So I’m here writing my latest book and generally suffering through the frustrations of trying to once again create something new while simultaneously dealing with all the fixes to my home and general tight time to do it all…
…and then I stumble upon this, the 50th Anniversary release -and remastering by Tony Visconti, David Bowie’s long time producer- of the first big David Bowie hit, Space Oddity.
Yeah, haunting is the right word…
The video seems to mix footage from David Bowie’s 50th year anniversary concert (that’s Bowie with the reddish hair) with footage which seems to have been taken during the Let’s Dance years (or thereabouts) in the 1980’s. That would be the more black and white-ish footage with Bowie having the much fuller hairdo.
The new Visconti mix, IMHO, is terrific. The drums in particular sound very crisp. The reverb upon Bowie saying “Liftoff” could be a little much to some, but I didn’t mind.
Makes me all the sadder that we’ll not hear any “new” material from Bowie… other than stuff that’s already in the vaults which hasn’t seen the light of day.
I’ve mentioned it before and, what the heck, let me post it again: One of my favorite buried treasures by Bowie, the original version of Candidate, which until the 1990’s and during the Ryko Disc releases of his previous material, hadn’t seen the light of day.
Originally intended for the Diamond Dogs album, I absolutely love this version of the song!
While most professional reviews (and there aren’t terribly many of them so far) are generally positive, I’m always intrigued by the most negative reviews.
It’s not that I’m a sadist -as I wrote, I liked the boxed set and felt the new version of the much maligned Never Let Me Down album was a tremendous improvement- but I am intrigued by those who don’t like something I may like and the reasons why they feel that way.
In that spirit, here we have Stephen Dalton’s review of the boxed set found on loudersound.com:
Mr. Dalton clearly doesn’t think very highly of Mr. Bowie’s releases during this period of time and his conclusion regarding the new version of Never Let Me Down is quite negative. Here are his thoughts, from the link above, regarding the “new” version of that album:
So is it really possible to reverse-engineer a ‘lost’ avant-rock album from a lacklustre soft-rock misfire? Arguably. On the positive side, Bowie’s vocals are now generally clearer and more sympathetically framed, especially on the sweetly romantic title track. But adding discordant drones, minor-key shifts and sci-fi trip-hop rumbles to thin material like Day-In Day-Out or Shining Star (Makin’ My Love) is more cosmetic gimmick than inspired transformation. Trying to salvage Bowie’s most derided album is an admirably ambitious experiment, but low-grade source material was always going to be an obstacle. Some turds just cannot be polished.
Look, I totally understand those who look down on this boxed set and, specifically, this new version of Never Let Me Down.
The fact of the matter is that when compared to the previous boxed sets, where Mr. Bowie first made his career starting with his glam rock era and following it up with some truly adventurous work (including the justifiably lauded Berlin trilogy), one can look at this era in his musical career as a step down.
And I’m not going to argue that point: It is!
Mr. Bowie hit the proverbial ball out of the park with Let’s Dance, a slick, radio friendly, and eminently enjoyable collection of wonderful pop songs. To my mind, that was a terrific album and it moved Mr. Bowie from being a famous but rather “cult” figure into the mainstream and his success was white hot.
The problem came afterwards.
Mr. Bowie clearly lost his way following the success of the album. Tonight the album that followed Let’s Dance, was what I consider merely adequate. There were some terrific songs on it, specifically Loving the Alien (which this boxed set used as its name) and the ultra-cool Blue Jean. I also enjoyed Tonight and Neighborhood Threat. But after that? Well… I can’t get into much of the rest. Perhaps the album’s worst song is Bowie’s remake of the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows. It was daring, to say the least, to take on of that band’s most beloved works and try to redo it, but Bowie here seemed so out of his element.
Which brings us to Never Let Me Down, again. I can’t help but feel that Bowie was burning the proverbial candle at both ends at this time. He was appearing in films and doing soundtrack songs (included on this boxed set are the absolutely terrific songs This is Not America and Absolute Beginners, along with his songs for the movie Labyrinth, which he co-starred in). This, along with a grueling concert schedule, must have taken their toll and I’ve read (but take it with a grain of salt) that he was exhausted during the making of NLMD.
Could this be why he later stated that he didn’t feel like he had much control over the album? Did he entrust too much of its creation to others?
One could think so, though I strongly suspect that if the album had been a hit, Mr. Bowie would welcome the adulation.
But, of course, that wasn’t the case. NLMD was a critical flop. As the years passed, most people had a sour view of the album and that era for Bowie’s music.
I can totally see why someone would scoff at this boxed set and feel that “fixing” NLMD is the equivalent of “polishing a turd”.
My opinion remains. I didn’t like NLMD upon its original release. As I wrote in my review of the boxed set, I felt that album was too scattershot, too all-over-the-place. Having said that, I felt there were good songs to be found here and there. It wasn’t a complete train wreck but it seemed something was lost between the various song’s creations and the ultimate cut used.
Which, to my mind, has been fixed tremendously with this “new” version of the album.
Will this new NLMD come to be viewed as another landmark Bowie album, one initially scoffed at a la 1. Outside, which was lambasted by professional critics upon its initial release but which now many people consider among his very best later releases?
I don’t know.
But it’s the way things go, isn’t it? Sometimes things are viewed very negatively when initially released and, over time, people come to view a certain worth to the product. Or it may never be rehabilitated.
As I’ve posted before, the main reason I was curious to buy the just released Loving The Alien box set by David Bowie was to listen to the new mix of Never Let Me Down.
Considered by many, including Bowie himself, as his “worst” album, I was very curious following the release of a remixed version of Time Will Crawl a few years back whether the album could be salvaged. My curiosity increased when this boxed set was announced along with the fact that it would feature a complete remix of that much maligned work. While Mr. Bowie sadly passed before the album was remixed (and therefore he personally could not approve of the overall work), when early releases of Zeroes and Bang Bang were available, I found them intriguing and my curiosity piqued.
Now that I’ve heard the whole thing, I have to say I’m incredibly impressed.
I too didn’t care for Never Let Me Down in its original version. It felt like too much was going on at once. It was too busy, too scattershot. Well, the new mix of the album fixes that. The album feels far more cohesive and some songs I really didn’t like, such as ‘87 and Cry, are truly transformed into something great. Listening to this new mix of Never Let Me Down is like finding a “new” great David Bowie album. It’s that good, IMHO.
The rest of the compilation is quite good as well. You have Let’s Dance, the crown jewel of this set, along with Serious Moonlight (a live concert), Tonight (a so-so album with some great highs and some equally low lows), the original Never Let Me Down (which one can use as a comparison to the remix, if you’re not terribly familiar with it), Glass Spider (another live concert), and a bunch of odds and ends and some great singles (This is Not America is a particular standout, IMHO).
I wrote already about my interest in the new David Bowie Box Set coming out in October and focusing on his mid-late 1980’s output, specifically in the fact that it features a completely redone version of his album Never Let Me Down, which many, including Bowie himself, viewed as his worst album. (You can read my previous ramblings about that topic here and here)
Slowly, tantalizingly, reworked songs from that album have been released. You have the inspiration for reworking those songs with the release, a number of years ago, of the song Time Will Crawl, which I thought was incredibly good in its remade version.
Then, after the announcement of the reworked album, we got to hear the reworked version of Zeroes, which I very much liked as well. Today, we have a third song, Beat of Your Drum. Here is the reworked version which will appear on the upcoming boxed set:
As a comparison, this is the version which appeared on the album originally…
Ok, so far I’ve been very much impressed in each new remade version of the songs from Never Let Me Down but this time… I dunno. I like the new version quite a lot but I have to admit: I’m not all that down on the original, so while this new version is interesting I find the difference not quite as startling as that with the previous two songs.
I’m still looking very much forward to the full album, though!
To those (1 or two out there, at least?!) curious, the article offers a history of Never Let Me Down, David Bowie’s 1987 album which he, and many fans out there, feel was his “worst” album, yet one that he also felt could be reworked/saved. This was done with the album, albeit posthumously, and the reworked album, along with a remastered version of the original, will be released in October along with plenty of other stuff in David Bowie’s mid-1980’s Loving The Alien box-set.
