David Bowie: Toy review – Polished 1960s gems on a lost album | David Bowie

DThe avid Bowie started the ’90s by recklessly announcing that he would never perform his biggest hits again. Fans could vote for their favorites over a phone line, the setlist for his next tour would be based on the results, and then that would be it. “By the time I’m over 40, I’ll have built a whole new repertoire,” he announced optimistically.

As everyone knows, it didn’t turn out like that. In fact, Bowie spent much of the next decade dealing with an intriguing brand of self-reference, as evidenced by Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001), the fifth multi-album set in a series spanning most of his career.

Black Tie White Noise from 1993 – a largely ghastly album that some critics had the nerve to claim to be an incredible return to form – began with an instrumental called The Wedding, which seemed to refer to the saxophone solo on Sound and Vision. Later that same year, his soundtrack of a BBC adaptation of The Buddha of Suburbia (which struggled for 87th place on the UK charts, although it was significantly superior to anything Bowie had released in a decade. ), opened with a title track that not only quoted Space Oddity and All the Madmen, but evoked an atmosphere of bittersweet autobiographical nostalgia that Bowie would revisit on his great 2000s comeback single Where Are We Now ? 1995’s 1 Outside rekindled his late ’70s collaboration with Brian Eno, while an abundance of 12-string acoustic guitar meant 1999’s Hours… carried a noticeable, albeit superficial, hint of Hunky Dory. Even his most decidedly modern album of the decade, Earthling, carried echoes of his history: it was an attempt at Bowie-ise ’90s dance music, including drum’n’bass, just as he did. had once done mid-70s soul; something about its scorching din of breakbeats, industrial synths, and loud guitars was reminiscent of Scary Monsters and Heroes racketeering.

Cover for Toy. Photography: Parlophone Records / ISO Records

It was a trend that peaked with the gem of Brilliant Adventure: the unreleased but heavily pirated album Toy, recorded in 2000, on which Bowie delved deeper into his past than ever. Its obvious highlight is Shadow Man, an incredibly beautiful piano ballad that dates back to the Ziggy Stardust era and which, at least lyrically, could have easily slipped into the concept of this album: “Look into his eyes. and see your reflection / look in the stars and see his eyes ”. But much of it contains new versions of songs that had once harassed their author.

In the ’70s and’ 80s, you were never far from a new version repackaging pre-famous Bowie material from the ’60s, usually with a cover photograph that deceptively implied that the content was contemporary rather than archival. . Toy offers a more refined sampling of this era. It includes the two best songs Bowie wrote before Space Oddity: there’s a great version of Let Me Sleep Beside You, but The London Boys loses something of its grimy kitchen sink dramatic quality amid the new guitar arrangement. and distorted synth. He saves Space Oddity’s B-side Conversation Piece, a dark pen portrait of Bowie in the late ’60s as well – “invisible and stupid, and no one will remember me” – from the underserved darkness, amplifying his brooding mood. by slowing down its tempo and lowering the vocal register. This may be the final version of the song.

Toy leans noticeably more on the Bowie mod than the Anthony Newley-inspired fantasy supplier who recorded his eponymous 1967 debut album, which seems a shame. Bowie is clearly having a good old days roaring through his old freakbeat single Can’t Help Thinking About Me, but Silly Boy Blue’s redesign work is more striking, turning the stage original into something majestic and daring. ‘anthemic. It might have been more interesting to hear Bowie try to re-use We Are Hungry Men or The Gospel in the same way according to Tony Day rather than updating Baby Loves That Way, a pretty enjoyable song that nevertheless betrays his inspiration – Smokey Robinson’s You Really Got a Hold On Me – a little too visibly. Shadow Man and Conversation Piece aside, it’s a pleasant curiosity rather than a major release. The other darkness of the late 1960s, Hole in the Ground, is charming but light; the title song, a new song boosted by Bowie digging through his early years, is pretty good than revealing.

In a way, Toy was a dead end. Bowie would finally rediscover the kind of inspiration that had propelled him into the 1970s by letting go of his past rather than browsing it. His 2002 album Heathen was fresh, captivating and very accessible, and on his last set, Blackstar, he had truly achieved the long-promised return to top form – it had almost nothing to do with anything he had. tried before.

But in a strange way, Toy was also prescient. Following his death, Bowie’s estate embarked on one of the most significant archival digs in recent memory, of which the Brilliant Adventure box and this version of Toy are a part. There have been countless live releases, re-enactments of “lost” albums and lavish sets of demos and never-before-seen recordings: ephemeral, outtakes and juvenilia re-cast as something more essential. This is indeed what Bowie himself did on Toy. As was so often the case, he arrived first.

The 11CD or 18LP Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001) box set, with Toy on CD or 2LP, is released on November 26. A 3CD or 6×10 inch vinyl box set of Toy featuring the album alongside alternate mixes and unplugged versions, titled Toy: Box, is released on January 7.

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