on a compilation album, the remake provides "the actual left turn that The Next Day announced", in that it showed the artist was still "creatively unpredictable".[14] Barry Walters of NPR praised Guiliana's drum performance on the track, writing, "[he] skewers jungle's hyper funk with irregular beats and accents that emphasise ensemble performance, not studio-sampled perfection".[29] Rayner praised the remake as superior to the original, complementing the rhythm section and the performances of McCaslin and Bowie.[26]

Personnel

Charts

Chart performance for "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)"
Chart (2014–16) Peak
position
France (SNEP)[34] 52
Hungary (Single Top 40)[35] 13
Italy (FIMI)[36] 73
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[37] 83
Portugal (AFP)[38] 69
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[39] 96
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[40] 54
UK Singles (OCC)[41] 81
US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs (Billboard)[42] 43

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q O'Leary 2019, pp. 614–620.
  2. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 269.
  3. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 269–270.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Pegg 2016, p. 270.
  5. ^ a b Wiederhorn, Jon (13 January 2016). "'Blackstar' Guitarist Recalls Bowie's Last Days in the Studio". Yahoo! Music. Archived from the original on 24 June 2021. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  6. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 122–123, 270.
  7. ^ a b Grow, Kory (18 November 2014). "David Bowie – "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)"". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 29 July 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
  8. ^ Jarenwattananon, Patrick; et al. "NPR Music's Favorite Songs Of 2014". National Public Radio. National Public Radio. Archived from the original on 9 June 2019. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  9. ^ "New David Bowie single 'Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)' to receive first play on Sunday". NME. 9 October 2014. Archived from the original on 12 October 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  10. ^ O'Leary 2019, pp. 670–680.
  11. ^ "Sue single update plus cover artwork revealed". David Bowie Official Website. 22 September 2014. Archived from the original on 25 September 2014. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  12. ^ Mansfield, Brian (9 September 2014). "New Bowie single coming with career compilation". USA Today. Archived from the original on 25 February 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  13. ^ Petridis, Alexis (12 October 2014). "David Bowie: Sue (or In a Season of Crime) – review". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 January 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  14. ^ a b c Rancic, Michael (7 January 2016). "David Bowie – Blackstar". Exclaim!. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  15. ^ Blistein, Jon (13 November 2014). "Watch David Bowie's Noir-Inspired New Video 'Sue'". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 13 July 2017. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  16. ^ Harrison, Lily (15 February 2016). "Grammys 2016 Winners: The Complete List". E!. Archived from the original on 16 February 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  17. ^ David Bowie (2014). "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" (Digital media notes). UK: Parlophone. 1ORDB2014.
  18. ^ a b Pegg 2016, pp. 270–271.
  19. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 473.
  20. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 285.
  21. ^ a b c d Pegg 2016, p. 271.
  22. ^ Gerard, Chris (8 January 2016). "David Bowie: Blackstar". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 10 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  23. ^ Dalton, Stephen (27 November 2015). "David Bowie: Blackstar". Classic Rock. Archived from the original on 6 January 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  24. ^ Richards, Sam (8 January 2016). "David Bowie – 'Blackstar' Review: The NME Verdict". NME. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  25. ^ Fricke, David (23 December 2015). "Blackstar". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 29 December 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  26. ^ a b Rayner, Ben (8 January 2016). "David Bowie's Blackstar a nearly perfect goodbye: review". Toronto Sun. Postmedia. Archived from the original on 11 January 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  27. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Blackstar – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 24 April 2019. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  28. ^ Furness, Hannah (13 January 2016). "David Bowie's last release, Lazarus, was 'parting gift' for fans in carefully planned finale". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  29. ^ a b Walters, Barry (11 January 2016). "Review: David Bowie's 'Blackstar' Is Adventurous To The End". NPR. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 18 July 2020.
  30. ^ Gill, Andy (22 December 2015). "David Bowie's Blackstar – exclusive first review: A Bowie desperate to break with the past". The Independent. Archived from the original on 26 December 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  31. ^ Petridis, Alexis (7 January 2016). "David Bowie: Blackstar review – a spellbinding break with his past". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  32. ^ "Sue: The players, the sound file, the RSD sleeve". David Bowie Official Website. Archived from the original on 13 April 2017. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  33. ^ O'Leary 2019, p. 614.
  34. ^ "David Bowie – Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  35. ^ "Archívum – Slágerlisták – MAHASZ" (in Hungarian). Single (track) Top 40 lista. Magyar Hanglemezkiadók Szövetsége. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  36. ^ "Top Digital – Classifica settimanale WK 2 (dal 2016-01-08 al 2016-01-14)" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Archived from the original on 6 April 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  37. ^ "David Bowie – Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  38. ^ "David Bowie – Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)". AFP Top 100 Singles. Retrieved 23 April 2020.
  39. ^ "David Bowie – Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  40. ^ "David Bowie – Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  41. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  42. ^ "David Bowie Chart History (Hot Rock & Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 20 January 2016.

Sources

  • O'Leary, Chris (2019). Ashes to Ashes: The Songs of David Bowie 1976–2016. London: Repeater Books. ISBN 978-1-91224-836-0.
  • Pegg, Nicholas (2016). The Complete David Bowie (Revised and Updated ed.). London: Titan Books. ISBN 978-1-78565-365-0.