David Bowie – Lodger (Tony Visconti 2017 Mix)

30 09 2017

The 2017 Tony Visconti mix of Lodger comes as part of the A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) box set released today (29 September 2017).

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Lodger was Bowie’s 13th studio album, originally released in May 1979. The last of the Berlin Trilogy, the album was recorded in Switzerland and New York with Brian Eno, and was produced by Bowie’s longest collaborator, Tony Visconti, who also oversaw this 2017 mix.

First of all I must confess that Station to Station and Lodger are my favourite Bowie albums, so this review is not a critique, but a review of how the album sounds in its 2017 mix.

The short version of the review is this: Lodger has never sounded so good. Ok, now for the longer review! It does not sound as if there has been much tinkering with the instrumentation or vocals on the album, just a reworking using modern technology and the original master tapes – so it’s a remix, not a remaster.

From the drum roll that ushers in Fantastic Voyage, it’s clear that this is a high-fidelity version of the album. The strings and backing vocals are much clearer in the mix and there is added reverb on the tail-end of the “cos we’ll never say anything nice again, will we” vocal line. Apparently the lyrics are about the possibility of nuclear war, so this song is more relevant now than ever.

There is some great piano work from the late Sean Mayes on this song. I can recommend Sean’s Life on Tour with David Bowie book, which gives an interesting account of life on the road with Bowie and the band on the 1978 Isolar II tour.

African Night Flight is also greatly enhanced by the 2017 remix – there is greater separation between all instruments, and the guitar and chanted vocals sit much more comfortably in the mix. The excellent Dennis Davis drum parts on Move On sound so clear, and as with most tracks on this new version of the album, reverb and delay treatments are added to Bowie’s vocals. The ending of the song reveals layers that I have not noticed previously, that were hidden in the original mix.

Yassassin sounds a million dollars. The guitar and drums (especially the kick drum) are pushed to the forefront, giving the track so much more punch and drive. It’s like discovering a whole new song. The same applies to the frantic Red Sails – the guitar and sax interplay is so much clearer. Some of my favourite guitar lines on the album can be found in this track.

I was particularly looking forward to hearing my two favourite Lodger tracks, DJ and Boys Keep Swinging, and the new mixes Sound very fresh. DJ sounds so much richer – the drums and keyboards, including the wonderful ARP Solina, plus the amazing Adrian Belew guitar solos towards the end of the song, sound better than ever.

The kick drum and bass guitar are so much punchier in Boys Keep Swinging. Renowned for some of the band members switching instruments, this track, released as a single, is in my top 10 Bowie songs. Around the 2.30 mark, there seems to be a high-pitched guitar line removed in this mix, which is a little disconcerting and one of only a couple of negative points in the 2017 version of Lodger.

Repetition has the most disturbing lyrics on Lodger, and the song is greatly improved by this remix. I love the odd bassline on this track, and the guitars sound so vibrant. Once again, there are elements that I have not previously noticed that are more visible in this new mix.

The album closes with Red Money, the album’s update of the Bowie / Alomar song that appears as Sister Midnight on Iggy Pop’s The Idiot album. The bass is deliciously bubbly in this mix, and the instruments, especially the drums and percussion, sound so good. The Comsat Angels sounding guitar riff at around 1.30 and 2.20 – one of the strongest parts of the song for me, disappointingly sits much further back in the new mix.

So whilst this 2017 Tony Visconti mix overall is a vast improvement on the original 1979 version of the album, I will still return to the original of some songs, such as Boys Keep Swinging and Red Money.

Other highlights (on top of some of Bowie’s finest albums) on the box-set include the extended version of Beauty and the Beast (I had not heard this version before) and my favourite version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire), the stunning Giorgio Moroder soundtrack version, which has one of the most emotional Bowie vocal performances.

