New Box Sets: David Bowie

Sound + Vision, EMI
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Flicking randomly through the booklet that accompanies this four-CD set, one finds mention of Antonin Artaud and the Theatre Of The Absurd; a few pages on, and it's Fritz Lang, Pabst and German Expressionist cinema that are being namechecked. It's some tribute to Bowie that one is never in doubt about which pop artist is under discussion: for it was he, more than anyone, who made such ideas a commonplace of pop discourse. It's no surprise, then, to find him singing "Heroes" in German ("Helden") and adapting a couple of Bertolt Brecht songs ("Baal's Hymn" and "The Drowned Girl") in this anthology, alongside the more prominent highlights of a career marked by fairly constant change, not always for the best. Originally released as a three-disc set in 1989, Sound + Vision favours outtakes and obscurities, such as the demo of "Space Oddity", with its whine of Stylophone, and the string-laden cover of Springsteen's "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City", from the Station to Station sessions. This expanded reissue extends Bowie's story to take in the Tin Machine/Buddha of Suburbia era, not exactly the most vital period of his career; but given that he's already issued another five albums since this box's cut-off point, the damage can probably be minimised when the five-disc update appears in a year or two.