Illustration by Gustav Doré from The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, 1892
Two songs named after a 1956 play by John Osborne, recorded about a year apart. David Bowie's "Look Back in Anger" was recorded for 1979's Lodger, the third of his Brian-Eno-produced Berlin Trilogy. A year later, UK "part-time punks" the Television Personalities put a song of the same name as the closing track on their debut record, And Don't the Kids Just Love It. In fact, the Personalities' title could be a reference to Bowie and not Osborne, considering the album's mix of literary and pop-culture references. These are both good songs, and I've felt bad that I've used cop-out judgments in recent Title Fights ("I'm sad that the Shins broke up! You lose [frowny face]!"), so I'm going to rate these two by some concrete but still totally subjective criteria.
MUSIC: Bowie's "Look Back in Anger", like many of the songs on Lodger gives a co-writing credit to producer Brian Eno, and the *sounds* of the song are very Eno, with the propulsive,layered production and chanted backing vocals. I like the stuttering intro, and the guitar solo by Carlos Alomar is nice, but the there's not quite enough going on in the melody for me. The Television Personalities song on the other hand, is a lean slice of lo-fi pop, with plenty of tape hiss and a single blaring rhythm guitar riff. In this case, the melody's simplicity works in its favor, highlighting a couple nice hooks, and putting the emphasis on the song's sentimentality.
WORDS: There's a lot to be said for Dan Treacy's simple, emotive lines in the Television Personalities' "Look Back in Anger", but the contrast between the simpering apologizing of the verse and the resentment in the chorus doesn't really work for me - I'm not really buying Treacy's anger, for one thing. On the other hand, Bowie's lyric about a visitation from the angel of death has several memorable lines, my favorite being, "The speaker was an angel - he coughed and shook his crumpled wings." The borrowed title phrase is also worked into the song in a more poetic fashion, so I think Bowie's ahead on points in this category.
It's a pretty close race, really - maybe Oasis is right and we should just call the whole thing off. Because,you see, Oasis had a song called... oh, never mind. When it comes down to it, the Television Personalities "Look Back in Anger" is easier to like even if it's not as admirable a composition as the Bowie song - it's the one that I am more eager to listen to. Also, it's a great title for an album-closing track, so the Television Personalities get bonus points for that as well!
Winner: THE TELEVISION PERSONALITIES
"Look Back in Anger" by David Bowie
"Look Back in Anger" by the Television Personalities