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In our Re:View section, in which we look back at albums from the past, Nick Dent-Robinson is excited that David Bowie’s ‘Toy,’ previously soldas part of a box set format will be released in its own right.
Six years after his death in January 2016 - and on the eve of what would have been David Bowie's 75th birthday on 8 January, the late artist's estate have announced the sale of his songwriting catalogue to Warner Chappell for around £185million. This follows last September's separate deal giving the publisher the rights to his recorded repertoire of more than 400 songs which Warner Chappell have rightly described as “milestones that changed the course of modern music.”
Now on top of all this, the album ‘Toy’ has been issued. Recorded back in 2000 “as live” in New York after Bowie's triumphant Glastonbury appearance that year, ‘Toy’ saw him revisiting various songs he had written between 1964 and 1971, long before he became an international mega-star. The idea of ‘Toy’ had originally been suggested to Bowie by Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott who was keen to see these lost and largely forgotten songs revamped with Bowie's touring band. Recording went well but plans for a “surprise drop” of the album were scuppered after Bowie's recording company were lukewarm, and Bowie mothballed ‘Toy’ while he moved on to make 2002's ‘Heathen,’ his 23rd studio album. ‘Toy’ was included in the pricey ‘Brilliant Adventure’ box set last year but it is now to be released in its own right.
The sheer verve and power of the performances on ‘Toy’ is stunning! The record was made when Bowie was on a high – his wife Iman was about to give birth to their daughter Lexi and the singer was clearly on a roll. He was the hugely energetic hub of a great band featuring pianist and keyboardist Mike Garson, guitarists Earl Slick and Mark Piati, with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer Sterling Campbell.
Some tracks do have an authentic Sixties feel – like ‘Karma Man’ and ‘Can't Help Thinking About Me,’ where Bowie sounds like a young mod seeking his rightful place in the world. But Bowie brings his own unique sense of playful authority to songs that were originally rather earnest and a little gauche. ‘I Dig Everything’ from 1966 is delivered with real panache and ‘You've Got A Habit Of Leaving’ is a driven number with a ‘Rebel Rebel’-like groove.
With skilful use of a trumpet and clarinet, ‘The London Boys’ brilliantly evokes the smoky, intimate ambience of a Soho jazz club of the Sixties. There are also two excellent ballads. The theatrical ‘Silly Boy Blue’ is enhanced by Tony Visconti's strings while the superb Ziggy-era ‘Shadow Man’ is a classic that is finally getting the recognition it always deserved.
There are two bonus discs. One is essentially an acoustic version of the album with the guitars of Slick and Piati augmented by horns, violin and harmonica. The other contains alternative mixes plus two unreleased tracks – a new version of Bowie's debut single ‘Liza Jane’ (an American jazz standard) and a psychedelic pop number, ‘In The Heat Of The Morning.’
Bowie hadn't reached his innovative peak when he wrote the songs on ‘Toy,’ but in terms of sheer performance, this is an album which captures him at his prime!
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