The Good: Excellent rock songs, Nice lyrics, Good capsule of a career
The Bad: Later works push many away, Career isn't over
The Basics: Perhaps one of the coolest performers ever puts out a "Best of" album while he's still in his prime, begging the question, why now?!
David Bowie is easily one of the coolest cats to ever rock the world and despite some of the territory he took his music into in the 1990s, this is a man who keeps getting better with age. No longer the strung out heroine chic look, Bowie has matured in body and voice into a true classic of our times, one whom my wife is absolutely in love with, making it easy for me to select David Bowie as an Artist Of The Month selection. The 2-disc Best Of Bowie cd does an excellent job encapsulating his impressive career.
Listening to the Best Of Bowie album is like listening to a time capsule of alternative rock music and one of the intriguing things about the album is that when one looks at the years of the songs, one rediscovers the notion that Bowie preceded many of the trends. He was the trendsetter, always ahead of his time. For example, on the second album, the track ""The Heart's Filthy Lesson" is from his dark industrial album "Outside," which was from 1995, just as the industrial breakthrough founded by Nine Inch Nails was beginning.
Best Of Bowie exhibits impressive range. From the pure pop of "Fame" to the haunting melody "Thursday's Child," to the straight out rock of ""Heroes"" to his industrial side with works like "I'm Afraid of Americans," Bowie illustrates an ability to redefine himself that is quite different from the way someone like Madonna has redefined herself to stay alive. The thing about Bowie is that he appears to have matured. There is a clear difference in the quality and content of the songs when one listens from "Space Oddity" to "Slow Burn." Even as he experiments with different styles, his sound becomes more refined throughout the listening and his abilities continue to improve.
The reason Best Of Bowie is likely to appeal to those who are not already David Bowie fans is that Bowie has a strong command of the human condition that he reveals in his songs. So, for example, his song "Under Pressure," which is about stress is mixed with an amped up guitar to sound energetic and frazzled. His contemplative masterpiece "Changes" still hits a chord because he sings about the essential quality of growing up, something all of us do and many of us find ourselves reflecting on. David Bowie understands what makes people tick and that is what he sings about.
It helps that Bowie knows how to construct a catchy tune. "The Jean Genie," one of the more annoying tracks on the album because of its repetitive nature, constantly gets stuck in my head because it has a tune that sneaks in and stays there. I often find myself humming "Golden Years," a contemplative song that one can dance to. And one of the easiest tunes from the 80s to pick out within three notes has to be Bowie's "Modern Love."
David Bowie's amazing, smooth tenor voice is backed up by his ability to articulate lyrics that go beyond the usual predictable rhyme schemes. Bowie has an extensive vocabulary and he is not afraid to use it, without resorting to either obvious rhymes or profanity. Possibly the most predictable rhyme he has is in "Let's Dance," when he rhymes "shoes" with "blues" ("Put on your red shoes / And dance the blues"). Outside that, the lines tend to be more sophisticated, which is one of the reasons this album holds up over multiple listens.
Bowie is accompanied primarily by guitar, piano and drums, though his musical diversity extends to the instruments in his band as well. "Thursday's Child," for example, uses a whole range of strings; violins and cellos by the sound of the song. Furthermore, in his phases of more rock than pop, Bowie places emphasis on the drums, like in "The Jean Genie" and "Let's Dance." Perhaps that's why it is so disturbing to hear them used as elevator music occasionally.
Essentially, Best Of Bowie is an album that acts as a time capsule for the trends of pop-rock from male vocalists from 1969 through 2002. It displays excellent range from the early electronic, acoustic, bigger band sound, techno, industrial and now back to the solo male artist with emphasis on vocals. The reason Best Of Bowie stands above most compilations is that this artist has an excellent voice and a great musical sense. You are getting the best of each of the styles encapsulated here.
The weakest track on Best Of Bowie is the utterly unmemorable "TVC15," while the best track is his mature reflection on life, "Thursday's Child." A worthy addition to anyone's music collection.
For other Best Of albums from my Artist Of The Month performers, be sure to check out:
The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac
Hits: Greatest And Others - Joan Baez
Greatest Hits - Red Hot Chili Peppers
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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