KUTX Music Editor Jeff McCord’s take on the box sets to buy this holiday season. Albums are rated on a five-point scale.
David Bowie – Conversation Piece (Parlophone)
Though not an inclusive collection of David Bowie’s early years, this multi-disc collection finds plenty of highlights. But like all of Bowie’s Parlophone sets, what’s here (and what’s not) seem almost random. If just a collection of early demos, why not also include those from pre-1967? If a statement on his formative years, where are his early singles, the single from his group Feathers, or his debut album on Deram for that matter? I expect the answer lies somewhere in licensing hell, but if fans are going to put down their cash, a bit more digging might have been worth it. That’s not to say what’s included isn’t fascinating. There are fascinating but poorly annotated home demos (Archiving apparently wasn’t Bowie’ strong suit. The notes have lots of guesses when and where these tracks were recorded), all from the late sixties post-Deram period. You hear the inspired origins of some songs destined for his 1969 RCA debut, David Bowie (retitled Space Oddity after the single took off), home recordings along with duos with former singing partner John Hutchinson, the agile Mercury demos and a 1968 full band BBC session. Though hardly embryonic – Bowie was already several years into what was at the time an unsuccessful career – you can still hear him morphing his slightly twee voice to the full-throated melodrama that would soon cement his stardom. Following his keen instincts at this crucial time makes what came later easy to understand. These sessions take up three of the set’s five discs. After that comes not one, but two versions of Space Oddity. Why? Most any Bowie fan digging for early obscurities already has Oddity in their collection, and the Tony Visconti remix on the final disc, while nice to hear, is available on its own. Parlophone has also issued the Mercury demos separately. In fact, though some are on obscure collections, only 12 of the set’s 75 selections are previously unreleased. What really makes the set worthwhile is a stunning 120-page book made of notes, correspondence, artwork and photographs from early manager Ken Pitt’s collection, that could easily be sold in bookstores. So overall a bit of a mixed bag, but for Bowie enthusiasts who haven’t already heard a lot of this material, you shouldn’t hesitate to dive in.
Buy Conversation Piece here.