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David Bowie | All Saints: Collected instrumentals, 1977-1999 (EMI)
David Jones is quite a journeyman. Throughout his career, he has assumed the diverse guises of mod fop, Hippie troubadour, Glam demigod, Plastic soul-boy, 80s icon, AOR team player and Junglist, never outstaying his welcome and often leaving a trail of imitators in his wake. This desire for change, artistic development and reinvention often polarises his audience and infuriates his critics. The criticism often levelled at Bowie is that he is an appropriator of styles, rather than a musical innovator (or as Jon Savage describes him, a 'style barometer'). So, will the real David Bowie please stand up? This compilation of instrumentals is surely the purest statement of Bowie's talents. These works are as instantly recognisable and attributable to their creator as his distinctive voice. The oldest pieces here, from the seminal 70s albums 'Low' and 'Heroes', are admittedly influenced by Harmonia, Neu!, Edgar Froese's 'Epsilon' in Malaysian Pale, Kraftwerk (with the wry nod to Florian in V-2 Schneider) and collaborator Brian Eno's 'Another Green World', but have a glacial allure all of their own. These works sit alongside their more contemporaneous siblings on this collection with no real betrayal of their age, which is surely a testament to the success of Bowie's instrumental experimentation. That the sprightly tribute to La Dusseldorf, A New Career in a New Town, begins this album, comes as no real surprise. The title alone is a clear indication of its composer's breakaway from previous musical expectations and constraints. The exotic gamelan textures of Weeping Wall collide headlong into the thoroughly modern sounding clang of the previously scarce title piece, All Saints, which sizzles with an intensity that would cause Add n to (x) to blush. Elsewhere, an inquisitive drum machine led wander through the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Art Decade), gives way to the synthesised tide washes and wind howls of Sense of Doubt, over which a mournful descending piano sequence and gloomy VSC3 stutter creates an isolated mood. This is possibly the highlight of the collection, evoking the image of a helpless Newton gazing across the terrain of his blighted world. The greatest surprises come from the pieces taken from such later works as the soundtrack to 'The Buddha of Suburbia' and the mid 1990's album 'Hours...' The Japanese atmospherics of Brilliant Adventure recalls the shimmering grace of Moss Garden and the incidental music from 'Buddha' could quite easily be mistaken for 'Low/Heroes' outtakes. But, the delayed piano of The Mysteries and the minimal acoustic guitar and ambient synth fuzz that constitutes the curiously titled Ian Fish U.K. Heir, are not pale imitations of earlier works, even though they originally accompanied visuals of a 1970s context. More than anything, 'All Saints' is an extremely emotive body of work, and the cinematic power of the closing piece Some Are (taken from the Philip Glass 'Low Symphony') suitably reinforces this notion. Anybody still clinging to the idea of Bowie as a fraudulent automaton is referred to the glorious avant-jazz sax blow out of Neukoln: a charged moment of human emotion amidst the antiseptic beauty of the soundscapes of 'Heroes'.

Simon Berkovitch
November 2001

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