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David Bowie's 'A New Career In a New Town': 10 Essential Tracks From the Box Set
David Bowie photographed circa 1974
Parlophone has unveiled the most anticipated installment of their definitive David Bowie reissue campaign with the release of A New Career in a New Town today (Sept. 29). What makes this particular box set so special is that the 11-disc collection’s focal point is the late, great Duke’s Berlin period, an era considered by many fans to be his most creative span in a career defined by constant change.
Working in tandem with longtime producer Tony Visconti and friend Brian Eno (himself immersed in Germany’s experimental electronic movement of the '70s through his collaborative efforts with Cluster), Bowie ushered himself into the punk and new wave era by going against the grain of the time, looking to the works of such Krautrock heroes as Can, Kraftwerk and Neu! to inspire the conception of the three LPs constructed between 1977 and 1979: Low, “Heroes” and Lodger, known by most as the singer’s Berlin Trilogy.
A New Career In A New Town, however, constitutes a timeline that takes the conversation through to 1982 and Bowie’s rebirth as an icon of the young MTV generation with the inclusion of his transitional 1980 classic Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and its breakout hit “Ashes to Ashes”, one of the very first videos played on the channel in 1981, as well as the 1978 live album Stage, which chronicled Bowie’s Isolar II World Tour. And, like its predecessors, this box set also includes a plethora of bonus material in addition to the remastered classic LPs.
Featured in this particular brick are such import rarities as the “Heroes” EP, which rounds up the German and French album and single versions of the song in a compilation exclusive to the set, as well as a newly remixed edition of Lodger, one of the most underrated albums in the Bowie catalog. Of course, there’s also the third installment of the Re:Call series, which gathers two discs worth of Easter eggs spanning the entirety of the timeframe featured in this set. The following are ten particular tracks that justify the hefty price tag for A New Career in a New Town for many of Ziggy’s most ardent fans.
1. "A New Career In A New Town"
This deep instrumental cut off Low not only provides this box set with a title quintessentially capturing the tone of his Berlin era, but the combination of icy synths and Bowie's atmospheric harmonica solo sets the stage for the singer's relocation from the United States to Europe without uttering a single word. It's the sound of hope against the air of uncertainty.
2. “Heroes” German Version
Hearing this uplifting song, originally written about two lovers kissing by the Berlin Wall, sounds even more emotionally resonant when sung in the native language some 30 years after the Nazis were eradicated from Deutschland. It stands as a true testament to Bowie’s love for the country he called home during this time.
3. "The Jean Genie"
Within the span of two years, David Bowie got to work with both of King Crimson's guitar gods. And for all of the heroics on display by Lodger contributor Adrian Belew across the span of Stage, largely hailed as the best of the live Bowie albums, his grandest fireworks never made the original cut. The way in which Belew stretches out Mick Ronson’s work on the Aladdin Sane hit beyond its elastic threshold (included along with a performance of “Suffragette City” as bonus tracks on the 2017 mix of Stage) wildly foreshadows his stunt guitar work on the road with Talking Heads in the early '80s.
4. “Beauty and the Beast (Extended Version)”
There isn't a stronger example of the energy produced by the power trio of Eno, Bowie and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp than "Beauty and the Beast," as sonically ominous as the Jean Cocteau fantasy with which it shares a title, with Bowie as the beauty and the tonal roar of Fripp's electric guitar as the resident beast. This version on Re:Call 3 expands the majestically frenetic opening cut to “Heroes" to 5 minutes, 20 seconds.
5. “Under Pressure”
This is very much a Bowie song as well as it is a Queen classic, but it wouldn't appear on one of his works until 2002's Best of Bowie, while it was the main song on Queen’s 1982 LP Hot Space. On Re:Call 3, however, the Duke finally gets his just due as one of the tune's chief architects responsible for the lyrical heft as well as partial credit for that iconic bass line, with the inclusion of the single edit of “Pressure” as a highlight of this rarities package. It's placed in such a way that it gels with the narrative of the era in a way that was never quite articulated in a Greatest Hits format.
6. “Crystal Japan”
Ryuichi Sakamoto and Bowie were so great as an onscreen team in the 1983 WWII film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence it's a shame they didn't do more work together in the recording studio. But this tranquil b-side to “Ashes to Ashes” -- originally intended as the closing track for Scary Monsters -- sounds exactly like the kind of glissando fever dream that could've been created between the two men had they had gotten together during Sakamoto’s time in Yellow Magic Orchestra.
7. “Space Oddity 1979”
Released as the b-side to his 1980 deconstruction of The Doors' "Alabama Song," the '79 version of Bowie's first hit strips away all the bells and whistles that made it such a beloved theme to the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. And when whittled down to its acoustic brass tacks, a new layer of beauty is presented amidst the minimalist accompaniment of the musicians who helped David shape the quirky sequel to the saga of Major Tom in "Ashes to Ashes," which reimagines the observant astronaut strung out on heaven's high and hitting an all-time low, to which this version provides a more earthbound translation to his backstory.
8. Baal EP
1982 saw Bowie further his career as an actor, landing the title role in a BBC television production of German playwright Bertolt Brecht's Baal, the tale of a young vagabond on the prowl in post WWI Deutschland. Bowie and Tony Visconti returned to Berlin before production began to record the play's five songs. And for the first time ever, the 11-minute EP appears in its original and full sequence on Re:Call 3. It's a staggering contrast to the music he was making on Scary Monsters, but offers a taste for the drama that would define his roles in such later films as Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Labyrinth as well as the emotional resonance that would define his final act Lazarus.
9. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire) [Soundtrack Version]”
Filmmaker Paul Schrader proved his brilliance by transforming Jacques Tournier's 1942 horror classic into the most highly stylized sex thriller of 1982. But overshadowing his celluloid dream was pairing up David Bowie with Giorgio Moroder for the movie's theme song, whose combination of disco and darkness made for the perfect transition into Bowie's Let's Dance period. The Duke rerecorded the song for his 1983 smash LP, but as good as it is, it doesn't quite capture the hot flash of black magic exhibited on the original six-and-a-half minute version from the Cat People soundtrack, which makes you wish he and Moroder had recorded an entire album together.
10. “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”
Five weeks before his death in 1977, Bing Crosby invited Bowie to perform a duet with him on his forthcoming TV special Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas. For many at the time, the pairing was as mind-boggling as it sounded—the coming together of two opposite ends of the pop music spectrum. But the warmth by which the two men shared scripted banter about spending the holidays with family before singing a medley of the age-old Xmas favorite “Little Drummer Boy” and a new song called “Peace On Earth” remains one of the sweetest intergenerational moments in television history. Released on November 27, 1982 as a 7-inch single with “Fantastic Voyage” off Lodger as the b-side, it’s about time this holiday classic made it on a proper Bowie compendium.