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CH-CH-CH Changes: New Bowie "best of" - "Nothing Has Changed" - spans 50 years of his musical career

Sony / Columbia
"Nothing Has Changed: The Very Best of Bowie" by David Bowie
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ALBUM REVIEW: David Bowie - Nothing Has Changed: The Very Best of Bowie (Sony / Columbia) 2014

Stretching from his days as Davie Jones & The King Bees and their June 1964 single “Liza Jane” all the way top his just-released jazz-pop single “Sue (Or a Season in Crime),” listening to several hours’ worth of David Bowie music, spanning 50 years, is enough to make one’s head spin – in joyous ecstasy, I might add.

And that is what we get with this latest Bowie “best of” collection – on three CD’s, for those of you who give a damn about such things – called Nothing Has Changed.

But things have changed. Take a look at the photo of a latter-day Bowie on the front cover. A man who stares in the mirror at his reflection, like Narcissus. A man who has seen and experienced some truly remarkable things – incredible success and creativity, a meshing of art and music as no other has accomplished, varied musical styles, self-reinvention and fame, fame.

The CD inserts include other images of Bowie looking at his reflection at various points in his career. The mirror is a powerful object, of course. Since ancient times, mirrors and reflective surfaces have been used for purposes of divination, magic and repelling evil. Dr. John Dee, the Elizabethan occultist and magician was known for using a crystal egg and black obsidian mirror for divination.

And it’s important to note that Bowie – who has built an entire mythology around himself – has a certain magical quality that is rather undeniable. Note Bowie’s haunting role as Agent Phillip Jeffries in 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Noting that, I can’t help but think of the late jazz vocalist “Little” Jimmy Scott and his performance of “Sycamore Trees” on that David Lynch film. On the new Bowie song, with Maria Schneider and her orchestra, “Sue (Or a Season in Crime),” he – shockingly – brings to mind “Little” Jimmy Scott, who died earlier this year at the age of 88. What is real? What is imagined. Only the mirror knows on this jazz odyssey … or is that oddity?

Anyway, back to Nothing Has Changed. Well, a lot has changed. And the more Bowie changes, the more he stays the same.

Disc One consists of 18 songs and focuses largely on solo material recorded from the mid-1990’s onward, including material from 2013’s The Next Day (reviewed by RDR here), like the moody rocker “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”. Radio edits of songs including “New Killer Star,” “Slow Burn,” “Thursday’s Child” and “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson.”

A song that went unfinished in 1971, “Shadow Man,” is reimagined 30 years later and appears here. A pretty, reflective piano-guitar ballad that has that trademark Bowie wistfulness.

An edit of the 2002 Heathen track “Everyone Says ‘Hi’” has a throwaway electro-pop quality, but is catchy, in the mode of, say, Erasure mixed with some early 70’s rock guitar.

Bowie’s 1997 song, written with Brian Eno, “I’m Afraid of Americans,” a criticism of homogenized American culture infecting the world, is featured in remixed form from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor.

And speaking of remixes, Bowie’s “Hallo Spaceboy” gets the Pet Shop Boys treatment here and is quite danceable!

“Let Me Sleep Beside You” is fairly straightforward pop-rock, naturally in the uniquely Bowie vein. But with the 2003 cut “Your Turn to Drive,” Bowie delivers a delicious slice of psych-pop that swirls in your head as you re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and spin downward. One of the highlights on this first disc.

Disc Two is largely late 70’s and 80’s-era Bowie. You get notable songs like Bowie’s collaboration with The Pat Metheny Group on “This is Not America,” a 1985 song from The Falcon and The Snowman soundtrack and a cautionary song recently revitalized by America’s Gadsden flag-waving “liberty movement.”

The songs “Ashes to Ashes,” and “Heroes” are here, as are the 1983 Let’s Dance tracks, including the title track, “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” And who can forget that 1985 bit of silliness where Bowie and Mick Jagger remade Martha & The Vandellas’ 1964 hit “Dancing in the Street.”

What’s missing, for me, is Bowie’s Tin Machine material, particularly from that quartet’s 1989 self-titled debut. A topical song like “Under the God” would have fit in well here.

Disc 3 doubles back to the 1970’s and 1960’s, back to the time when David Jones had to change his name to Bowie due to a famous Englishman and Monkee with the same name.

This disc begins with the Bowie song he co-wrote with John Lennon called “Fame,” from 1975’s Young Americans. The title track of that album follows and, for me, features Bowie at his mid-70’s height. Really good stuff and a single that also acts as a musical time capsule.

I particularly enjoyed Bowie’s own glam-rock classic “All the Young Dudes,” which he recorded and later gave to Mott the Hoople, who had a hit with it in 1972. And with 1974 featuring Bowie leaving the glam-rock style behind and embracing more of a Stones-y sound, “Diamond Dogs” has a certain gritty kick about it that sticks with you.

And it really just cruises on with familiar classics – “Ziggy Stardust,” “Starman,” “Life on Mars?” “Changes,” “The Man Who Sold the World,” and the 1969 classic “Space Oddity.” Mining back even further, Davy Jones & The Lower Third checks in with 1966’s “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” and 1965’s“You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving.” All of them are absolute gems.

Nothing Has Changed has a lot of songs to digest, and not all in the form we may remember. Is this a cynical cash in on Bowie’s part? Doubtful. The guy has more than enough dough. And had I sequenced the tracks on this three-disc collection, I would have made them run chronologically. When it's done is a semi-scattershot fashion, it seems somewhat lazy, which is why I'm only giving the collection 4 Rusties.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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