Monday, October 10, 2016
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - WHO CAN I BE NOW? (1974 - 1976)
Gigantic, lavish, expensive, multi-album boxed sets are nothing new, especially in this second life of vinyl. Most of the big collectible acts have them. Usually though, they are career-spanning (Beatles, Queen, Who), or glory years (Stones, Kinks in mono, a/k/a the 60s). Nobody but nobody has got it to the level of Bowie though, and I say Bowie because he apparently mapped out this whole reissue series before he died. His first box, Five Years, covered just 1969-1973 in 13 LPs. Now the second one, also 13 LPs (or 12 CDs), covers just 1974-1976, and the albums Diamond Dogs, Young Americans and Station to Station, plus their attendant live albums.
How does he do it? To quote one of his later songs, repetition. If there's any kind of a difference in any of the songs here, we get them again, and sometimes, entire albums are here twice. Five of the 13 LPs are devoted to the 1974 album David Live. First, there's the original mix, the basic two album set. Then, there's a version that was completely remixed for a CD release in 2005, with four extra cuts originally left off the album. Now, there is a difference between the two, I couldn't say it's a better mix, but it's noticeable. It's more for fun, really. And the four extra cuts? It's longer, for sure. But all four had been issued in different places before.
Don't expect any unreleased music if you're any kind of a Bowie fan. Rare, yes, and you would have had to spend a lot of money to collect all these variations over the years, but the Bowie tree has pretty much been picked clean now. So the rare cuts-only album, Re:CALL 2 (following the first such set in the previous box), includes only 45 rpm mixes, radio edits and b-sides. Now, some of these are very good, including the great live b-side Panic in Detroit, but hey, it's already been added to the David Live album above. See how this works? Repetition. Some of the cuts are frankly interesting for their bizarre edits. The notorious short version of Young Americans, which most disc jockeys thankfully ignored, has the worst chop job ever, to take out the "President Nixon" section. Then there's the strange decision to edit Station to Station into a single by starting the song halfway through. I've always like the U.S. radio version of Rebel Rebel better than the original though, so it shines. I do believe I have that on two or three other sets though. Repetition.
The big selling point to this box is the inclusion of the previously-unheard of album, The Gouster. What, a brand-new Bowie album? Ah, no. What it turns out to be is an early version of the Young Americans album, with some different cuts and different mixes. How serious Bowie was about this being the final version is debatable, and it certainly wasn't uncommon for albums to be "complete" and then called back for major revisions after a few days and sober listens. What we do know happened was that Bowie's friendship with John Lennon at the time resulted in the pair coming up with Fame in a studio session, which obviously needed to be added. Since that happened, his cover of The Beatles' Across The Universe got done, and a whole new album came out. As for the original songs excised to make room from The Gouster project, you guessed it, they've all come out as bonus tracks over the years, including the ubiquitous John I'm Only Dancing (Again). Even the alternate mixes were used on the 1991 CD reissue.
There's a brand-new to most folks double-live album from the Station To Station tour, Nassau Coliseum '76, which is a really good look at how much Bowie had changed in the two years since David Live, with such later tracks as TVC 15, Stay and Word On A Wing. It was only available if you bought the 2010 super deluxe version of Station to Station, as well as the second version of the entire album, another different mix.
Here's what I figure though. From now on, you can save yourself a ton of bother by just getting this box, if you are that kind of fan. I don't mean the average, I love Bowie, I'm so sad he's dead fan. They should and will stick to the regular three albums, maybe get a live one someday too. These are for superfans with big wallets, or those willing to not eat this month. If that's you, my gosh this is beautiful. The heavyweight pressings, the giant, heavy box, the excellent hard-cover, full-sized book with its essays and unseen photos, the higher-quality jackets. This is how you want your hero presented. It may be a lot of repetition, but when its Diamond Dogs, Fame, Golden Years, Fascination, 1984, Wild Is The Wind, or Carlos Alomar making those cool train effects at the start of the live version of Station To Station, it's all worth repeating.