If it’s axiomatic that great artistic careers build to a form of crescendo then this double CD, the official soundtrack to Brett Morgen’s anticipated documentary on the musical odyssey of David Bowie, meets that criterion. Morgen’s work on Crossfire Hurricane, for the Rolling Stones, and Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, persuaded Bowie’s estate to give him carte blanche on over fifty years of material, utilising sonic enhancement, mixes that veer from the sublime to the ridiculously sublime, and a spoken word narrative of sorts that threads the meaning of time, death and faith.
From the moment Bowie’s philosophically framed question “All is transient. Does it matter? Do I bother?” begins the journey the listener is bound to look for meaning in every lyric, no more so than during an early version of Hunky Dory’s Quicksand, a song that used to seem youthfully morbid but now has a large side order of entropy in the line “I’m not a prophet or a stone age man. Just a mortal with potential for a superman.”
This is where the man who sold the world has to collect on his debts. And for those who have followed there’s a lot to chase down, whether that’s the questioning hippy in Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud and Cygnet Committee or the Avant-garde futurist who raised his game on Warszawa, V-2 Schneider and the beatific Japanese inspired Moss Garden.
Bowie fans of all ages will find themselves occupied. The chosen ones who swore allegiance to the Ziggy-era, once characterised by the photographer Mick Rock as “blood and glitter,” can swoon again to the Hammersmith Odeon concert in 1973 when Bowie committed his rock and roll suicide while the Spiders From Mars freaked out in the far out Moonage Daydream before Jeff Beck locked horns with Mick Ronson and co. on the Jean Genie/Love Me Do encore that proved to be a calm before the storm of the increasingly drug addled Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs, where Bowie channelled his inner Lou Reed and made that seem like utter nihilism.
Some may feel the vocal tampering on Life On Mars is unnecessary - and two versions of Hallo Spaceboy? It ends with Bowie refraining Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Goodbye-ee. The stars look very different today.