Tuesday, 13 March 2018

"A New Career In A New Town [1977 - 1982]" by DAVID BOWIE (September 2017 Parlophone 11-CD Box Set - Ray Staff and Tony Visconti Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Subterraneans...Shine Bright..." 

Having reviewed and loved Box Sets 1 and 2 in this ongoing series covering his entire output - like most diehard David Bowie fans I'd pre-ordered Box 3 with more than a degree of finger-licking excitement. And in recognition of my contributions to Dublin, London, Margate and humanity in general – Parlophone had kindly arranged to have it especially released the day after my birthday - Friday, 29 September 2017 (swear to God).

It arrived, I cracked "A New Career..." open, enjoyed "Low" (way better than I remember) and then I get to "Heroes" and the proverbial contaminant hit the fan. At a hundred quid - I couldn't believe what I was hearing - volumes up and volumes down in an obvious mastering glitch not mentioned anywhere in the liner notes. Then like so many others affected by his horrible loss - a certain disgust and anger crept in. Truthfully Box No. 3 sat on my desk unloved and un-reviewed for two weeks - and then unable to bear looking at what I perceived to be a sloppy and exploitive little bugger anymore - I finally sent it back for a refund.

Months passed - Brexit lingered - builders drank strong tea with three sugars - and then Amazon did one of those surprise culls of stock. Suddenly Box No. 3 was dropped in price to sixty-five quid (bloated racks no doubt from all the enraged reviews and returns). So I thought maybe they've rectified the mastering problem in abject shame - and even if they haven't - I'd live with the glitch on his most beloved song "Heroes" and dig the rest anew.

Well here we are in March 2018 – and we’re still left with what was issued. But now on re-examination and totally digging the fabulous new Ray Staff/Tony Visconti audio throughout - my real problem is not "Heroes" at all - but the dog that is "Lodger" which we're laughably given here in two useless dollops masquerading as 'Bonus' material. Even the catalogue padding that has always been "Stage" sounds better (Visconti’s very clever re-sequencing of it as a 2017 Version is a revelation – way better than I expected as I’m sure many fans are discovering). So before I get a hernia and lose even more hair in my delicate medical and mental state - let's get to the 'Vorsprung Durch Technik's - if you know what I'm saying...

UK released Friday, 29 September 2017 - "A New Career In A New Town [1977 - 1982]" by DAVID BOWIE on Parlophone DBX 3 - 0190295843014 (Barcode 0190295843014) is an 11-Disc Box Set (4 Studio Albums, 2 Live Double-Albums, 1 EP, 1 Remixed Album and 1 Compilation) with a Hardback Book that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Low" (39:03 minutes):
1. Speed Of Life [Side 1]
2. Breaking Glass
3. What In The World
4. Sound And Vision
5. Always Crashing In The Same Car
6. Be My Wife
7. A New Career In A New Town
8. Warszawa [Side 2]
9. Art Decade
10. Weeping Wall
11. Subterranean
Tracks 1 to 11 are his 11th studio album "Low" - released January 1977 in the UK on RCA PL 12030 and in the USA on RCA CPL1-2030. Produced by DAVID BOWIE and TONY VISCONTI - it peaked at No. 2 in the UK and No. 11 in the USA.

Disc 2 "Heroes" (40:44 minutes):
1. Beauty And The Beast
2. Joe The Lion
3. Heroes
4. Sons Of The Silent Age
5. Blackout
6. V2 Schneider [Side 2]
7. Sense Of Doubt
8. Moss Garden
9. Neukoln
10. The Secret Life Of Arabia
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 12th studio album "Heroes" - released October 1977 in the UK on RCA PL 12522 and in the USA on RCA AFL1-2522. Produced by DAVID BOWIE and TONY VISCONTI - it peaked at No. 3 in the UK and No. 35 in the USA.

Disc 3 "Heroes E.P." (19:25 minutes):
1. Heroes/Helden (German Album Version)
2. Helden (German Single Version)
3. Heroes/Heros (French Album Version)
4. Heros (French Single Version)
First of four exclusive to this CD set

Disc 4 "Stage" (Double-Live Set):
CD1 (34:09 minutes)
1. Hang On To Yourself [Side 1]
2. Ziggy Stardust
3. Five Years
4. Soul Love
5. Star
6. Station To Station [Side 2]
7. Fame
8. TVC 15

CD2 (39:32 minutes)
1. Warszawa [Side 3]
2. Speed Of Life
3. Art Decade
4. Sense Of Doubt
5. Breaking Glass
6. Heroes [Side 4]
7. What In The World
8. Blackout
9. Beauty And The Beast
CD1 and CD2 is the original mix of the live album "Stage" - released September 1978 in the UK on RCA PL 02913 and in the USA on RCA CPL2-2913 as 2LP sets. Produced by TONY VISCONTI - it peaked at No. 5 and No. 44 in the UK and USA

Disc 5 "Stage (2017)"
CD1 (49:16 minutes):
1. Warszawa
2. "Heroes"
3. What In The World
4. Be My Wife
5. The Jean Genie
6. Blackout
7. Sense Of Doubt
8. Speed Of Life
9. Breaking Glass
10. Beauty And The Beast
11. Fame

