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What are box sets for?
on 29 December 2003
Buying Sound and Vision does not mean I can dispense with the Singles Collection because it does not have classics such as Let's Dance, Fame and Absolute Beginners which I wouldn't otherwise have, nor does it contain other classics such as Jean Genie, Starman, Diamond Dogs, Golden Years and unforgivably Life On Mars - one of Bowie's greatest songs. I would have preferred the full length album version of 'Heroes' too rather than the German 'Helden' if we were going to get that classic in something other than it's single format.
I suppose what I really purchased this set for was for the last disc and a half which rounds up much of Bowie's stuff that I have never had the inclination to seek out. Unfortunately, having listened to this I can understand why I never bothered with it. I'm afraid, Cat People, Buddha of Suburbia and Loving The Alien apart, most of it's fairly forgettable. Tin Machine were reviled in their time, then have undergone a partial critical renaissance, but hearing the six tracks included here from their two albums, it's true they really weren't anything special at all.
And why include two versions of the instrumental Pallas Athena? The second one, and the last track on the box set is simply a dreadful noise and it goes on too long. I would have preferred to hear Bowie's version of All The Young Dudes, Amsterdam or My Death, or even the brilliant Width of A Circle from Man Who Sold The World, even though I already have these songs in one form or another.
What of the rarities? Well the demo version of Space Oddity is excellent and different enough to the regular version to be worthy of inclusion as is 1984/Dodo. It's Hard to Be A Saint In The City is one of my favourite Springsteen songs and is always worth hearing, tho I prefer Bruce's own version from his first album.
David's two seventies live albums 'David Live' and 'Stage' are presently unavailable, so unless you already have them (and I don't), this is the only place you can presently hear samples of them. Doubtless they will certainly be re-issued at some point though. They were criticised at the time, but I was pleasantly suprised at what I heard on here. Again the live versions are sufficiently different, although not superior, from the studio versions to make them worthwhile, and they are strong enough songs to survive rearrangement.
Finally, the packaging is a bit bizarre and not particularly engaging. Why not go for the common fold out book which would be easier to access than all the crappy plastic stuff? The book is attractive but didn't reveal anything new. While I could have done without the poster and the postcards, which might have reduced the price a bit. What's to bet this will be reissued in a different format in a couple of years?
So all in all, this is worth getting if you're a fan, but if you've got the singles or best of collections and/or a few of the major albums, far from essential.
And as we know David had produced work since that puts disc four of this set to shame!