By any measure, Bowie’s legacy is astounding. But drilling down beyond the hits, (Adventures is the fifth in a series of more or less completist box sets released by Parlophone), you find a career marked by failed experiments and abrupt left turns. Despite all his 60s and 70s successes, it was the slick, against-type 1983 release Let’s Dance that was Bowie’s commercial peak. Weak follow-ups (Tonight and Never Let Me Down) failed to recapture lightning in a bottle, and they kicked off Bowie’s most perplexing period, extending well into the next decade. The everything-goes box set series breaks precedent and completely ignores Bowie’s Tin Machine detour (which probably echoes the sentiments of many Bowie fans). It begins with 1993’s Black Tie White Noise, which reunites Bowie with Let’s Dance hitmaker producer Nile Rodgers, and ropes in unusual collaborators like Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie. Yet the songs are skeletal, and in his liner notes, Rodgers still smarts, decades later, over Bowie’s lack of ceding control. Four other studio albums are in the set. The Buddha of Suburbia, a BBC soundtrack/art project never even released in the US. Outside brings back collaborator Brian Eno, but in true fashion, Eno insists Bowie come into the studio without a single idea, and gives the musicians prompts like “You are a musician in a Soul-Arab band in a North African role-sex club…” to gets things started. Earthling, a forced gene-splicing of skittish, jungle/techno beats, follows. 1999’s Hours stands alone as feeling the most like a David Bowie album. The set also includes a full-length 2000 BBC live session, multiple rarities, and outtakes, and the first official release of Toy, a scrapped 2001 revisit of Bowie’s earliest songs. If you’re searching for hits, you won’t find them in the seven hours of music included here. Inching towards a career coda, those days were more or less behind him. These albums all sold decently, and they aren’t without their share of memorable songs. Yet viewed in retrospect, instead of WTF, there emerges something else: fascination. Torn between the desire for continued success and his ingrained artistic tendencies, his experiments, detours, even his failures, all resound with a singular vision. Driven and restlessly ambitious, Bowie never stopped moving. You feel it here, his searching, reaching, all while daring the world to follow through his changes.
Review by Jeff McCord