CD2 (47:51 minutes):
1. Five Years
2. Soul Love
3. Star
4. Hang On To Yourself
5. Ziggy Stardust
6. Suffragette City
7. Art Decade
8. Alabama Song
9. Station To Station
10. Stay
11. TVC 15
Exclusive to this set

Disc 6 "Lodger" (34:58 minutes):
1. Fantastic Voyage [Side 1]
2. African Night (Flight)
3. Move On
4. Yassassin
5. Red Sails
6. D.J. [Side 2]
7. Look Back In Anger
8. Boys Keep Swinging
9. Repetition
10. Red Money
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 13th studio album "Lodger" - released May 1979 in the UK on RCA PL 13254 and in the USA on RCA APL1-3254. Produced by DAVID BOWIE and TONY VISCONTI - it peaked at No. 4 and No. 20 in the UK and USA.

Disc 7 "Lodger (2017 Tony Visconti Mix)" (35:05 minutes):
As per Disc 6 - Disc 7 is exclusive to this set

Disc 8 "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" (45:48 minutes)
1. It's No Game (No. 1) [Side 1]
2. Up The Hill Backwards
3. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
4. Ashes To Ashes
5. Fashion
6. Teenage Wildlife [Side 2]
7. Scream Like A Baby
8. Kingdom Come
9. Because You're Young
10. It's No Game (No. 2)
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 14th studio album "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" - released September 1980 in the UK on RCA BOWLP 2 (PL 13647) and in the USA on RCA AQL1-3647. Produced by DAVID BOWIE and TONY VISCONTI - it peaked at No. 1 in the UK and No. 12 in the USA

Disc 9 "Re:Call 3" (67:38 minutes):
1. "Heroes" (Single Version)
2. Beauty And The Beast (Extended Version)
3. Breaking Glass (Australian Single Version)
4. Yassassin (Single Version)
5. D.J. (Single Version)
6. Alabama Song
7. Space Oddity (1979 Version)
8. Ashes To Ashes (Single Version)
9. Fashion (Single Version)
10. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (Single Version)
11. Crystal Japan
12. Under Pressure (Single Version) - QUEEN and DAVID BOWIE

Bertolt Brecht's BAAL:
13. Baal's Hymn
14. Remembering Marie A.
15. Ballad Of The Adventurers
16. The Drowned Girl
17. The Dirty Song

18. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) (Soundtrack Album Version)
19. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy (Mono) - DAVID BOWIE and BING CROSBY
Exclusive compilation to this Box Set

Like Box 1 and 2 - the hardback book of 150+ pages for Box 3 is a thing of beauty and something fans will lap up. Again each album is discussed and pictured in release date order with rare posters, unused artwork, single picture sleeves, release info and track-by-track info distributed amidst the text. Bud Scoppa's article on "Low" is here, Matt Damsker's April 1978 review of Bowie's return to the live setting with his concerts at the Spectrum Stadium in Philadelphia in front of 18,000 adoring fans (used for the "Stage" double) - but more important to real Bowie lovers are Tony Visconti's first hand accounts of recording iconic sets like "Heroes" and "Scary Monsters..." as well as his mission to remix "Lodger" which he's made fractionally longer. The oversized Mini LP replica sleeves are sweet – the stickered track-list on the back of "Low" with the Fan-Club invite too – the Euro-Sleeve for the German and French language versions of "Heroes" - inners and inserts for "Stage", "Lodger", "Scary Monsters..." and a pensive Bowie in the Studio on the cover of the new "Re:Call 3..." compilation (itself with an inner sleeve). Very tasty.

But for me what is most thrilling is the RAY STAFF and TONY VISCONTI Remasters - I had the 1999 versions of "Low" and "Heroes" and these new cuties are 'huge' in comparison. The rhythm sections on each CD are in your face and not amped for the sake of it. Yet when I look at the huge number of names and contributors thanked on the last pages - that mastering mistake on "Heroes" seems all the more inexplicable. Still, there is the music...

I can recall feeling that a year after the high of 1976's soulful "Station To Station" - the new jagged-sounding 1977 Bowie (watching walls in Berlin with his pals Brian Eno, producer Tony Visconti, guitarist Carlos Alomar and occasional drop-in vocalist Iggy Pop) - was a disappointment. I've always thought the instrumental "Speed Of Life" a waste of space – but improvement wasn’t far away with "Breaking Glass", "What In The World" and the funky "Sound And Vision" – an obvious single and rightly deserved hit. But my poison here is the fabulous "Always Crashing In The Same Car" - a very human song wrapped around typically innovative Bowie sounds that somehow worked for it and not against. The audio here is superb - huge bass from George Murray.

The second single from the album "Be My Wife" features piano runs from Roy Young that are suddenly audio-new. The album’s other winner is the Box Set's chosen title - "A New Career In A New Town" - Ricky Gardiner joining Alomar on guitar whilst Eno plays all keyboards and synths. Bowie plays everything on "Weeping Wall" and here the Audio is spectacular - almost a goof-off of a tune - like Todd Rundgren on a Prog "Initiation" tip - I love it. But that is merely a prologue to the album's masterpiece "Subterraneans" - and again Murray's bass is in your face for all the right reasons as are Bowie's 'ah' voices swirling around the speakers before he goes into that Soulful Sax solo (I never did find out who 'Peter and Paul' on Piano and A&P are?). "Low" divides people (I know some who can’t abide it) - but this Ray Staff/Tony Visconti Remaster is the very best I've ever heard the album – nice one.

As Bowie goes into his ooh intro to "Beauty And The Beast" – the Remaster is fantastic – can’t say no to this one. But half way through the six-minute album version of "Heroes" – there’s a sudden surge in sound then a dropdown in volume that ruins an otherwise improved track. It’s maddening because those background guitars and noises are more to the fore and in all the right ways. The shame was on the other side indeed. At least "V-2 Schneider" kicks, as do the doomy piano chords that open "Sense Of Doubt". There’s a pronounced serenity to those plucked notes in "Moss Garden" where our David goes all Osaka on our Berliner butts (always loved this dreamy soundscape of a tune). Sand in my eyes for "The Secret Life Of Arabia" – a forgotten chugger (could have been a single) on an album dominated by its epic title tune. Speaking of which – the 4-track 2-languages "Heroes E.P." feels like a bit of a Box Set faff – single and album tracks that could easily have been tagged onto the UK LP proper and the box’s price dropped. In fact as you play the German version – you’re left wondering when the foreign language is going to kick in (2:15 roughly).

Keyboard whizz-kid Roger Powell of Todd Rundgren’s UTOPIA joined up with guitarists Carlos Alomar, Adrian Belew and Violinist Simon House as part of Bowie’s house band for the "Stage" double live. I have to say that I’ve mixed feelings towards this perennial rack-filler (always the first to be sold when a punter is stuck for a few bob). Even though the recordings and band are tight – the hugeness of the venue is obvious in the vibe and I’ve always thought it did for the recordings. The echoed-vocals on "Five Years" try to lift the song while "Star" just feels ever so slightly yesterday for David Bowie. Side 2 starts to feel better with a trio of tracks he actually wanted to play – the huge train synths of "Station To Station" eliciting wolf whistles (amazing guitar work from the boys). But its the in-keeping with the times Funk-Rock of "Fame" and "TVC 15" that suddenly elevate proceedings (loose and hard to swallow). But it’s not until you get to Visconti’s new sequencing of the double that you begin to understand. He includes more and starts with tracks from "Heroes" rather than earlier crowd-pleasers. Following "Station To Station" with "Stay" and putting the winner of "Fame" at the end of Disc 1 is a very smart play. And the inclusion of "Alabam Song" works better too.

I can remember Bowie's light and rep dipping with "Lodger" - an album that mostly annoyed people instead of thrilling. Tony Visconti clearly feels that this much-maligned album deserves reappraisal as his 2017 versions of "Fantastic Voyage" and "D.J." are filled with new oomph. They sound huge all of a sudden (massive rhythm sections) - his mix of "Boys Keep Swinging" being better too. The inner gatefold of the new version foregoes the strange collage of photos that greeted fans on the 1979 original - instead we get a slight outtake of the crooked-nose shot and the white-insert of the original LP becomes black for the new 2017 version. But tracks like "African Night Flight" and the mock Buddy Holly of "Move On" feel like they're still testing my patience. I still can't quite say whether "Yassassin" (Turkish for "Long live" apparently) and the finisher "Red Money" are dead rhythms or genius ahead of its time.

"Scary Monsters..." and the awesome video to "Ashes To Ashes" made him a star all over again - revisiting Major Tom also putting him back at the top of both the singles and LP charts. Between it, "Under Pressure" and the economic single edits on "Re:Call 3" all of which feel punchier for their brevity - it's enough to replenish your faith in his greatness. And Mono or not - but that duet with a crooner (Bing Crosby for Gawd's sake) has to be one of the best and most unlikely hits imaginable. But then we're talking about David Bowie.

Typical of corporate greed - the price has returned to its former rip-off status just to ranker us once more. But at least I'm coming around to owning it - mistakes and all. I just wish that someone would actually do the original Space Kid the solid he so obviously deserves and fix this. And maybe even release the "Re:Call" sets from all 3 as stand-alone compilations.

"Art Decade" he sang on "Low" 41 years ago - busy inventing Art Rock and everything else musically chameleon as he went along. Will we ever see his extraordinary like again. RIP you genius...


Charles Hodgson said...

Hey Mark,
Nice review!
You can get a "fixed" 'Heroes' CD by emailing:
I did the same as you - returned the £90+ box and re-ordered at £65 - with that price and a replacement 'Heroes' I'm liking it a whole lot more.
This period endeth my interest in Bowie.
(D'you reckon 'Blackstar'? though? Keep thinking he wouldn't bow out on a dog, but haven't tried it yet.)
All the best!

Charles Hodgson said...

So, a "Dog" a "Diamond"? (heh!)

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