Even Bowie, possibly the most profusely creative artist of recent times, suffered artistic droughts. During these dry spells, however, he was able to manufacture equally innovative ways to make it rain again. The ‘Verbasizer’ is perhaps the most well-document method that he concocted like some mad professor of wordplay.
The ‘Verbasizer’ was pretty much a present-day app from the mid-nineties. It was a modernised take on a technique popularised by writer William S. Burroughs which divided up existing texts and realigned them in new ways. In the documentary Inspirations, directed by Michael Apted, Bowie describes the end result as, “a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topic and nouns and verbs, all sort of slamming into each other.”
Two years later, the man from outer space was generating perhaps less-innovative but equally strange ways to pen new material for his album Earthling. During the production of the 1997 release, Bowie developed a desire to write a song that used the names of all seven dwarves from Snow White.
The song begins with a Prodigy-esque electro-industrial sounding intro before breaking into a melody reminiscent of his very early work on ’60s songs like ‘The London Boys’. The lyrics to the aptly named song ‘Little Wonder’ begin, “Stinky weather fat, shaky hands / Dopey morning doc, grumpy gnomes.” Within this opening stanza of total nonsense, he manages to dole out two of the seven, and he continues in such a prolific vein that he eventually has to invent Disney Dwarf names of his own.
The track and album were both inspired musically by Nine Inch Nails, the industrial band who co-headlined ‘The Outside Tour’ of his previous album, pushing Bowie’s ever-evolving sound into changing realms.
The song might not have reached the lofty heights of some of his biggest hits, but it did reach number one in Japan and became enough of a fan favourite from the divisive quasi-industrial album to sit between ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Golden Years’ in his iconic Glastonbury 2000 headline set.
Over his career, Bowie made the freakish familiar, and this mix-up of avant-garde nonsense and cartoon fantasy is perhaps his finest example for the nineties.