Like God, David Bowie works in mysterious ways. In the last decade or so, Bowie has been a kind of Greta Garbo of rock, a reclusive sort whose absence only serves to intensify our fascination. Bowie’s silence was shattered with 2013’s remarkable The Next Day, a revelatory missive from a seasoned and hugely influential artist who just might have been grappling with some existential dilemmas of his own. And now Bowie has seen fit – yet again – to revisit, remix and retool his oeuvre with Nothing Has Changed, a “greatest hits” package that elides many of his actual hits while spotlighting much of his later, more obscure (yet still meticulously crafted and imminently consequential) work.
OK, for the interests of this review, let’s go ahead and establish a couple of foundational premises that should be givens. 1) Bowie is a seismically important artiste for the ages whose peers are types like Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Beethoven, Schoenberg, Burroughs and The Beatles – you know, those rare peeps who change fucking everything, forever, and 2) As great as the entirety of his work has been, Bowie will never top his Ziggy Stardust era, which occurred as a magical confluence of cultural and artistic variables aligning just so. This is to say that Bowie has long since peaked, and that’s OK.
There are umpteen version of Nothing Has Changed available at various price points. But I’m assuming (correctly) that you Stomp and Stammer readers are sophisticated and dedicated enough to part with 16 crummy bucks or so for the three-CD set. Whatta deal, really.
Yeah, if you’re a big Bowie fan you probably already have most of the material on Nothing Has Changed, right? So why buy it again?
Well, you should buy it because the remixes are great, the packaging is cool, it’s relatively inexpensive and – most importantly – because Nothing Has Changed offers a glimpse into how Bowie is perceiving his legacy (or how he is wanting it to be perceived by others) at this moment. And it’s fun to listen to.
Disc 1 is the weird one, the overview of Bowie’s more recent work with nary a “hit” on the entire CD. It kicks off with the brand spanking new “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” which sounds a lot like Miles Davis’ large ensemble work with Gil Evans from the 1960s. “Sue” is timeless – an eternally modern, challenging and somewhat disturbing song. The lyrics are ambiguous to opaque, but there’s something menacing about the whole deal. Disc 1 is chock full of remixed, reimagined versions of lesser known Bowie tracks like “I’m Afraid of Americans” This is certainly valid and provocative – although I’ll probably revisit Disc 1 the least of the set.
Disc 2 is the transition disc. Yes, there are a handful of “hits” such as a remixed version of Bowie’s Berlin-era masterpiece, “Heroes,” and the trifecta of commercially-successful-but-nowhere-near-as-important songs, “Blue Jean,” “Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance.” (Interestingly, this material has aged rather well. I didn’t give a shit about these songs in the ’80s and now they sound pretty good.) These hits, of course, are interwoven with lesser-known tracks like “Loving the Alien,” which is apparently a favorite of Bowie’s.
Disc 3 is where it all comes together. There’s still more of the comparatively new stuff. But Disc 3 hits its stride with a healthy helping of all-time classics like “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Changes,” “Space Oddity” and, of course, “Ziggy Stardust.” Bowie’s reverse chronology sequencing strategy, interspersing lesser-known material with the hits, actually works – not only as juxtaposition, but to demonstrate how all of Bowie’s work coheres – well, most of it, anyway. Disc 3 ends with four songs that are something of a curveball, largely unheard tracks from a teenaged, as-yet-unformed, embryonic Bowie in the mid ’60s. “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” is a likable enough piece of Swinging London ephemera, while “Liza Jane” is a Nuggets-style garage rocker that’s surprisingly nasty. The ’60s stuff is definitely interesting, although a bit pedestrian.
So, “Liza Jane,” the oldest track, ends the collection. Bowie’s career goes full circle. All told, the collection is worth buying – and listening to repeatedly. It allows us to rethink Bowie and his work yet again. This rearticulated synopsis of Bowie’s nearly perfect artistic evolution proves indeed that nothing – and everything – has changed.
Nothing Has Changed