LOS ANGELES, CA- It’s been two years since David Bowie left “physically” this world, but it seems his spirit keeps lingering around. Since the release of his last official album (Blackstar), Bowie’s music output has kept flowing continuously in the mainstream music radar, being the perfect- and perhaps the ultimate- example of the maxim “Be so good no one could ignore you“, to the point that even after his death, he is more present and influential than he probably ever imagined. Rightfully so considering the musical legacy that he left (and still keeps leaving) to both fans and fellow musicians to enjoy and get inspiration from. 

Certainly, his music, and general artistry, embody such qualities which had been cultivated continuously and patiently like a Zen gardener over his lifetime; a virtuoso who was always conscious and present with each and every  one of the actions required to plant a such marvelous, musical garden.

Available since October 12, 2018,  Parlophone released Loving the Alien, a lovingly crafted box-set containing several recordings of different eras of Bowie’s music- sorted together by each stages of Bowie’s sonic evolution. Loving the Alien explores David Bowie’s musical output from 1983 to 1988, a period that sometimes is frequently overlooked among Bowie’s fans considering the ever-present drastically, changing nature of Bowie’s music, being the notable exception of his ubiquitous album Let’s Dance.

Part of the reason albums like Tonight and Never Let Me Down were passed-on by critics and fans alike wereapart from a frequently cited “lack of inspiration”, a case of both albums being poorly mixed, produced and conceived from a creative point of view

This lack of interest left an unexplored “hole” in Bowie’s catalogue, and even David Bowie was aware of such, to the point of asking Reeves Gabrels (Before both of them went on to form Tin Machine) to re-record several songs of “Never Let Me Down”, after he re-considered the potential he saw on that album.

Fast forward 2018. Two years after David’s death, producer Mario McNulty achieves a miracle. Both albums all of sudden, become “listening material” for even the most demanding Bowie fans an music in general.  The albums’ poor production work his all of Bowie’s best of intentions and sonic explorations, but McNulty has resurrected them from their self imposed musical inferiority.

Even though Tonight was an album full of covers, in this current 2018 mix it is possible to appreciate (finally) that deep down, this album perhaps served as a creative outlet for Bowie; a way for him to explore the inner capacities his ability to arrange and interpret music as he did on his earlier album Pin Ups (1973)With the current 2018 reimagining, it is possible to appreciate the full potential of “Tonight” and it is evident that this album served as catalyst of what David Bowie was conceiving for his next phase as an artist, the next magic trick under his sonic belt.

For many years (and it’s understandable why, considering the final result) Bowie preferred to stay away from this album, not acknowledging it so much as he initially planned, but fortunately the day has arrived for it to be finally appreciated. 

The current mix works not only because of the quality of McNulty’s mixing skills but also, the quality of the musicians who collaborated on this record such as the powerful rhythm section of Carlos Alomar, Omar Hakim, Sammy Figueroa and Carmine Rojas, co-stars like Iggy Pop and Tina Turner as well as The Borneo Horns, an essential part of what made “Let’s Dance” such a memorable album. The current 2018 mix sounds alive, and perhaps a bit closer to what Bowie originally envisioned for this record. 

Such element of “aliveness” and “presence” are felt continuously in each track of the box-set, be it in the remastered versions of Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down or in the live albums included in the box set, which definitely provide a sense of “depth” and “live-concert-feel” way more vibrant and urgent than before, even bringing out – aurally speaking – the theatrical elements Bowie and his musicians pulled out in each one of the concerts during this Bowie era.

What makes this box-set special, and a must-have for any serious David Bowie fan (aside from the reasons mentioned a few lines before), is the “re-imagination” of Never Let Me Down or, as it is called Never Let Me Down 2018. Producer Mario McNulty displays a finesse in this particular version of the album and it’s clear that without a doubt, he understood clearly what Bowie requested from his role (in a way, echoing the ability Tony Visconti had while working with Bowie) for this particular situation.

Let’s remember that after meeting Reeves Gabrels in the late 80’s, Bowie had intended to re-record the album in order to bring it closer to the original vision he had. As we now know, Gabrels convinced Bowie to not proceed that way, which somehow, paved the way for both gentlemen to have a clear, fresh mind to begin their work together in Tin Machine. 

Bowie’s vision for this album is now a reality. Joining Reeves Gabrels on this 2018 version of the record were several other musicians close enough to Bowie from all dimensions of his life – past, present and future –. including Sterling Campbell, David Torn and Tim Lefevbre (all of them, former Bowie musicians) as well as Laurie Anderson (who does a wonderful job with her ethereal-quality voice on “Shining Star”) and Nico Muhly

The 2018 version of “Never Let Me Down” serves as a bridge between Bowie’s sound in Let’s Dance and the future sound he was about to explore from the late 80’s and beyond. Gabrels indeed provides a whole new life to the songs with his daredevil, take-no-prisoners approach to the guitar. His guitar playing is so good that it was approved without hesitation by former guitarist Carlos Alomar (who originally played guitar on the record) in order to be included in this version. 

At some points, perhaps subconsciously, Gabrels’ guitar playing establishes several “bridge points” to what was going to be Tin Machine and its particular “industrial, loud rock and roll” approach (for example, in “Time Will Crawl”). Sterling Campbell’s solid drumming provides a wonderful groovy landscape where bassist Tim Lefevbre comfortably moves around, considering also his confident approach to his instrument (as evident in Blackstar). Nico Muhly’sclassical, post-minimalist melodies fly all over the harmonies and rhythms provided by each one of the band members, making the over-all sound of the record not only fuller but also, majestic and elegant. 

Such elegance could be experienced fully in the track “Beat of Your Drum” which, perhaps illustrates and sums up in itself the whole nature and spirit of this 2018 version of Never Let Me Down.

Fashion and seasons may change, but David Bowie is still leaving his mark on us.

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David Bowie. "Loving The Alien"
David Bowie. “Loving The Alien”