David Bowie - Nothing Has Changed

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2014-11-17

Among the many things that set David Bowie apart in the 1970s were his restless searching, his insatiable curiosity, seeking out new things with infectious, boyish enthusiasm. If he was chameleonic, it came from being inquisitive rather than calculating. Between 1972 and 1976, a mere four years, he led us from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke. In-between lay the decadence of Aladdin Sane, the dark apocalyptic megalomania of Diamond Dogs and the coked-up white plastic soul of Young Americans.

When Ziggy Stardust came out, Bowie was an aspiring rock star assuming the guise of a wildly successful one. He played the part to the hilt and it did the trick. In the process, he created the first post-modern rock album.

From the start, Bowie always toyed with the line between artifice and authenticity. In an era of long-haired, denim-rock stars wanting to be real, Bowie’s tongue 'n' cheek mix of contrivance and outrageousness was a breath of fresh air, defying convention at every turn. One never knew if he was the real thing or putting us on. And that was part of the allure. Fuck James Taylor, give us the ambisexual rock star from Mars!

But Ziggy’s downfall soon proved chillingly prophetic as Bowie descended into a perfect snowstorm of cocaine addiction, fame-induced megalomania and increasing paranoia - but he survived. When punk hit, he survived.

For 10 years, it seemed Bowie could do no wrong, but after the slick, commercial smash of 1983’s Let’s Dance, it seemed he could do no right. Suddenly he was following trends instead of setting them, or worse, half-heartedly running to catch up with them. But even after lackluster to risible albums, like Tonight and Never Let Me Down, he survived. Even after 10 years of silence, he survived, remaining a legend in his own time. And that's another thing that sets David Bowie apart: he’s a survivor. Behind all the masks and monikers lies a savvy, scrappy kid from Brixton.
 

When he resurfaced again with his strongest album since 1980’s Scary Monsters, one could finally say, “Bowie’s back!”


Taking its name from a line in 'Sunday' (off 2002s’ Heathen), Nothing Has Changed is a career spanning retrospective dating back to 1964. All the classics are here, from 'Space Oddity' to 'Ashes to Ashes', along with rarities like Bowie’s own studio version of 'All the Young Dudes'.

What makes this more than just another greatest hits package is the focus on lesser known, overlooked material from his later career. 'Slow Burn' is quite possibly the finest single song Bowie’s cut since Scary Monsters. A little Pete Townshend on guitar doesn’t hurt. 'Hallo Spaceboy', 'I’m Afraid of Americans' and 'Seven' are all overlooked mid-career classics. This set also includes tracks from the aborted Toy album including the hypnotic 'Your Turn to Drive', and a jaw-dropping 2001 reworking of an obscure early-70s outtake, 'Shadow Man'.

As a seasoned Bowiephile, there’s always room to quibble. 'Buddha of Suburbia' and 'Thursday’s Child' are pleasant but far from his best.

'This is Not America' and 'Absolute Beginners' are Bowie at his most 80s brass and fern. Dated, dull and conventional. His duet with Mick Jagger, 'Dancing in the Street', has all the passion and charm of a Pepsi commercial. And if Let’s Dance was the epitome of selling out with élan, the slight but catchy 'Blue Jean' smacks of contractual obligation and artistic abandonment.

While  'Jump They Say' and 'New Killer Star' are commendable, curiously absent are Outside's stirring 'Small Plot of Land'  and Earthling's menacing, 'Telling Lies' . One could spend all day on what should and should not be on here but in the end, the rare goodies make up for any omissions.

The new track,  'Sue (or in a Season of Crime)' hopefully hints at what is yet to come. Dark, noirish avant-jazz of the most cinematic variety. Brilliant, chilling stuff. Nice to hear Bowie once again branching out of his comfort zone.

In addition to unreleased rarities like the aforementioned, 'Shadow Man' there are handfuls of enlightening remixes on offer. Both 'Time Will Crawl' and 'Survive' in particular get dramatic makeovers, and are a vast improvement over the originals.  

If the set kicks off with a new track ('Sue...'), the third disc ends with some very old stuff indeed - five unreleased remixes of long-lost songs dating back to as early as 1964. While the likes of 'Silly Boy Blue' and 'In the Heat of the Morning' can be found on Bowie's 1967 debut, you’ve never heard them like this before.  The unreleased, 'You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving' sounds like early Kinks fronted by a very young Davy Jones (aka Bowie). Same goes for the killer, gritty 'Liza Jane'. Elsewhere, old cast-offs like, 'Let Me Sleep Beside You' are raised from the dead and given a new lease on life.

Like I said, there’s always room to gripe but this is a generous overview of one of the greatest rock stars the planet Earth has ever known, chockfull of star turns and surprises. Whether one is seeking introduction or has heard it all before, you’re guaranteed to walk away from this one mesmerized, awed and inspired.

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