What I found most fascinating about the article is they go into what exactly was done to “rework” the album, essentially stripping down everything until all they had was Bowie’s singing and then adding things to it to create these new versions of the songs.
Equally fascinating is the fact that, inevitably, there would be those who are not happy with the fact that the album is as badmouthed as it is and, further, that it “needed” any fixing.
And in this case that individual would be… multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kızılçay, who in the article offers this nugget, found in the above article:
“(Never Let Me Down, the original release, is) like 80 percent me. I’m playing bass. I’m singing background vocals. I’m playing guitar. I’m playing acoustic guitar, keyboards, viola, trombone, trumpet, everything. And I had to arrange them and put some harmonies and (David Bowie) loved it. He really loved it. He was so proud of that album. That’s why he called me his ‘Invincible Turk.’ He praised it until the minute the reviews came in. Then he said, ‘It wasn’t me. It was the other people on the record.’”
I’ve noted before my love for David Bowie’s albums and further the fact that I would consider him my all time favorite musician… but as a person, I’ve read bits and pieces here and there about him which paints a picture of David Bowie -the person- as this: An almost otherworldly talented musician but something of a cutthroat when it came to relationships and projects.
Niles Rodgers, who was called in by David Bowie to produce Let’s Dance, polished the work and helped create what was David Bowie’s biggest selling album which launched him into what was his most successful era. Yet when it came time to produce the album’s follow up, I recall an interview (hope my memory isn’t faulty!) with Mr. Rodgers where he said he was willing and eager to get back into the studio with Mr. Bowie on his next album… but Bowie snubbed him and never called. He felt he was essentially dumped despite working so well with him.
Similarly, David Bowie famously dumped the “Spiders of Mars,” the band he had his first big hits with, and retired the “Ziggy Stardust” character while in a concert and to the shock of not only his fans but most of his band mates. This was their bread and butter and he didn’t feel the need to inform several of his band mates this would be it until announcing it for all in concert!
Further, when he grew bored with a style of music and/or it didn’t succeed as well as he hoped (and the above quote certainly hints to that), he was quick to dump it and move on to other things. This served him well at times, when he transitioned from the Glam Rock era to Soul to the “Berlin” trilogy but, again, it often involved cutting people he worked with -and who were making money/earning a living doing these projects- out.
He famously worked with Iggy Pop for a long time in the mid to later 1970’s, producing albums for him and, later on, doing cover songs of several of his (and Bowie) compositions, the most famous of which was China Girl. To be clear, he did this for the nicest of reasons: To help Iggy Pop get some residuals for his works.
And yet I recall an interview given by Iggy Pop a few years ago (and well before Mr. Bowie’s passing) where he was asked about his current relationship with David Bowie and he noted there essentially was none: that they hadn’t spoken in a number of years. I got the impression (again, if my memory isn’t faded/wrong) that Iggy Pop felt like Bowie dropped him and that was that.
The album 1. Outside, my favorite Bowie album from the later part of his career, was intended to be the first of at least two, perhaps three albums dealing with the turn of the Century. While the album has come to be looked upon as one of Bowie’s best by some such as me, the fact is it didn’t do too well when it was originally released, both critically and commercially, and Bowie dropped the project and any possible future albums involving this subject. For his next album, he moved right along to the electronica heavy Earthling (also quite a great album). 1. Outside was in the rear view mirror.
What does this all mean?
In the end, I suppose it is a source of curiosity if little else.
Erdal Kızılçay, in that same article, feels the remake of Time Will Crawl is awful -I don’t share that opinion- and I strongly suspect he’ll not like the remake album at all. He’s understandably proud of the work he did on the album even if many don’t like it all that much. Further, he states that if he doesn’t receive the proper credit for his work, even on the remade version of the album, he intends to sue.
Clearly, the man is angry about the whole thing and who am I to tell him he shouldn’t be. I wasn’t there during the recordings and I take his words at face value.
Still, it is a fascinating look behind the curtain and, if you’re as interested in these type of things as I am, you may want to give the article a read.
A few days ago (you can read it here), I noted the latest David Bowie Box Set (#4) to be released in October covers his mid-1980’s work, focusing in particular on Let’s Dance, Tonight, and the album many -including Mr. Bowie himself- considered his worst album, Never Let Me Down.
