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David Bowie | Bowie at the Beeb (EMI)
A mixed bag in terms of sound quality and song selection, this double set remains essential for those of us who believe Bowie hit the first of several artistic peaks during this period (68-72). Fair enough the naive charm of Let Me Sleep Beside You and London Bye Ta Ta was hardly cutting edge stuff, even then. But the sudden surge of creativity at the beginning of a new decade still inspires. Material from the self-titled (later renamed after its landmark single Space Oddity) and subsequent Man Who Sold The World albums - the first to feature guitarist Mick Ronson who added a previously dormant rock element - show a unique and original voice finding its way through a maze of lengthy arrangements and lyrical concepts (the early version of Width of a Circle, the eight minute Cygnet Committee). But this was only the first twist in the chameleon's tale. Within a year the three minute pop song had returned to the Bowie ouvre, the anrogynous hedonism of Ziggy Stardust lurking in the shadows. Disc One winds down with the Arnold Corns session, debuting the just-written celebration of the birth of baby Zowie, Kooks, that would show up on Hunky Dory, the first of the essential Bowie albums. The superior fidelity of Disc Two is emphasised from the start by the stunning Bowie/Ronson acoustic pairing of The Supermen and Eight Line poem, despite Bowie's then-standard Kenneth Williams phrasing threatening to overshadow things. 1972 was a vintage year for Bowie, now immersed in the Ziggy Stardust persona and in full flight on the seventeen tracks selected here. With the Spiders From Mars now in position (augmented by pianist Nicky Graham), Ziggy plays the rock star to the hilt on Hunky Dory's seedy Queen Bitch, Lou Reed's I'm Waiting For The Man and White Light/White Heat and Bowie's own rock-outs Suffragette City, Hang Onto Yourself and eponymous Ziggy Stardust - the latter two both featured twice here. The closing seven tracks, recorded over two days in May of 72 are split into a mini-greatest hits session (Starman, Space Oddity, Changes and Oh! You Pretty Things) and the more introspective closing trio of tributes (Andy Warhol, the Bolan-inspired Lady Stardust, and Ziggy's own death knell, Rock'n'Roll Suicide). Despite the bootleg-quality of Disc One and the liner notes clearly indicating there is another discs-worth of material in the BBCs possession, Bowie at the Beeb is, for those who chose not to follow blindly as Bowie lurched uncomfortably through the eighties only to be typecast in cyberspace, his first essential album since 1983's Let's Dance.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000