First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2007, Volume 14, #12
Written by John Metzger
Mon December 3, 2007, 06:45 AM CST
David Bowie’s career has been so long and varied that diehard fans who are willing to defend everything he has committed to tape likely are few and far between. Consequently, his latest self-titled boxed set may struggle to find an audience. The collection culls together his five most recent endeavors — Outside, Earthling, ‘hours...’, Heathen, and Reality — along with more b-sides, alternate mixes, and other assorted bonus tracks than his more casual, hit-loving followers would ever want to hear.
Of all of the proper studio albums contained in Bowie’s eponymous collection, Outside is, by far, the most inaccessible, ambitious, and challenging. Forged from his reunion with producer Brian Eno, the criminally underrated effort surrounds its futuristic, crime-novel-style storyline with an updated version of the duo’s atmospheric pursuits from the late 1970s. By contrast, the subsequent Earthling was a bit of a letdown. Although a few terrific tunes were tucked inside its edgy, rock-oriented architecture, the outing never fully found its rhythm. Instead, it felt exceedingly forced and directionless.
Considering how much Bowie had stumbled prior to the release of Outside — the proof of which can be found in The Best of David Bowie 1980/1987: Sight & Sound, a retrospective that summarizes how the visual aspects of his work began to hold more interest for him than making music — it isn’t surprising that the five outings that were compiled for the David Bowie boxed set were born from the self-reflecting perspective of getting back to his roots. Each album was, in effect, an attempt by Bowie to reconnect with his past as a means of propelling his art forward. In that regard, ‘hours...’, Heathen, and Reality share a similar approach. On these endeavors, Bowie increasingly jumbled his personas together, and although he wasn’t really introducing new concepts into the frameworks of his songs, he nonetheless did present a series of efforts that allowed him to rebuild a base of fans around his public stock offering.
Because it is geared toward those who want to possess Bowie’s complete catalogue, the extra material on David Bowie can be tedious to endure. On top of the material that is featured on the albums themselves, there also are five different renditions of The Heart’s Filthy Lesson as well as four variations on Seven and a trio of reconfigured versions of Rebel Never Gets Old. In each case, the re-mixed tracks are placed back-to-back, and although this presentation allows for them to be compared directly to one another, it also will be wearisome to anyone who isn’t approaching the collection academically or rearranging its contents on an iPod playlist.
The overriding question, of course, is whether or not anyone truly needs to hear any of the extra material that is featured on David Bowie. After all, most of it hardly could be considered essential. Yet, while listening to the collection from start-to-finish, a doorway opens, and the landscape that unfurls at the listener’s feet provides a glimpse into Bowie’s own thought processes. Given the ground that he has covered in the past, it’s become a lot harder for him to surprise his followers, but the ambient textures and continued complexity of his music demonstrate that his knack for experimentation hasn’t been diminished by time. It’s admirable, too, that he has been willing to let go of his work in order to allow others — including Trent Reznor, Beck, and Moby — to re-imagine it. As a result, different aspects of his songs — such as the soulful essence that rides through Thursday’s Child and Seven Years in Tibet — are either magnified or downplayed to suit his mood. In the end, Bowie’s self-titled boxed set proves itself to be a fascinating ride, provided it is viewed from the right perspective.
Of Further Interest...
David Bowie [Boxed Set] is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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