But, as I noted, Never Let Me Down’s main problem, at least to me, was the fact that it was waaaaay overproduced. It seemed too many songs had too much going on in them and noted that Mr. Bowie felt there was still a good album underneath the clutter of the production. This was proven, at least in one respect, by the reworking of the song Time Will Crawl in 2008, which to me was a BIG improvement over the original found on the album.
Anyway, to make a long story short, this upcoming box set will not only include a remastered version of the original Never Let Me Down, but also a complete REWORKING of that album, something I’m salivating over.
Welp, the first reworked song has appeared online for people to check out and, once again, it represents to me an improvement over the version presented on the original album release.
The song is Zeroes and here’s the original version of the song…
And now, the reworked version of the same song which will be found on the upcoming Box Set release…
Once again and as with Time Will Crawl, I’m pleased with the reworking of the song, which seems to be based on the “less is more” philosophy.
I’ve noted it before and I’ll repeat it here: David Bowie, for me, is my personal favorite musician. His albums, almost all of them, hold a special magic to my ears, and I love just about all of them.
With one notable exception.
Released in April 27, 1987, Mr. Bowie’s album Never Let Me Down has to have the most ironic title of any of his albums for there are many, including myself and, reportedly, Mr. Bowie himself, who consider it his worst album.
Never Let Me Down? How about: A complete let down, amiright?
Well… not so fast.
While I stand by my statement and do feel that, as released, Never Let Me Down is Mr. Bowie’s “worst” album, there is nonetheless plenty on it to like. The problem I had with it back when it was released and the problem I have with it today is that the album feels… wonky.
It’s like Mr. Bowie, after the mega-success of 1983’s Let’s Dance and decent reception/sales of 1984’s Tonight, an album some critics felt Mr. Bowie was “coasting” on with too many cover songs, felt he needed to re-establish himself -as he was wont to do- and create something truly great and more personal.
Never Let Me Down featured 10 songs and all but one of them were original to the album (the song Bang Bang was a cover of an Iggy Pop song). Compare that to Let’s Dance which had 8 songs and of those, 3 were remakes/covers and especially Tonight, which had 9 songs but of those a whopping 5 songs were covers/remakes.
Clearly Mr. Bowie was trying to do something great and more fully “Bowie” at the time but, ironically, the end result felt like he was trying a little too hard. The album was all over the place -overproduced and, IMHO, overcooked.
And yet… and yet… it fascinates me.
I felt there was a good album hidden in the clutter and buried under the production. Curiously, in subsequent interviews before his passing Mr. Bowie himself noted the same thing and, further, his desire to one day go back to the album and rework/reproduce it.
A few years back, the possibility that something good could be made of something considered so bad was made clear when Mr. Bowie released a remake/reworking of one of my favorite songs from the album, Time Will Crawl. This is the original version of the song (and music video!) from the Never Let Me Down album:
And here’s the reworked version from 2008 and released on the iSelect album…
I find the later version an incredible upgrade from the original and, having heard it, any doubts that Never Let Me Down could be a more successful album were gone.
Which brings us back to what I wanted to talk about here: The fourth David Bowie Box Set album, titled Loving the Alien, will feature a -surprise, surprise!- re-working of Never Let Me Down!
That’s right, folks, not only will we get remastered versions of Let’s Dance, Tonight, and the original release of Never Let Me Down, along with two live shows and a bunch of b-sides/singles, we’ll also get a complete re-working of that much maligned album.
If it winds up sounding like the Time Will Crawl re-working, I’m so there.
But a word of caution: The re-working of the album was created, it is stated, in 2018, which is obviously following Mr. Bowie’s passing. Clearly Mr. Bowie wanted to do this but one has to wonder how much -if any!- of the album’s re-working was done and approved of by him before his passing.
Still, of the now four boxed sets of Bowie’s work released, this is the one that has me the most curious.
Perhaps something many consider very bad might just get another critical look… and prove itself better than it originally was.
October, the boxed set’s release date, can’t come soon enough.
If you want to read more about the boxed set, including what exactly will be on it, here’s a link to an article by Daniel Kreps and found on RollingStone.com:
Interestingly enough, I realized -belatedly and after originally posting- that the Never Let Me Down album, both as originally released and the 2018 version in the upcoming box set, does NOT include the song Too Dizzy, which was on the original album’s release.
It’s been said that of the songs on Never Let Me Down, Mr. Bowie really, really hated Too Dizzy and decided, after originally releasing the album, that it would be banished from any future re-issues.
So what does the song that Mr. Bowie hated enough to strike from Never Let Me Down album sound like?
Glad you asked:
Yup. I can see why he wouldn’t want it back. Pretty generic pop and certainly not up to the level of other Bowie works.
In the last years before the passing of David Bowie, I noticed he had an affinity to “celebrate” his birthdays by giving his fans something special.
His birthday is January 8, 1947 and he would pass away two days after his 69th birthday on January 10, 2016. His last two albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, were announced on his 66th birthday (2014) and released on his 69th birthday, respectively.
After his passing, the No Plan EP album, featuring his final recordings was released on January 8th, 2017.
When January 8th neared this year, I figured something would be released to celebrate what would have been his 71st birthday. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I missed the release, which turned out to be a demo version of one of his biggest hits, the song Let’s Dance.
If you’re like me and you missed it, here it is!
Clearly a “rough”, pre-Niles Rogers (the producer of the album) version, which he considerably funked up. And yet, everything is pretty much there, lyrically and in terms of how the song “flows”.
For comparison, here’s the version that made it to the album…
Watched only a few minutes of it (obligatory “I’m really out of synch with today’s music, etc. etc. grumble grumble get off my lawn) but afterwards read how the late David Bowie won every Grammy his last album released a mere two days before his passing, Blackstar, was nominated for (the below link is for the article found on Slate.com and was written by Matthew Dessem)…
While astonishing to find Mr. Bowie’s final album won all five Grammys it was nominated for (Best Alternative Music Album; Best Rock Performance; Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical; Best Rock Song; and Best Recording Package), it was disheartening to read in the very same article the following, the very first lines in this article:
Over the course of his decades-long career, David Bowie earned critical and popular acclaim for his extraordinary songwriting, singing, and performance. What he didn’t earn was a Grammy—at least not for his music. (He won in 1985 for Best Video, Short Form, and was given a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2006.)
He previously won Grammys for Best Video?! In 2006 he received a “lifetime” achievement?
Yet not one of his albums, many of which are stone cold classics, merited any Grammy love until now?
Mr. Bowie, of course, isn’t unique in the entertainment field with respect to getting respect. A couple of days ago I found a short interview on the Guardian with Mel Brooks (you can read it here) and he noted this regarding Alfred Hitchcock…
In his opinion, Hitchcock is “the greatest director ever. The stories, the way he set up shots, everything.” Yet Hitchcock never got the respect he deserved. “In France they worshipped Hitchcock,” Brooks says. “But as he once told me, ‘In England and America they view me as an entertainer.’”
While Mr. Hitchcock was nominated for “Best Director” for five of his films (Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, and Psycho), his only Oscar, kinda/sorta like what Mr. Bowie received, was the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial given in 1968 for “Creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.”
Like Mr. Bowie (until this Grammys, of course), he was awarded for his body of work yet was never given an award for his individual works
Mr. Brooks goes on to talk about how good actor Gene Hackman was in his hilarious cameo role in the movie Young Frankenstein and why he didn’t do more comedies. Mr. Brooks talked about how hard it is, as an entertainer, to pull yourself out of audience expectations:
So why didn’t Hackman make more comedies? “…it’s all baggage. Once they (Hollywood) see what you can do, that’s all that they’ll let you do. I could produce The Elephant Man as part of Brooksfilms. But Mel Brooks couldn’t direct The Elephant Man. I had baggage.”
Its worth mentioning, as if the above should clear any doubt, that Mr. Brooks loves film and, while primarily known as a comedy writer/director/actor, he has produced some very serious films yet is forced, because of his name and, as he puts it, the “baggage” attached to it, to hide his involvement in more “serious” works because of fears audiences will think its a comedy or at the least couldn’t possibly be serious.
