Do We Really Need Another David Bowie Compilation?
Let's say you're in the market for 59 David Bowie tracks but you only want to spend 20 bucks. Let's also assume you want some hits, a few rarities and at least one brand new track and you want it to be a true career-spanning retrospective.
You want the latest Bowie compilation, 'Nothing Has Changed.'
Repackaging Bowie must generate an economy larger than that of most third world nations. Between 1967 and 2013, the Dame released 26 studio albums of original material. During that same period almost 50 compilation albums were released. Then there are the live albums, singles, extended plays, soundtracks, imports, promos, bootlegs, tribute albums and guest appearances. When you're done with those, you can collect the various mixes as the Thin White Duke's catalog was re-released on a succession of labels -- and don't forget the anniversary editions of key albums. Did I mention the audiophile CD and LP pressings? Can't forget those.
A quick flip through my stacks reveals that my Bowie addiction runs 120 CDs deep alone, never mind other media. A dozen of those are compilations. That's a lot of repackaged Ziggy. One would be forgiven for thinking that I resent being sold the same record over and over. 'Nothing Has Changed' couldn't be a more apt title, could it? But that's the brilliance of the Bowie camp. There's no other artist of his vintage who does such a good job of providing new nuggets for longtime fans alongside the same old hits for the casual listener.
And I really don't need the old hits. This marks the 20th copy of 'Ziggy Stardust' in my playlist and the mix is indistinguishable from a few other versions I already have. This holds true for 'Let's Dance,' 'Changes,' 'Heroes' and most of the usual suspects. If you have the three EMI "Best of" packages, you'll notice that these seem to be the same mixes as the latest compilation.
Around 25 of the new collection's 59 tracks fall into the "been there done that" category noted above. Only one song is brand new, 'Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)'. The cut actually leads off the compilation, which -- in a fairly unique twist -- is arranged reverse-chronologically. 'Sue' may be freshly minted, but it sounds like it was written for Bowie's overlooked 1995 album 'Outside':
Technically 'Sue' might be the only new track, but "new" is a bit of a relative term on 'Nothing Has Changed.' Prior to vanishing after 2003's 'Reality,' Bowie recorded several cuts for an album named 'Toy.' This was huge news for Bowiephiles, as he recorded new versions of several songs from his pre-'Space Oddity' juvenilia. The project was canned, but the tracks were leaked and they were remarkable. Many of us were left scratching our heads, wondering why the album was shelved. Completists had no choice but to rock back and forth 'Rain Man'-style, hoping that someday an official version of 'Toy' would be released and their collections could be made whole (that would be me).
Good news: Three tracks from 'Toy' are represented here, though two of them ('Your Turn to Drive' and 'Shadow Man') previously saw official release daylight of one sort or another. The third is the 'Toy' version of the greatest Bowie song you've never heard, 'Let Me Sleep Beside You:'
As good as the 'Toy' version is (and it is very good) the definitive version of 'Let Me Sleep Beside You' remains the live-in-studio take that appears on 'Bowie at the Beeb' -- an essential compilation.
A small group of easily found tracks that didn't appear on the original 26 studio albums appear, too. These include soundtrack cuts 'This is Not America,' 'Absolute Beginners' and the title track from 1993's 'The Buddha of Suburbia,' which really should be added to the studio album count. Yes, 'Buddha' is technically a soundtrack, but it is entirely new studio material. It's damned good, too. The Bowie/Jagger cover of 'Dancing in the Street' originally recorded for Live Aid shows up, too. Previously the cut only appeared on a couple of greatest hits packages and in my worst nightmares.
The bulk of the Bowie geek madness on 'Nothing Has Changed' comes in the form of alternate mixes, and in some cases alternate mixes of alternate mixes. Those of us who bought 'The Next Day Extra' edition of Bowie's most recent studio album were treated to a 10-minute James Murphy remix of 'Love is Lost.' We get it again this year, but in a more compact four-minute version. Eighteen tracks in this collection are alternate mixes -- not essential, but nice to have.
Bringing up the rear are five early cuts that predate 'Space Oddity.' For the casual listener, there is no Bowie prior to Major Tom, but young Davie Jones had been gigging for seven years prior to his first hit. The Konrads, the King Bees, the Manish Boys, the Lower Third -- all are incarnations of a teenage Bowie enamored with Little Richard, the Rolling Stones and the mod movement of bands like the Who. The closest he came to the brass ring in those early years was during his time with the Deram label. Two tracks from that period -- 'In the Heat of the Morning' and 'Silly Boy Blue' -- are included here. They're two of the best songs from the Deram era, a period that Bowie spent most of his career distancing himself from. There's nothing new here with either track, but if you don't know them they're new to you. 'Can't Help Thinking About Me' and 'You've Got a Habit of Leaving' both are circa '65-'66, when Bowie was with the Lower Third. If you've ever wondered what Bowie would've sounded like as a British Invasion artist, here's your answer. Note, though, that a 'Toy' version of 'You've Got a Habit of Leaving' appeared on the 'Slow Burn' CD single. Perhaps he's holding that one back for the next compilation.
The album closes where Bowie begins -- with his first single, 'Liza Jane,' credited to Davie Jones and the King Bees. It's a very cool cut, all the more remarkable considering Bowie was 17 when it was recorded:
The booklets included with 'Nothing Has Changed' are a bit thin on liner notes, but they provide release dates for each song and album titles where applicable.
So what's the bottom line?
- If you're a Bowie fan looking for a career spanning set, this is the collection for you.
- If you just want the hits, this one is a bit too comprehensive for you but it's cheap, so why not?
- If you own 120 Bowie CDs, you don't really need this package. But if you own 120 Bowie CDs, you really need this package. The alternate mixes, the new track, and the 'Toy' material all make 'Nothing Has Changed' mandatory purchasing for the true Bowie geek.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my web searches. I just know there has to be a Peruvian import edition with a different track order or some such, and I'm going to have to rock in my chair 'Rain Man'-style until a copy is tucked away in my stacks.