Reality, released in 2003, is the twenty-fourth studio album by David Bowie and the second album produced since the reunion of Bowie with longtime collaborator Tony Visconti. The album began production unusually quickly, with Bowie first writing the songs for it while the sessions for Heathen were wrapping up. This overlap enabled Reality to be the fastest-released studio album of Bowie's (by distance between its own release and the release of the preceding studio album) since The Buddha of Suburbia in 1993note .
More straight-forward Alternative Rock compared to its predecessor, it was followed by A Reality Tour. It was the highest grossing tour of 2004, gaining more than 700,000 attendees and a DVD release in 2010. However, Bowie suffered an eye injury from a lollipop being thrown at a concert in Oslo, only to be followed a week later by a heart attack while performing at a festival in Germany. It would be his last major concert. The events led to a long break, during which time Bowie would become more involved with raising his young daughter, save for the occasional guest vocals, acting role or assistance with music production. For nearly ten years Reality was considered his last album, with fans and press accepting that Bowie had comfortably retired, until an unexpected comeback in 2013 occurred with The Next Day.
While Reality was and still is fairly well-regarded by fans and critics, it's generally considered a step down from Heathen and one of Bowie's lesser post-Never Let Me Down albums in part due to its more mainstream-friendly sound. The album's cover art is also a common punching bag for jokes on account of its chaotic design and Uncanny Valley depiction of Bowie. That said, it's acquired a greater reputation as an underrated album in Bowie's back-catalog with the passage of time, partly spurred on by the long hiatus that followed it and galvanized with Bowie's death in 2016. The album was also a decent commercial success for Bowie, peaking at No. 3 on the UK Albums chart and topping both the Danish Albums chart and the Billboard European Albums chart (on the broader Billboard 200 though it ranked at a more modest No. 29), in addition to being certified gold in the United Kingdom, France, and New Zealand.
The singles released from the album were "New Killer Star" and "Never Get Old", the latter of which was later mashed up with a re-recording of "Rebel Rebel" and released as the non-album single "Rebel Never Gets Old" in 2004.
- "New Killer Star" (4:40)
- "Pablo Picasso"note (4:06)
- "Never Get Old" (4:25)
- "The Loneliest Guy" (4:11)
- "Looking for Water" (3:28)
- "She'll Drive the Big Car" (4:35)
- "Days" (3:19)
- "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon" (4:04)
- "Try Some, Buy Some"note (4:24)
- "Reality" (4:23)
- "Bring Me the Disco King" (7:45)
"Trope me in the dark, let me disappear"
- Animesque: The anime-influenced cover art of the album was created by Rex Ray, an American graphic designer.
- Artistic License Biology: "Pablo Picasso" with the line "the girls would turn the colour of a juicy avocado".
- Awful Wedded Life: Implied by both "She'll Drive the Big Car" and the Gender Flipped B-Side "Fly".
- Call-Back: "New Killer Star" opens with a stuttering synth riff in the same vein as "Sunday" off of the previous album, Heathen; both "New Killer Star" and "Sunday" are the opening tracks to their respective albums.
- Cover Version: "Pablo Picasso" by The Modern Lovers and "Try Some, Buy Some" by George Harrison (originally written for and performed by Ronnie Spector); the latter was originally slated for inclusion on the never-released, never-produced Pin Ups sequel Bowie-ing Out. During this period he also released "Love Missile F1-11" (Sigue Sigue Sputnik) as a B-side for "New Killer Star". These songs would be the final examples of this trope in Bowie's studio backlog, with all later published songs (barring archival releases) being original compositions.
- Epic Rocking: "Bring Me the Disco King" clocks in at just a quarter under eight minutes.
- Face on the Cover: The cover art features an animesque portrait of Bowie.
- Lighter and Softer: Compared to the dour, ambient-influenced, and introspective art rock of Heathen, this album is definitely a step in a more upbeat direction. Much of the lyrical content is fairly sardonic and/or moody and the music definitely has a rough edge to it, but the moodier elements act more as a trimming on this record than the main feature. Songs such as "Pablo Picasso", "Never Get Old", "Try Some, Buy Some", and the Title Track also have considerably lighter lyrical content compared to Heathen as well.
- Limited Lyrics Song: "The Loneliest Guy"
- Longest Song Goes Last: At 7:45, the closing track "Bring Me the Disco King" outpaces every preceding track on the album.
- Mondegreen: Invoked with "New Killer Star", which is written and pronounced to make fun of the way George W. Bush pronounced the word "nuclear."
- One-Word Title: Reality, "Days", "Reality".
- Rearrange the Song:
- "Never Get Old" was mashed up with a re-recording of "Rebel Rebel" from Diamond Dogs and released as a single as "Rebel Never Gets Old".
- "Bring Me the Disco King" was intended to be released on Black Tie, White Noise but ended up being reworked twice, first unsuccessfully for Earthling and then successfully for this album.
- Although ultimately still a Cover Version, Bowie's version of "Pablo Picasso" added two Spanish guitar solos and a refrain ("Swinging on the back porch...")
- Record Producer: David Bowie and Tony Visconti.
- Series Fauxnale: Following Bowie's heart attack in 2004, he withdrew from the public eye over the course of the next two years; by the time "Where Are We Now?" dropped in 2013, everyone had accepted the idea that Bowie had retired, with Reality (and especially "Bring Me the Disco King", with such conclusive lyrics as "stab me in the dark, let me disappear") being his accidental Grand Finale. Of course, that surprise release of "Where Are We Now?" acted as a sudden statement that the story wasn't over just yet for Bowie.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Bowie in the pose that inspired the cover for the album.
- Shout-Out: Three guesses as to what the song "Pablo Picasso" is about.
- Stealth Pun: What better way to promote an album titled Reality than with a cartoon drawing of your likeness.
- Take That!: To the Bush/Cheney Administration through the songs "New Killer Star" and "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon"
- Title Track/Title Drop: "Reality", the tenth track on the album
- Word Salad Title: "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon".