What does it sound like?:
In this box there are eleven gold CDs, pristinely remastered: Low, “Heroes”, “Heroes” EP, Stage (2CD original version), Stage (2CD, with the corrected running order), Lodger (the original mix), Lodger (new Tony Visconti remix), Scary Monsters & Super Creeps and ReCall 3 (singles, B sides and the Baal EP). In other words, everything officially released by David Bowie between 1977 & 1982, except for his 1977 recitation of Peter And The Wolf (which is excellent, by the way). There are none of the ‘bonus’ tracks released on later issues.
Of course, it is utterly brilliant. During this period, Bowie was creating one jaw-dropping moment after another after another. From the heavily compressed snare on Speed Of Life to the howls of It’s No Game, there is barely a weak moment. Even the live album is magnificent. Only the four track “Heroes” EP, including the German and French versions of the single, is superfluous.
There were four constants up to 1980: Dennis Davis on drums, George Murray bass, Carlos Alomar guitar and Tony Visconti as producer. On these discs, that rhythm section makes a great case for being the best rhythm section of all time and the remastering displays them in all their glory. The album that illustrates this most is Scary Monsters. The march into the distance for the last minute and a half of Fashion is breathtaking and the detail within the irregular rhythms of Scream Like A Baby is spellbinding. Remember, these are all R&B musicians asked to play motorik like a bunch of aliens. They more than rose to all of the challenges Bowie, Visconti and Eno threw at them.
Then, there are the two lead guitarists, Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, both recruited to the Bowie cause by Eno. Their guitar playing on these albums is amongst the most spectacular and unorthodox in Rock. Fripp announces himself three bars into Beauty & The Beast, shredding its cabaret structure into shards of rock & roll. He reaches his apogee on Fashion, rendering Pete Townshend’s contribution on the same album impotent. Meanwhile, Belew’s playing of Fripp’s cut-and-paste guitar parts on Stage (second version is best) beggars belief. On Lodger, he is even better, often performing with no knowledge of the song he’s playing, not even its key.
In fact, Lodger is the centre-piece of this box. In 1979, it seemed the poor relation to “Heroes” and Low but it includes some of Bowie’s best songs. Fantastic Voyage, for example, is simply fantastic. Tony Visconti’s new remix smooths out some of its quirkiness but brings out its beauty. Bowie’s vocals, multi-tracked, emotive and measured, are gorgeous. It’s a reminder that from Beauty And The Beast onwards, Bowie vocals are at the peak of his career. He expresses the songs with every fibre of his being. The new remix adds another dimension to Lodger and there is also a sparkling remaster of the original mix to relish.
In terms of the remastering, Scary Monsters is the most revealing, giving it a new lease of life. However, two tracks on ReCall 3 almost glow. The acoustic Space Oddity is overwhelming in its sense of isolation, spinning in infinity, its pregnant pause feeling like a lifetime and Cat People (Putting Out Fire), the Giorgio Moroder soundtrack version, is smouldering and majestic. Remastering generally creates more space around the instruments allowing more detail to be revealed. The first side of Low, with its deliberately compressed distortion, must be a beggar to polish up and so it proves here. It still sounds good, just not as wonderful as everything else and it’s not much of an improvement on the 1999 iteration.
None of these albums sold particularly well at the time. Low was always referred to as the one that didn’t sell. Certainly, Let’s Dance eclipsed them all, making Bowie extremely well off. However, the artistic endeavour and imagination on A New Career In A New Town is beyond compare. None of this music has aged at all. It still sounds like the future.
The tag-line for “Heroes”, ‘There’s New Wave, there’s Old Wave and there’s David Bowie’ is a simple statement of fact. This is Bowie at his unique best. Moving to Berlin to get off cocaine did him the world of good.
What does it all *mean*?
Catnip for fans. Despite its high cost, it will make a tidy profit.
What happens next is an interesting question. Bowie’s next five years could be contained on four discs. Apart from Let’s Dance, the most interesting Bowie works were the soundtracks and collaborations released mostly as singles. ReCall 4 could easily follow on from ReCall 3 in that sense, including, as it does, Under Pressure with Queen and the Christmas duet with Bing Crosby. If they go for another box, maybe they go for a ten year one?
Goes well with…
A bulging wallet, a decent stereo, luxurious headphones.
Might suit people who like…
Need you ask? In the interest of brevity I’ve assumed a certain familiarity with the material. Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life could so easily have been included.