BOWIE, CURATED
Stereophile|January 2021
FIVE YEARS AFTER THE ICON’S PASSING, A FAN REVIEWS THE POSTHUMOUS RELEASES
PHIL BRETT

I remember when I first heard that David Bowie had died. I was half-listening to the radio as I prepared for work. I was stunned. I just looked at my partner. To my surprise, a tear ran down my cheek. I had always been rather sniffy about people who got emotional when famous people died, people, they had never met, who had never heard of them, who had lived lives of wealth. But, as we drove to work in silence, there was real grief in the car. Bowie was gone.

Bowie had always been in my life. It was a single of his that introduced me to the power of vinyl. “The Laughing Gnome” (1967) may now be regarded as a cringe-worthy novelty record, but when I was 5, it was magic.

The color and spectacle of glam followed, and Bowie, with Ziggy, hooked me. As my friends matured and got into “serious” music, I stayed with Glam, with Bowie.

Then punk exploded. Much of that so-called serious music was now derided. Bowie wasn’t. He could match the experimentalism of post-punk with his Berlin trilogy. As the RCA advertising slogan so neatly put it: “There’s Old Wave. There’s New Wave. And there’s David Bowie.”

I painted the Aladdin Sane flash on my cupboard doors. Decades later, it’s still there. The ghost of Bowie still has a presence in my childhood bedroom.

Following Let’s Dance (1983), Bowie went through a decline in quality, but I remained loyal when others didn’t. The Buddha of Suburbia OST (1993) signaled a return to form, followed by the seriously under-rated trilogy of Outside (1995), Earthling (1997), and Hours (1999). Then came Heathen in 2003: David Bowie—my David Bowie—was back.

But, like Sinatra, Bowie had more than one comeback in him. After a period of silence, The Next Day was released in 2013. Then Blackstar (2016) blew my head off. For 2 days, I bored everyone I came across, telling them how superb it was, how brave, how out there. Then he died.

Since that day, a Bowie merchandise industry has grown up, including a sale of his art at Sotheby’s and a Bowie Monopoly Board Game. Finances prevented me from bidding on Bowie’s art collection, but I’m tempted by Bowie Monopoly, just to see what aspects of his personal life they’ve incorporated. Are there Berlin transvestite bars you can build and then charge rent?

Also, I have eagerly anticipated every posthumous music release since January 10, 2016. I have bought them all.

Even before his death, Bowie’s career was being curated—literally in the case of the David Bowie Is exhibition, which bookended in the cities he began and ended his life in, opening in March 2013 at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, then closing, after traveling the world, in July 2018 at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. A movie was made, documenting the tour. At each exhibition stop, special records were released.

For Brooklyn, there was the eight-track Live in Berlin album (Parlophone DBISNY 20181), drawn from the 1978 Isolar II tour, which featured Bowie’s Low (1977) and “Heroes” (1977) material, a limited edition on orange vinyl. It is good as a memento for that stunning exhibition, but the recording quality is poor. Imagine strapping a pillowcase to your ears.

A better recording from that tour is Welcome to the Blackout (LP, Parlophone DBRSD 7782; also available in other formats), which was released for the 2018 Record Store Day (RSD). Brimming with verve, it captures the first live performance of “Sound and Vision.” With far better sound quality than Live in Berlin and more life than Stage (1978), this is Bowie at home showing the London crowd that the RCA slogan was more than just a nifty sales pitch.

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