David Bowie - A New Career In A New Town 1977 – 1982 album review

Third instalment of The Dame’s career-spanning box-set series reaches Berlin and beyond

Cover art for David Bowie - A New Career In A New Town 1977 – 1982 album

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A typically audacious rebirth following the snowblindhighwire act of Station To Station, Low was Bowie’s punk era-defying masterpiece. A keen contender for the greatest achievement in his career peak-packed decade, inspired by new life in Berlin, but recorded in France, Low masterfully fused emotional and psychic desperation with cranky, Eno-assisted, synth-funk pop savvy.

As with the title track of its sequel Heroes, Bowie’s Sound And Visionary pop genius shone through the despair (of which the harrowing anorexic of the Be My Wife video was just one striking example).

The Thin White Duke’s disappearing act is masterfully effected across both albums in instrumentals (the Blackstar foreshadowing The Subterraneans, Joe The Lion, V-2 Schneider) that blend jarring dissonance and an otherworldly prayerful calm. Heroes deepened the creative alliance with Eno and introduced the inspirationally off-kilter guitar of Robert Fripp.

All the albums, and the odds-and-sods presented on this 11-CD collection are remastered, but only Lodger, in a move approved by Bowie before his death, is given a Tony Visconti 2017 remix. This new mix illuminates the giddy mood of experimentalism abroad, a contrast to the intensity of its precursor’s, and a band fresh from the tour captured on the exemplary Stage (also here), in fine, resourceful fettle.

Originally titled Happy Accidents, Lodger’s exotic and esoteric dabbling is given a new sharpness of detail and brightness, its exploratory zeal pre-empting the world music vogue Eno would explore further with David Byrne and Talking Heads.

By that time Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) augured in a new era of Bowie. Dismantling past selves with Ashes To Ashes and having a pop at the New Romantics that followed in his wake (that “beep, beep” lick on Fashion surely aimed at Gary Numan).

Arguably the last great Bowie album it also introduced the old-songs-reworked and cover versions formula that would mark the decade ahead. Though with the creative whirlwind that had gone before (and, don’t forget, the period captured here also included classic Iggy Pop liaisons The Idiot and Lust For Life) Bowie was surely entitled to cool down the pace.

Gavin Martin

Late NME, Daily Mirror and Classic Rock writer Gavin Martin started writing about music in 1977 when he published his hand-written fanzine Alternative Ulster in Belfast. He moved to London in 1980 to become the NME’s Media Editor and features writer, where he interviewed the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer, Pete Townshend, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ian Dury, Killing Joke, Neil Young, REM, Sting, Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, James Brown, Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, Madonna and a host of others. He was also published in The Times, Guardian, Independent, Loaded, GQ and Uncut, he had pieces on Michael Jackson, Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra featured in The Faber Book Of Pop and Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay, and was the Daily Mirror’s regular music critic from 2001. He died in 2022.