“Its been so long, so long, so long”

The A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) box set is my favourite of the three released to date.  The whole package includes the following discs (all remastered, apart from Scary Monsters) plus a hardback 128 page book with photos plus notes from Tony Visconti:

Low / “Heroes” / “Heroes” EP / Stage (original and 2017 versions of the live album) / Lodger / Lodger (2017 Tony Visconti Mix) / Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and the compilation Re:Call 3.

Buy “A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982)” CD boxset

Buy “A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982)” vinyl boxset

Buy “Life On Tour With Bowie” by Sean Mayes

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David Bowie – Blackstar

8 01 2016

blackstarNew Bowie albums have always been a big deal and a major event for me. And it’s even more so now, as each release arrives I can’t help but wonder if I’m listening to the last Bowie studio album. The live shows look like they are over, and the time will come when the studio albums stop too, so excuse me for savouring each release.

Anyway, sorry about that – enough of the morbid thoughts. Don’t worry – I’m not going to start off by saying that its the best Bowie album since Scary Monsters, as this is only day one of my listening to the full album (courtesy of the new way of hearing albums on release date – the post midnight Apple Music stream until my CD arrives in the post). It’s a brave new world.

The album opens with the seconds short of 10 minutes title track. Driven by Bjork-like percussion and jittery synths and saxes, contrary to early rumours and the Sue (Or In a Season of Crime) single, this ain’t no jazz album. It’s a virtually rock free zone – the guitars are mostly heavily processed and the music is very electronic and playfully experimental.

I love the middle section of the track Blackstar – its pure old-school Bowie tied in with intriguing lyrics.

“You’re a flash in the pan (I’m not a marvel star)
I’m the great I am (I’m a blackstar)”

Tis a Pity She Was a Whore has developed from the 2014 digital release (which had the feel of a demo if I’m honest). There is a real consistency in the sound of Blackstar, which continues with Tis a Pity…, a song littered with frantic sax (as is most of the album) and reminding me a little of Jump They Say.

Lazarus, oh my sweet Lazarus. I was excited about this album when I heard the evolving strangeness of the title track, but Lazarus took it all up a notch and is by far my favourite track on the album. I’ve played this song so many times since it was released digitally in late 2015.

The guitars on this track are just stunning, and I think Lazarus is shaping up to be one of my favourite Bowie songs since the late 70s. I love the arrangement especially the build up to the songs climax, as the guitars and drums reach their crescendo and then it quickly slips back to the nagging pace of the beginning, whilst adding some great bass and guitar interplay. Lazarus also sees Bowie delivering one of his sassiest vocals in many a year.

Sue (Or In a Season of Crime) appears on Blackstar shorn of it’s jazz trappings and in much shorter, but markedly heavier form. There is a feel of the Outside album at times, especially on this track.

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Girl Loves Me is a weird little number. With vocal tics and incomprehensible lyrics, Girl Loves Me is Bowie at his most off-kilter, and sets up the final tracks, two songs that also happen to be the most accessible songs on the album.

Dollar Days is a great Bowie ballad. At times on The Next Day, some of the nods to the past felt a little like pastiche at times, but Dollar Days does not feel forced, even though it feeds on nostalgia.

Blackstar really feels like an album recorded with a band playing off a well oiled-ensembles strengths and Bowie seems to react to this (listen to the enthused yelps on Tis a Pity She Was a Whore).

I Can’t Give Everything Away opens with a musical nod to Low‘s A New Career In A New Town, and contains the return of the heart-wrenching Bowie vibrato in the chorus.

A simple, understated track that rises and drops, ending with some Fripp like guitar buried in the mix towards the end of a song that seems to be telling his audience to back-off a little – whilst asking for some personal privacy.

“Seeing more and feeling less
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent”

The album has much more consistency than The Next Day. On the first full play of Blackstar, I came to the end and realised I had been waiting to hear the inevitable album filler, but there wasn’t one. Bowie and his musicians do not waste a single note and no track overstays its welcome.

For an artist with such an influential catalogue of songs and albums behind him, to be releasing music this satisfying so far down the line is remarkable.

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