Specifically, the piece begins with applause, which gracefully evolves into an off-kilter, clapped beat. Students of composer Steve Reich's transcendent experiments with repetition will immediately make a connection: Murphy is referencing "Clapping Music," the composer's 1972 landmark study of rhythm.
Those questioning the wanton use of the descriptive "epic" when describing a dance track are forgiven for rolling their eyes. These days any song over six minutes with big thump and a few choice breaks is described as such. But when a true blockbuster rework arrives, the word feels necessary. This 10 minutes is thick enough for the term.
(Want to listen while you read? The track isn't embeddable, but is available for streaming at Soundcloud.)
Handclaps drive the entirety of "Love Is Lost," pushing forward a frantic, drunken rhythm of patterned eighth-notes that echo as though recorded in a subway tunnel.
"It's the darkest hour, you're 22, the voice of youth, the hour of dread," sings Bowie as the clapping teams with the warm tones of an analog synth. Its melody seems to dance along, grooving atop the beats and getting further lost in the repetition. Gentle piano chords offer arranged structure.
The track achieves cruising altitude four minutes in, and carries along with steadiness as Bowie wonders, "What have you done? What have you done?" In the spot where an awesome "break" usually adds some tension, though, Murphy has other ideas: he drops the rhythm altogether and steers into the chaos of group applause again, as though an auditorium were commenting on the progress.
That's only half of the remix, and the downhill slope is just as surprising. The claps eventually move into the natural order of dance music -- on beats two and four, with a four-on-the-floor bass-kick driving -- but sneak in from time to time to offer four- and eight-bar rhythmic chaos as reminders of the potential for triple-time action.
We ride through sonic tunnels and float off aural cliffs, lost in something big and beautiful. Majestic. Imposing. Epic.
Good morning, indeed.
As a way of comparison, here's an annotated video of Reich's "Clapping Music."
The Murphy remix will be included on the upcoming "The Next Day Extra," a beefed-up three-disc set to be released Nov. 5. It will feature all of the Mercury Prize-nominated album, a companion disc with five previously unreleased songs and two remixes. The third disc will be a DVD featuring four videos from "The Next Day." Too, it'll be available as a seven-track digital EP bundle.
Now, if only Reich would jump into this game and rework Murphy's remix, the circle would be complete. Mr. Bowie, might you call in a favor?