Recorded on the day that its cast were told of David Bowie’s death, this is the official record of the New York production of Lazarus, the musical written by Bowie and playwright Enda Walsh.
It’s always difficult to judge a cast recording as more than a set of songs, and stage versions of rock musicals often fall between two stools, being neither musical nor rock enough. However, Lazarus – partly because it’s a show with a great band, partly because many of David Bowie’s songs are peculiarly adaptable to the musical format – works as a record. So the prettiness of Life On Mars? or the sheer jauntiness of All The Young Dudes lets the song survive its transition, while the newer songs, particularly those from Lazarus, fit the show for obvious reasons.
The arrangements only sometimes differ from the originals and the overall sound – unlike, say, the bland rock pop of We Will Rock You – is convincing. These are Bowie songs sung by actors, but they work, and the singers – led by Dexter star Michael C. Hall – rarely wander into that awful acting-singing that thespians can be prone to. Props to Hall for a gorgeous Where Are We Now?, as well as Cristin Milioti’s sympathetic take on Always Crashing In The Same Car.
Of greater interest in this collection is the inclusion of three songs sung by Bowie himself, written for Lazarus but previously unreleased. No Plan, Killing A Little Time and When I Met You may or may not be the last new Bowie material we ever hear, but they’re certainly as strong as anything he released this decade, and they’re very representative of his final burst of creativity.
No Plan (unrelated to the instrumental Plan from The Next Day sessions) could be taken as a manifesto or as a song from a musical, while Killing A Little Time and its twisted guitars could have fitted on Heroes, while its memorable lyric – ‘I’ve got a handful of songs to sing/To stain the soul/To fuck you over’ sees the man who loved Anthony Newley channel Tommy Steele and Lionel Bart.
Best of all is When I Met You, whose memorable chorus and yearning melody would have been standouts on any recent Bowie album. Clearly these are songs by someone who had more to give, and perhaps who was given fresh urgency by his new awareness of his own mortality. At least we have this musical, and these songs, to remember him by.