Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Some might claim that the name of this David Bowie compilation could be the title to any of a number of the UK music legend’s biographies. It also perfectly describes this particular three-year stretch in Bowie’s discography—it’s a song recorded for Young Americans that didn’t make the original release and is included here—as he shifted from the glam, some may say overwrought drama of 1974’s Diamond Dogs to the “Thin White Duke” persona of blue-eyed Young Americans soul man and into Station to Station’s man who fell to earth’s chilly yet compelling sci-fi funk.
This 12-CD box is clearly aimed at the Bowie collector/enthusiast and not just because its overstuffed contents includes two mixes of both the double David Live and Station to Station. It also includes a previously unreleased album The Gouster (a precursor to Young Americans that sees its first appearance on CD), another hitherto un-issued double live album from 1976 recorded at the Nassau Coliseum and, like its predecessor 2015’s Five Years, a Re:call 2 compilation of 45 rpm single versions and non-album B-sides. Oh, and the 128-page hardback book. As you can imagine there is lots of duplication and, unless you’re a die-hard Bowie-phile, (one with an elastic wallet since you’ll have to spring nearly $120 for the privilege), this is probably too much of a pretty good thing.
For those willing to take the plunge, both financially and philosophically, these three years find Bowie morphing once again. The set ends in the cocaine haze of Station to Station about which he claimed to not remember much of the recording. Still, there are plenty of terrific performances and even if the limp audio of David Live hasn’t improved over the decades (the 2005 remixed edition is an improvement), the equally thin and busy but listenable ’76 concert is a cool addition. It finds his Station to Station band tackling older fare such as “Queen Bitch” and “Life on Mars?,” as well as diving into a sort of glammy, disco-ized/funky revision of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” that doesn’t really gel but is an interesting try.
The Gouster disc with its formerly unissued mixes is also worth hearing, at least once. But these early Young Americans takes—while fascinating for Bowie freaks—aren’t that great, and it’s doubtful how often you’ll return to them. As a historical artifact though, it fills a missing piece in Bowie’s already bulging discography.
The entire set is as classy, often self-indulgent and challenging as the man himself. To paraphrase an old ad slogan about the New York Times, you may not need all of it, but it’s nice to know it’s all here.
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