David Bowie | Is It Any Wonder?
3 ½ out of 5 stars
It remains to be seen whether or not David Bowie’s estate will choose to issue a prodigious stream of posthumous releases to compete on a scale equivalent to other late, lamented rock stars may be a matter of conjecture. At this point, it’s a pretty good bet that Jimi Hendrix’s successors will forever hold a commanding lead in that regard. The fact that this current offering from the Bowie camp is confined to a six song EP bodes well for his keepers’ sense of discretion.
A collection of rarities boasting unreleased mixes for the most part, the brazenly-titled Is It Any Wonder? makes for an intriguing addition to the Bowie compendium, although admittedly it’s one that will appeal primarily to completists. Still, it comes across as more than a hodgepodge of odds and ends. Most of the offerings originate from 1997 and offer a new view of songs that have been reimagined as a result. “I Can’t Read ’97” is an excellent example; a crooning ballad, it betrays the singer at his emotional best. “Baby Universal 97” rocks reliably and kicks off the collection with a flourish.
Nevertheless, the highlight of the set is the revised Eno mix of one of Bowie’s most iconic songs “The Man Who Sold the World.” In its new version, the track takes on a dramatic new dynamic that reimagines that classic in a wholly unexpected way. The drive and delivery of the original is replaced by an eerie ambiance that adds a sense of mystery to its decidedly dark trappings. Its once-riveting refrain now becomes a contemplative discourse which takes away the urgency, but substitutes added intrigue in its place.
Ultimately, Is It Any Wonder? functions more as a sidebar than as an essential entry. Two of the tracks, “Fun (Clouding Mix) and the otherwise obscure “Nuts,” come across as somewhat obtuse sound collages that probably won’t inspire a second listen. “Stay ’97, on the other hand, is revved up to a great degree, and adds to the impetus overall.
Ultimately, the title itself poses a provocative question. Fortunately, as far as Bowie’s concerned, the answer is obvious.