Nothing Has Changed (3-CD version, 2014)
It’s impossible to listen normally to the work of a recently deceased, old fave pop star. The urge to find a higher opinion of every lapse cannot be denied. Every reference to mortality looms to the skies. But while I refuse to believe it was a mistake not to grab this set when it was new, I got more out of hearing back with it than I expected. Some thoughts:
As has always been the case, I like everything earlier than “Dancing in the Street” more than everything later (well, except “Wild Is the Windbag,” of course; and Bowie’s version of “All the Young Dudes” really is painfully weaker than Mott the Hoople’s; oh, and I quite prefer the album version of “Starman”). A couple surprise pluses: The mixes and remasters do a marvelously unobtrusive job of keeping the sonic sine waves smooth – you aren’t jolted by shifts in 20-30-40 year-old production values. The focus stays steady on the performer. Nice. I expected the juvenilia songs at the end to be trifles, which most are. But damned if the original “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” isn’t an unusually intricate introspective number (esp. for 1966!) that I had never heard before. A sly, slip-it-in reminder that from the earliest days he was dedicated to himself as a project of fascination. (Yeh, yeh, another astute Dylan student.)
Regarding that later stuff, some ups. “I’m Afraid of Americans” does sound more prescient (thanks, Tom Hull). “Little Wonder” is undeniably a wikkiwackadoo droplet (thanks, previously unseen video). And while I much prefer the subsequent version of “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” on ★,I failed to detect a serious shift during the slight encounters I had with the material on The Next Day. Maybe I missed it – all I can remember is a sad blur of commentary along the lines of “this is a great album; it’s by David Bowie, isn’t it?” – but I wish a review had hollered “hey – something has shaken this guy out of decades of sleepwalking!” The Next Day was made by somebody who had felt the chill breath of mortality. ★ was created by a chap who knew he was in the grip of death.
Hope to follow up on that.