A New Career in a New Town (1977-1982)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
If any period in David Bowie’s remarkable career deserves a detailed and thorough revisit, it’s this one. The title of the third in Rhino’s ongoing lavish Bowie reissue boxed series, grabbed from one of its song titles, alludes to the circumstances behind it.
The backstory to this adventurous era in David Bowie’s career informs its creation. After the cocaine excesses of Station to Station and his “thin white duke” persona, Bowie escaped the glitz of Los Angeles for the UK, then Berlin to refocus his approach. He brought in Brian Eno to help craft unconventional songs influenced by electronic music and created his edgiest, arguably most influential clutch of albums starting with 1977’s Low, followed by Heroes, later that year. He also worked with Iggy Pop on two of the former Stooges solo releases, The Idiot and Lust for Life, both in that same stretch. By any measure, 1977 was an impressive 12 months in Bowie’s ever evolving and morphing sound and vision.
Bowie took this newfound art-rock on the road, reinterpreting his older tunes and employing guitarist Adrian Belew for 1978’s double-live Stage. He then continued to improve and perfect this generally non-commercial, genre-pushing outlook with 1979’s Lodger and 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), the latter even lodging a hit (with help from a popular video afforded substantial MTV rotation) with “Ashes to Ashes,” a follow-up of sorts to “Space Oddity.”
Listening to this music, formed over a profoundly creative six-year stretch almost four decades ago, doesn’t feel like a retro experience. On the contrary, Bowie’s aggressive, occasionally avant-garde art-rock sounds as fresh, dynamic and even contemporary as some of the material he released later. There is little filler on any of the four studio albums and even with half the tracks as instrumentals on Low and Heroes, the otherworldly, progressive but never pretentious vibe remains hypnotic and compelling. Hence, it’s best to listen to each disc in its entirety. It also helps that the compilers have newly remastered everything here which includes a fresh remix of Lodger done by original producer Tony Visconti with Bowie’s blessing just before he passed.
Like the previous two sets, this is a classy, expansive (and at over $100 for the CD/nearly twice that for the vinyl, expensive) presentation. Two versions of the double disc Stage (original and 2017 mixes), the “Heroes” EP with French and German versions of the song (perhaps not entirely necessary), a “Re: Call 3” compilation of non-album singles, including the essential Queen co-write “Under Pressure,” and a sumptuous 128-page hardback book filled with reflections on each disc along with rare photos push this 11-platter package into “for the Bowie uber-fan” territory. Oddly though, a handful of extra tracks/extended remixes that had been included in the early ’90s extended Ryko label versions are frustratingly MIA, knocking half a star from the rating.
Regardless, this is a master class on how to create a re-issue that covers and expands upon essential and ultimately timeless music made by one of rock’s true icons. It’s the final word on arguably Bowie’s most experimental years and an important historical document presented with boldness, integrity and dignity, all elements reflected in the artist’s work and ever evolving art.