David Bowie “Loving the Alien” Box Set
I was about 12 years old when David Bowie released “Let’s Dance.” Although I already owned “Changes One” and “Ziggy Stardust” on vinyl, I wasn’t a full-fledged fan yet. I liked his music quite a bit, and was fascinated — perhaps alarmed at some of the stories I had heard about him. That album, which catapulted him into arena-rock stardom, was the catalyst that kicked in my life-long fandom of the man who fell to earth.
Despite the obvious criticism of this particular era of Bowie’s career, I was excited to see what the offering of “Loving the Alien” box set would hold. I own the first installment “Five Years” , skipped the “Young Americans” era and of course enjoy the “A New Career in a New Town” box as well.
Sure, I am being nostalgic, but for me, as Bowie was releasing albums like “Tonight” and “Never Let me Down” during the 1980s, I was on a personal parallel path discovering albums like “Lodger” and back to “Hunky Dory.” It was an intense four to five year crash course delving into his work as a producer for records like Lou Reed’s “Transformer” and naturally, his work with Iggy Pop. Just as I “caught up” to Bowie, to the extent any listener can, he declared he was no longer going to record as David Bowie and released a record called “Tin Machine” with his new band of the same name.
With “Loving the Alien” , as the other box sets, the packaging on this set is brilliant. The booklet well produced. I got choked up reading Nile’s letter to David, saying how much he misses him. The photos and liner notes are a great read while going back and re-discovering this era.
“Let’s Dance” gets a lot of flak, but you know what, there’s arty stuff on that album as well. I always loved his take on Metro’s “Criminal World” for instance. I can listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s solo on the long take of Let’s Dance any time. What great work Nile brought out in these musicians. From the punchy “Modern Love” to space funk of “Without You” there’s plenty of gems on this record. It is a career defining recording. I always love hearing Nile tell the story of how Bowie procured a photo of Little Richard standing by a Cadillac and told him “I want the record to sound like this.” And that is exactly what only the genius of Nile Rodgers could pull off.
The live “Serious Moonlight” album is a treat too. The mix sounds a bit less polished and more “live” than what ended up on the live video of the tour.
The Tonight LP mix is great—I still love the song “Loving the Alien” and fans know Bowie revived this track live on a few of his last tours—a striking ambient version. It’s a very pop album, but even songs like “Dancing with the Big Boys” are a guilty pleasure here.
My favorite, well at least what held the most anticipation is the new version of “Never Let me Down.” Mario McNulty and company have done a great job with this. I love the new versions of “New York’s in Love” again, a guilty pleasure of mine, but now it’s a harder industrial vibe. Other stand outs are “Zeroes” and “Beat of your Drum”
It is fitting, and sort of closing the circle as they say, that Reeves Gabrels plays on this new take of the album. Reeves was the “x -factor” of the Tin Machine project, the secret ingredient that gave Bowie the edge. Tin Machine whether they meant to or not, sort of threw bullets into the commercial gloss of the previous few albums Bowie released. Now, Gabrels has gone back and helped his long time collaborator and friend revive this work. Good stuff.
I even liked the “Glass Spider” Live album. Again, great work from the band, Peter Frampton in particular. The live version of “Sons of the Silent Age” and the Diamond Dog classic “Big Brother” stand out on this one. “Blue Jean” was always a favorite of mine when played live, and the version here is fantastic.
The set also features “Dance” a collection of remixes from the era, which apparently was a scraped album release. Collectors know each set comes with an installment called “Re:call” featuring B-sides and collectable mixes left off the albums, and this set is no different. “Re:call 4” features single versions of some of the singles from the era, and the cringeworthy cover of “Volare” from Absolute Beginners. Fans of the goblin king will be happy to find a few songs from “Labyrinth” here too. One of the B-Side’s “Julie” brought back a personal memory which I suppose I can share now that he’s not with us anymore. Bowie and Gabrels were tracking songs for the “Hours” album in London at Mute Studios when Blondie released their come back single “Maria.” There were a few rumblings that the Blondie single was a bit similar to this track. I hear it , but I doubt Debbie and Co were aware of this song…one never knows.
Definitely a purchase for the die-hard fans, if you’re willing to shell out the bucks, it is a great addition to your collection.