At this stage in David Bowie's career - Reality is his 26th studio release in 36 years - it's not realistic to expect or demand wild reinvention. Comes a point when there isn't much ground left to break.
So it's refreshing to hear that instead of hopping aboard some inappropriate youthful bandwagon and rapping, Bowie is merely aiming to rock hard a bit, sing some moody ballads and more or less play to his musical strengths.
Bowie once again reconnects with longtime producer Tony Visconti and asserts his rock chops from the get-go on "New Killer Star," an infectious rocker that alludes to the events of Sept. 11 and rhythmically bears the slightest resemblance to Billy Squier's cheeseball '80s hit, "Everybody Wants You."
Hey, nothing wrong with that. From there, Bowie offers some personal reflection on the musically morose but lyrically upbeat "The Loneliest Guy in the World" and the chugging "Never Get Old."
"Loneliest Guy" is a failed experiment, but "Days" is a lovely acoustic-etched ballad. "Looking for Water" has a solid hook. Covers of the Modern Lovers' '70s new wave tune, "Pablo Picasso," and George Harrison's obscure "Try Some, Buy Some" work, too.
Pianist Mike Garson, from the long-ago "Aladdin Sane" days, returns to offer jazzy fills on "Loneliest Guy" and on the wee-hours chill of the closing "Bring Me the Disco King." The difference between old and new Bowie, however, is that his age and experience put him in the position to sing from the perspective of a man who's living his concepts, rather than hypothesizing on what may be.
"There's never gonna be enough money/There's never gonna be enough drugs/And I'm never ever gonna get old/There's never gonna be enough bullets/There's never gonna be enough sex/And I'm never gonna get old/So I'm never ever gonna get high."
This from a man who once linked rock 'n' roll with "genocide" on 1974's decadent Diamond Dogs LP. Maturity has set in. It's not a bad place for Bowie to find himself.
Reality (ISO/Columbia) ***