David Bowie "ChangesNowBowie" (2020 Record Store Day LP and CD)

By now, I’m sure you are aware that Record Store Day 2020 has been postponed until June 20th due to the coronavirus. Certainly it is a sad circumstance, but hopefully we will be able to safely browse through the bins in independent record stores two months from now. Whatever happens, we will get through this terrible pandemic together.

In the meantime, I would like to talk about one of two Record Store Day 2020 releases from the late David Bowie. ChangesNowBowie will be issued on both LP and CD in limited quantities. The album's nine tracks were recorded and mixed at Looking Glass Studios in New York in November 1996. Bowie was accompanied by bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, guitarist Reeves Gabrels, and keyboardist Mark Plati. Although the album's physical release has been delayed, it is now available for streaming, one day before the originally planned Record Store Day date. Here is the description from the Record Store Day website:

"CHANGESNOWBOWIE is a 9-track session recorded for radio and broadcast by the BBC on David’s 50th birthday on 8th January, 1997. The broadcast originally featured an interview with David by Mary Ann Hobbs interspersed with specially recorded birthday messages and questions from the likes of Scott Walker, Damon Albarn, Bono, Robert Smith and many more. The interview and birthday messages do not feature on this album. This mostly acoustic session was a stripped back affair featuring some of David’s favourites of his own compositions and was produced by Bowie himself, Reeves Gabrels and Mark Plati."

These nine songs are mostly chosen from Bowie’s ‘70’s oeuvre, with one (deservedly) obscure Tin Machine song from 1991 thrown in unexpectedly. The 50-year-old Bowie sounded quite mature in these largely acoustic sessions, as if the spaceman he portrayed in his early songs had peacefully adjusted to life on planet Earth. The set begins with an acoustic version of “The Man Who Sold The World”, which differentiates from the famous Nirvana acoustic rendition by making use of sitar. Other songs from Bowie’s early period get good down-to-earth treatments. “The Supermen” and “Andy Warhol” are preferable to their studio originals, favoring control over chaos. “Lady Stardust” maintains just enough of Bowie’s old Ziggy persona, while “Aladdin Sane” receives a particularly good arrangement as a duet between Bowie and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. The new wave-era song “Repetition” has its own sense of VU-like avant-gardism in this stripped-down setting, even without the electronic effects of the Lodger version. What about that Tin Machine tune? “Shopping For Girls” does come off better in this setting, without the excessive synth noise of the studio original, and with Gabrels' acoustic guitar making a more favorable impression. Still, it doesn’t exactly rehab Tin Machine’s reputation as the Bowie misstep that it was.

The least impressive moments: “Quicksand” just doesn’t compare to the transcendent studio original, although the chorus does have its own sort of eerie beauty. (Side note: the obscure Bowpromo version of the song is the one that most deserves to be heard). And Bowie’s cover of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light / White Heat” gets off to an inexplicably dull start, until an intense guitar sound kicks in midway through.

Overall, the ChangesNowBowie sessions were deserving of their unearthing and release. What may have once seemed like a forgettable radio broadcast can now be heard in retrospect as a significant moment from a later phase in Bowie’s career.

David Bowie - ChangesNowBowie

David Bowie “ChangesNowBowie” (Parlophone) 2020

Track Listing:

1. The Man Who Sold The World
2. Aladdin Sane
3. White Light / White Heat
4. Shopping For Girls
5. Lady Stardust
6. The Supermen
7. Repetition
8. Andy Warhol
9. Quicksand