Friday, September 9, 2022

David Bowie 39: Who Can I Be Now?

The loss of David Bowie at the start of 2016 naturally inspired a worldwide reassessment of his catalog, resulting in yet another compilation in multiple formats. Meanwhile, the estate was already ready with the second in a series of box sets designed to bring everything together according to the most recent version of history. In addition to another clever use of a song title, Who Can I Be Now? covered a much shorter period of time than the Five Years set, but it was just as sprawling. This time, three studio albums and one live album were examined, and all but one twice, with another vintage live recording added along with a single disc of extras. (And a book filled with photos and documentation old and new.)
While they may have seemed strikingly different from each other at the time, now we can better trace a progression from Diamond Dogs through Young Americans to Station To Station that seems so obvious and seamless in hindsight. Diamond Dogs has a fresh new remaster, then David Live appears in first its original LP sequence and then the most recent expansion with extra songs, proper set list order, corrected artwork, and Tony Visconti mix. (The CD version of the latter is preferable only as it doesn’t adhere to the fades and missing transitions required by six LP sides.) While the adjustments made to the setlist mid-tour aren’t explored here, his next album is demonstrated both in progress as The Gouster, then as more polished and ultimately released as Young Americans. As with the first box, an album is presented in its standard mix and again in a more modern mix courtesy of the original co-producer—in this case, Station To Station via Harry Maslin, that boosts the vocals and uses an alternate take of “Wild Is The Wind”. (The only packaging difference between the two is the full color cover art, which first appeared on the Rykodisc edition, given to the new mix.) Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 is pulled back into circulation from its brief availability in 2010’s Station expansion; sadly, Dennis Davis’ epic drum solo has still been mostly chopped from “Panic In Detroit”.
Given the brevity of this period compared to the first box, the Re:Call 2 collection of extras only amounts to one CD worth (or two album sides). Most are “single edits”, chopping longer album tracks down to more radio-friendly lengths, sometimes resembling amputation. By this method, five Station songs total 20 minutes; the title track starts five minutes in at the “once there were mountains” sections and fades earlier than the album. Along with the B-side mix of “Panic In Detroit” from the David Live period, the alternate “sax” version of “Rebel Rebel” is included for those fans who prefer it, as is the shorter edit of “John I’m Only Dancing (Again) 1975”.
At the time, this period was capped by the Changesonebowie compilation before moving to what still gets called the Berlin era. While these albums weren’t always as strong on their own, their strengths truly emerge taken together, even with the repetition. And the title of the set is perfect.

David Bowie Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) (2016)—

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