Mr. Bowie, during the first decade of his career, was a trailblazer. He flaunted his sexuality (and possible homosexuality/bisexuality) when just about no one dared do so. But while the images he projected were daring, his music was, IMHO, incredible. Especially for those times, he was a controversial figure and I can’t help but think because he was so “out there” in his looks and stage presence that staid organizations like the Grammys perhaps didn’t dare take note of him.
In doing a Google search of David Bowie nominations for Grammys, it was even more shocking to find the following: Mr. Bowie had a total of 19 Grammy nominations, the first three of which came for his 1984 album, and two songs on, Let’s Dance!
So, get this: Mr. Bowie’s first nominations to the Grammys happened to be for what was arguably his most audience friendly (some say it was his first “sell out”) album.
Think about it. Until Let’s Dance, the Grammys never thought him worthy of nomination for his glam rock years (The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs), his venture into soul (Young Americans), his incredible -though drug fueled- album Station to Station, his highly rated “Berlin Trilogy” (Low, Heroes, and Lodger), and the early new wave Scary Monsters.
While The Man Who Sold The World was all but ignored by audiences and critics alike upon its initial release (though it gained much more love since), all ten of the albums following that one were critically and, for most, commercial hits. There is a wealth of great music in all those albums and, while not denigrating Let’s Dance (I happen to love the album even thought others do believe Mr. Bowie was selling out), it is astonishing that each and every one of those albums didn’t merit any Grammy love.
I suppose its better late than never and I suppose it helps to die just days after releasing your last (and, again, critically lauded) album.
Yesterday, January 8th, would have been the 70th Birthday of David Bowie. Last year tomorrow, on January 10th, Mr. Bowie passed away.
Last year Mr. Bowie released his final new album, Blackstar, on his 69th Birthday. For his 70th Birthday, No Plan, a four song EP, was released to mark his passing and give fans the last music the artist worked on before he passed. Though the songs aren’t really “new” -they can all be found on the Lazarus soundtrack and the actual song Lazarus, the fourth on the EP, was part of the Blackstar album- this is the first time you can buy them on their own and outside of that Broadway soundtrack.
Since I truly didn’t care to buy the entire Lazarus soundtrack -sorry but I like to hear David Bowie singing David Bowie- I didn’t bother getting the Lazarus soundtrack but jumped at the chance to buy the EP (for those wondering why I didn’t just buy the other songs on their own, the three “new” songs could not be purchased separate from the full soundtrack).
Anyway, the EP was released, I believe, on Friday though the Amazon listing states its release is for tomorrow, January 10 (I guess they wanted to keep with the David Bowie birthday theme).
I picked up the EP yesterday and, if you like Blackstar, you’ll like the three new tracks presented. It’s hard to point out which of the three is the best (and if I were to consider all four, I’d probably tilt toward the already released Lazarus, a song that feels like an eerie coda to David Bowie’s life and then upcoming passing).
Of the other three, No Plan is pretty damn good. So much so they even made a video…
I suspect in the near future we’ll see more “unreleased” David Bowie material appear. There is apparently quite a bit of it -excluding, of course, the vast amount of live shows that were surely recorded.
I know I’ve written before about some of the better never “formally” released David Bowie songs (at least songs that weren’t part of any of his actual albums), but of those songs I’m familiar with my favorite remains the alternative version of the song Candidate…
As can be seen in the graphic, this song was created for what eventually became the Diamond Dogs album. Originally, Mr. Bowie intended to create a musical version of George Orwell’s 1984 but the late author’s wife refused to give him permission to make the album and therefore he was forced to make some changes (no pun intended) and, viola, Diamond Dogs.
There are still hints to the unmade 1984 album in Diamond Dogs, including…
There’s a Big Brother song as well and the Sweet Thing/Candidate medley (very good stuff but I have to say, I prefer the unreleased version of Candidate to it!).
Anyway, those who are fans of David Bowie, the bottom line is this: There’s a “new” EP out there and you get one more taste of what David Bowie was up to just before his untimely passing.
Perhaps other buried treasures will be found among his previous recordings and “new” and interesting Bowie songs will also appear in the near future.