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Bowie's long lost Toy
David Bowie - Toy
Review by Tony BonyataIt's been eight years since David Bowie has released an album of new material; his longest creative dry spell ever since recording his first single "Liza Jane" back in 1964 under the name Davie Jones & The King Bees. So when word that a "new" Bowie album had recently leaked on the internet, media and fans worldwide have been combing the web for these elusive tracks.
Oddly enough, though, this album, playfully entitled Toy, has sat on the shelves of Bowie's former label Virgin Records for the last decade. Whether due to rights & royalty issues or perceived commercial viability, Virgin declined to release it, and it's really quite a shame as this is a very unusual and entertaining album.
Bowie has long been rock's chameleon, not only changing personas and musical directions at the drop of a hat, but also covering a vast wealth of songs from artists who've inspired him throughout his 46 years in the music biz. He's recorded cover versions of artists as diverse as Jacques Brel, Pink Floyd, Nina Simone, Bruce Springsteen, Kurt Weill, Neil Young, Morrissey and The Pixies, as well as many others. But what makes Toy so interesting is that for the first time in his career Bowie has decided to dig deep into his own back-catalog and cover very early, and little-known versions of his own songs from the 1960s.
Bowie recorded these tracks a decade ago with his then touring band. The results, while not up to the caliber of his strongest works, such as Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, Low, Station To Station or Scary Monsters, it still stands up well on its own and is a very welcome addition after such a long absence of new Bowie material. In all fairness, though, it's as least as good as his 1973 Pin-Ups album where he trounced out glammed-up covers of great mid-'60s UK hits with his band The Spider From Mars.
Toy opens with two numbers ("Afraid" and "Uncle Floyd," the latter retitled "Slip Away") that were later released on his 2002 Heathen album, and while these tracks don't vary too drastically from that release, the songs that Bowie revisits from his mid-'60s period are major sea changes from their whimsical and often naive original versions. Bowie's modern updates on songs such as "I Dig Everything" , "Let Me Sleep Beside You" , "In The Heat Of The Morning" , "Liza Jane"[ 1964] and "You've Got A Habit Of Leaving Me"[ 1965] all rock decidedly harder than his earlier versions, with the latter track closing with all of the full-throttled intensity of The Who circa 1969. Bowie also adds a welcome measure of maturity on the beautiful tracks "Conversation Piece" , the lushly orchestrated "Silly Boy Blue" , "The London Boys" and, perhaps the most moving track from this collection, "Shadow Man," a reworking of a song Bowie originally wrote and recorded in 1971 during the early stages of Ziggy Stardust. His deep, soulful crooning on this number proves, without question, that Bowie is one of the most commanding male vocalists of the last half century.
It's an absolute shame that Virgin never gave Toy the proper official release it deserved. Perhaps the recent online leak of this album and the popularity it's quickly been gaining may finally change their decisionÉ even if it is almost an entire decade later.
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