Nothing Has Changed

David Bowie

Columbia/Legacy, 2014

http://www.davidbowie.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/17/2014

The world of David Bowie compilations pretty much has two go-to entities: the single-disc Changesbowie that ably captures the prime 1969-1984 period and the double-disc Best Of Bowie that expands the story to 2002 and adds a few necessary singles. There also was the triple-disc import Best Of set that covered 1969-74, 74-79, and 80-87 separately, which are worth seeking out for those wanting both the hits and some great other stuff but who don't know where to begin in Bowie's long discography. And, of course, there is the Sound + Vision box set from the early ‘90s, set to fill in space while Bowie was off in Tin Machine or whatever after the implosion of his '80s pop phase.

So, the compilers of Nothing Has Changed had to figure out how to bring in new and old fans, and they use the timeworn method of bonus cuts. Specifically, this collection includes re-recordings of unreleased songs, early cuts when Bowie was still Davy Jones, and a lot of remixes that are either new or were only on deluxe versions. Working in reverse chronological order for no apparent reason, this collection covers 2014 back to 1966 and is stretched out over three discs*, making it darn near a box set.

(*A two-disc edition also was released that more or less copies the tracklist from Best Of Bowie, adding on a new song and a handful of latter-day tunes, but it's only necessary if you don't own Best Of Bowie and don't want to shell out the cash for a three-disc set full of songs you've never heard of. Casual fans, in other words).

Where the collection succeeds is its emphasis on Bowie's fertile third act, the period from 1995's Outside to 2013's surprise The Next Day. The new song "Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)" opens the show, a seven minute trance-pop tune backed with an orchestra that is audacious, dramatic and perfectly Bowie. Representing the fine Next Day are "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" and "Where Are We Now?," which are good songs and not even the best ones on the album, while 2003's underrated Reality, which is worth hearing in its entirety, only gets the solid single take of "New Killer Star" as its representative.

Rarities on this first disc include the download-only "Your Turn to Drive," which never made a CD until now, and re-recorded versions of "Shadow Man" and "Let Me Sleep Beside You." The Trent Reznor remix of "I'm Afraid of Americans" gets the nod over the album version and the techno experiment "Little Wonder" also is here in (thankfully) edited form. Three songs from nbtc__dv_250 Outside close the first disc, all in altered form, though the single version of "Strangers When We Meet" is gripping, with a great bassline, a forgotten classic from the alt-rock era. I consider myself a sizable Bowie fan and I was unfamiliar with most of the music on the first disc, which is a good thing for a triple-disc compilation presumably aimed at the converted.

The second disc enters far more familiar territory, rushing headlong in reverse through the '80s pop period, Scary Monsters and the Berlin Trilogy. As a personal note, I despise that every Bowie collection seems fit to include the single versions of these hits; surely we could have lost something to make room for the longer versions of these songs. But they remain instantly recognizable pop classics: "Golden Years," "Fashion," "Under Pressure" (with Queen), "China Girl," "Let's Dance," "Modern Love," and the very good "This Is Not America" (with the Pat Metheny Group). Forgotten lesser but still good hits like "Time Will Crawl," "Jump They Say," "Loving The Alien," "Absolute Beginners," "The Buddha of Suburbia" and the misguided cover of "Dancing In The Streets" are here, but to make room for all of that something had to be cut, and in this case it's the Berlin Trilogy, which is represented by only three songs, one per disc. Granted, those albums didn't offer many singles, and it's hard to argue with the warm "Heroes," but "Boys Keep Swinging" and "Sound And Vision" are hardly the best cuts from Lodger and Low, respectively. Still, 1995 to 1976 is a lot of ground to cover, and recontextualized in reverse order, the musical styles and breadth Bowie displayed is astonishing

The final disc hits every expected blast from the fertile 1975-69 period, starting with "Fame" and working backwards through the glam-rock crunch of "Rebel Rebel," "The Jean Genie" and "Ziggy Stardust," the more theatrical hits like “Young Americans" (in single edit, of course), "Drive-In Saturday" and "Oh! You Pretty Things," the timeless "Changes," a couple album cuts from Ziggy Stardust and the excellent "Man Who Sold The World," which only gets better with each passing year (only "Suffragette City" is sadly missing). A new mix of "All The Young Dudes" is here (the song that Bowie wrote and gave to Mott The Hoople, kicking their career up several notches), and of course "Space Oddity" appears toward the end of the disc. The final five songs trace Bowie's pre-1969 roots in bands like The King Bees and The Lower Third, and while nothing is arresting – pretty standard British Invasion fare – it is useful from a historical standpoint and interesting to see where the groundwork for a fascinating career began.

Nothing Has Changed is a winking title to an artist who changed costumes, musical styles and personalities seemingly with each new album or phase, and these 59 cuts showcase a dizzying array of creativity and forward thinking, cementing why Bowie has been and continues to be an inspiration. Absolute beginners (heh) should still start with Changesbowie and casual fans should pick up Best Of Bowie or the three import Best Of sets, which leaves Nothing Has Changed as a curious collection not quite sure of its audience but still full of excellent music.

Rating: B+

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