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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001), review: proof that Bowie was always a class act

A lost album from David Bowie finally sees the light of day, as part of new box set Brilliant Adventure (1991-2001). Toy was recorded when Bowie was turning 54, in fine voice and on a creative high. Coming off the back of a triumphant Glastonbury 2000 festival set and revelling in the muscular power his band were bringing to old material, he struck on the notion of re-recording songs from the 1960s, revisiting a period when he was a struggling wannabe trying to find his place in the music world. 

What the sessions would amply demonstrate is that Bowie always had talent to burn, long before he found a way to light the fuse. Yet astonishingly they would also prove that the short-sighted, bean-counting music business still didn’t know what to do with all that talent.

Twenty years after Virgin/EMI bafflingly declined to put it out, Toy sounds like a complete joy. “I sit behind my window til’ my cigarette’s low, and I dig everything,” Bowie croons with beatific pleasure on rocky opening track I Dig Everything. While Earl Slick’s guitar carves out a startling oblique riff, Bowie insists: “Everything’s fine! Everything!” 

The original was a jangly 1966 beat group style single on Pye, with the mop-topped young Bowie articulating the optimism of his generation. In its updated and more vigorous incarnation it becomes an inspirational anthem for Bowie’s bottomless positivity and curiosity. Even looking back, Bowie keeps moving forward.

Slowed down and viewed through a moody prism of nostalgia, 1966 B-side The London Boys becomes a dreamy validation of the longing to belong. The introspective, regretful Conversation Piece (a 1970 B-side) assumes a new gravity in a sombre version with Tony Visconti’s strings set against Bowie’s older, wiser vocal. 

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