Introduced in 2014, the collection of chronological box sets of David Bowie’s work now reaches its fifth volume for you to (re)discover on vinyl. Spanning from 1992 to 2001, the Brilliant Adventure 11-CD or 18 vinyl box set contains 131 tracks documenting the artistic renaissance of an artist plagued by doubt in the twilight of the 1980s. Comprised of remastered studio albums, B-sides and remixes, this extensive collection accompanied by a 28-page booklet is also distinguished by the addition of valuable unreleased material, including an expanded version of the BBC 2000 live performance and the album Toy, a collection of self-released material that was canceled twenty years ago.
From Black Tie White Noise to Hours…
Like its four predecessors — Five Years (1969-1973), Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976), A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982) and Loving The Alien (1983-1988) — the Brilliant Adventure box set (1992-2001) opens with a retrospective of David Bowie’s studio albums and closes with the triple-volume Re: Call, which compiles remixes and associated B-sides.
Presented in remastered versions, this discographic period is one of the most fascinating in the career of the Thin White Duke. After entering the 1980s as a conqueror thanks to the worldwide success of Let’s Dance, David Bowie passed through the decade by releasing a series of lesser albums where a blatant lack of inspiration collided with the excesses of synthetic production.
In 1989, David Bowie returned to the rock business by founding the band Tin Machine. This brief collective interlude, punctuated by two studio LPs and a live album, was met with a cool reception from fans and critics, while allowing Bowie to recharge his batteries before bouncing back. His slow artistic recovery began in 1993 with Black Tie White Noise, in which he enthusiastically embraced the urban sounds of modern R&B.
The return of Nile Rodgers, ten years after Let’s Dance, helped to create the spectacular dynamic of strong new compositions, such as the single Jump They Say, a remarkable leap into the electro/funk void, but also a tribute to Bowie’s half-brother Terry Burns, who died in 1985. Bowie comments on bleak current events in Black Tie White Noise (with Lester Bowie on trumpet), but the music lover’s past is never far away with an intense reworking of Cream’s I Feel Free and a superb atmospheric cover of the Walker Brothers’ Nite Flights, featuring Mick Ronson in his final appearance alongside his former Spiders From Mars partner.
Released with relative discretion a few months after Black Tie White Noise, The Buddha Of Suburbia is the only soundtrack entirely composed by David Bowie. Created as the music for a BBC TV movie inspired by Anif Kureshi’s novel, The Buddha Of Suburbia is also an album in its own right, with a mix of songs and instrumental explorations. Assisted by the multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay, Bowie composed a dozen tracks in six days, supported by the loyal keyboardist Mike Garson and Lenny Kravitz, invited to play the guitar on an alternative version of the title track. In the aftermath of this little-known project to be rediscovered here, David Bowie returned with a high point of his discography: the exceptional 1. Outside, released in 1995. Co-produced by Brian Eno fifteen years after the glorious Low, Heroes and Lodger trilogy, 1. Outside is presented by its author as “a non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-cycle”. Recorded at the Mountain Studios in Montreux, this first part of a series (that was never continued) recounts the adventures of Nathan Adler, a private detective specializing in “artistic crimes”.
The contemporary art of Damien Hirst and painter Rudolf Schwartzkögler, the industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails and Scott Walker are some of the conscious influences of a vividly nuanced ensemble, including the desolate landscapes of I’m Deranged and the electronic assaults of Hallo Spaceboy and The Hearts Filthy Lessons. With this fascinating and complex album, David Bowie repositioned himself as an artist… and finally became an outsider again.
More hyperactive than ever, Bowie then released Earthling (1997), appropriating a new variation of electronic music: drum’n’bass. This genre album dominated by the implacable rhythm section of Gail Ann Dorsey (bass) and Zachary Alford (drums) is lined up with new tracks where the melodist Bowie shines (Looking for Satellites, The Last Thing You Should Do and Seven Years in Tibet). The jungle stylings of Little Wonder, Telling Lies and Law (Earthlings On Fire) stand out, but the best moments of Earthling appear in the menacing I’m Afraid Of Americans and Dead Man Walking, co-written with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and based on a guitar riff discovered during a session with Jimmy Page in the 1960s. Nothing goes to waste with David Bowie!
On the eve of the new millennium, Bowie refocused his writing in Hours…, a collection of introspective songs written in Barbados with Reeves Gabrels with a uniformly smooth production. After a decade filled with numerous projects, albums and world tours, collaborations in the world of video games (the soundtrack of Omikron: The Nomad Soul) and an IPO (the short-lived Bowie Bonds), Hours… offers only a handful of memorable tracks, including the single Thursday’s Child — a hollow autobiographical song, given that Bowie was born on a Wednesday.
Toy and sixties surprises
The exploration of the box set continues with a new expanded (but still incomplete) version of the concert recorded at the BBC on June 27, 2000. Released that same year as a companion piece to the Bowie at the Beeb CD box set, this excellent recording, taped the day before the triumphant Glastonbury concert, is now completed by five new tracks: All The Young Dudes, Starman, Heroes, The London Boys and I Dig Everything.
For the first time since the launch of this series of boxsets, Brilliant Adventure opens the vault to David Bowie’s unreleased material: in addition to these live performances, the twelve tracks of the studio album Toy, which was canceled in 2001, are the highlight of this anthology. At the dawn of the 2000s, David Bowie decided to re-explore his past with an album of self-releases of his compositions from the 1960s.
Some 15 tracks, including updated versions of Liza Jane, Conversation Piece, Shadow Man, Silly Boy Blue and In The Heat Of The Morning, are recorded with the Hours… band — minus Reeves Gabrels, replaced by Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard — and violinist Lisa Germano.
The release of Toy was scheduled for March 2001, but Virgin Records, David Bowie’s label, decided otherwise. Multiple delays in planning and Bowie’s growing irritation with his distributor’s negligent attitude contributed to the project’s demise. Bowie signed to Columbia the following year and some tracks surfaced in 2002 on the B-sides of Heathen’s singles, including Baby Loves That Way, Shadow Man, Conversation Piece and You’ve Got a Habit Of Leaving. Let Me Sleep Besides You and Your Turn To Drive were then released in 2014 on the Nothing Has Changed compilation album. Meanwhile, the album was unexpectedly leaked online in April 2011.
Like the tracks already available, these working versions are nonetheless a far cry from the original Toy offered in this box set. Co-produced by Mark Plati, this invigorating, melodic and colorful selection stands out as the Starman’s last pop masterpiece.
On January 7th, Toy will also be released in a 3 CDs/6 vinyl 25-cm box set to celebrate David Bowie’s 75th birthday: in addition to the official album, Toy:Box will feature a collection of alternative mixes and an amazing Unplugged & Somewhat Slightly Electric version by Mark Plati. The Bowie adventure continues…