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28 November 2023

Bowie leads a season of great reissues

By Mark Beech

David Bowie is back this month after a long absence with two records, one from the start of his career, the other possibly from the end. For collectors, there are some previously unreleased songs. The 2-CD set A Reality Tour comes from concerts that might have killed him.

Bowie, now 63, suffered chest pain while performing in Germany in 2004 and later said it was a minor heart attack. The blistering two-hour show captured on record is from Dublin, earlier in that same tour.

As Bowie bawls the closing Ziggy Played Guitar, the cheering fans couldn’t have imagined that this would show up on what might be his last album.

The fine set cherry-picks across Bowie’s career. Newer material such as Heathen (The Rays) stands up well alongside classics such as 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World. Bowie’s CD is effectively the audio version of the 2004 DVD of the same title, adding three unreleased songs, including a live version of 1977’s Breaking Glass.

“You’re such a wonderful person,” he sings. “But you’ve got problems.” He might be referring to himself. The star, in great form, is backed by an excellent band, with guitarist Earl Slick and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey.

Bowie’s self-titled 1967 debut album is also re-released today by Decca/Universal, with an extra disc of rarities. David Bowie is full of musical-hall comedy such as The Laughing Gnome, both in mono and stereo. Its mannered singing gives little clue of the career that followed.

Bowie isn’t the only 1960s star to be releasing lost songs. Jimi Hendrix’s Valleys of Neptune (Sony) is due on March 9 and includes the original Experience’s final studio recordings. Hendrix, who died in 1970, left several unfinished LPs. The guitar hero, planning a follow-up to Electric Ladyland, was working with bassist Billy Cox, an old army friend he’d recruited. I haven’t heard a review copy yet, though it has the making of a great album.

And Universal has been re-releasing the Stones albums, with its remastering of the band’s finest due this year.  The sprawling Exile on Main Street was recorded when the band went into tax exile to France in 1971 and over the course of a month bashed out dozens of songs in every possible flavour of rock, blues, country and pop. The original collection is already great and any extra tracks will make it irresistible.

 From three acts that are justifiably well known to one which unjustifiably isn’t. I was a reporter on the Birmingham Daily News in 1985 when I received, in short order, two singles and an album by a Canadian-British band called the Lucy Show.

I was blown away by the jangly guitar, which was better than the Smiths, and the oblique lyrics, with echoes of Echo and the Bunnymen. I loved The White Space, which sounded a bit like the Cure. While ...Undone, the album rose above these comparisons to be one of the best of the 1980s, it went on to be one of the great forgotten LPs, out of print for decades. Dream Days is hypnotic and the opening Ephemeral (This is No Heaven) is wonderfully catchy. Well done to Words on Music for reviving it on CD.


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