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Drawing the blinds on RCA: the origins of David Bowie’s Twilight album, iSelectBowie

Recently offered as a freebie with the Mail On Sunday newspaper in Britain, DB’s new iSB is now granted a full commercial release, with his additional track-by-track annotations and jewel-case packaging. But if we delve a little deeper, it becomes apparent that this welcome hand-picked artist collection is in fact an album David put together almost three decades ago.
The cover art immediately gives it away. The austere beauty of his very first official compilation, 1976’s ChangesOneBowie, is replicated here, with the same unspaced uppercase red/grey (albeit faded to a lighter shade) typeface over a wonderfully moody, monochromatic portrait from the same period.
In 1981, DB set about compiling a sequel to COB. And as a way of avoiding duplication with that album (11 straight singles, chosen by him, but with a surprising US bias), as well as the Christiane F. soundtrack collection and K-Tel’s The Best Of Bowie the previous year, this time round he opted solely for abstruse album tracks.
Amusingly titled Twilight (his long contract with RCA was in its final year), the label’s advice was “We can’t sell this!” and promptly replaced it with the far less crepuscular ChangesTwoBowie, which David had no involvement in, apart from a suitably evocative video for the attendant single and his one of his personal faves, Wild Is The Wind, which was one of only two songs that were salvaged from the Twilight project, the other being Aladdin Sane.
Fast forward 27 years and that majestic duo are now absent from the updated tracklist, with the latter 1973 title track kicked off the Twilight redux by its own set-closer, the luscious Lady Grinning Soul, while, surprisingly, there’s nothing at all from Station To Station, nor the album always woefully under-represented on the Bowie compilation stage, The Man Who Sold The World – its unjustly under-appreciated After All was set to be the Twilight closing number, er, after all.
“Heroes” is also absent, as the major vocal gymnastics of Sons Of The Silent Age are given their marching orders. Just one further Twilight highlight didn’t make the grade here – the breezy Red Sails is replaced by Repetition, also from 1979’s Lodger opus, but the rest are all presciently present and correct: The Bewlay Brothers, Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing, Win, Fantastic Voyage and Teenage Wildlife all brilliantly bringing up the rear.
In 2008, Bowie’s personally chosen extras are, somewhat surprisingly, a couple of singles, Life On Mars? and Loving The Alien (oh, but what a beautiful pair they are), a live Hang On To Yourself (from Santa Monica ’72), and elegantly obscure ‘Low-period leftover’ Some Are. Interestingly, when I played the track to that album’s producer, Tony Visconti, a few years ago he told me he’d never heard it before!
Completing the reshuffle, the one solitary carrot here is a new guitar-boosted contemporary remix of 1987’s Time Will Crawl, but to these ears it’s still a less than tasty interminabilis. But my only real gripe would be that, unlike many of the recent albums given a full release after a newspaper’s freebie promo edition, there’s no additional bonus tracks to entice the faithful into obtaining a copy again just a few weeks later. And at 58 minutes running time there’s certainly room.
Now, David, just what are we going to do with that Toy…
Steve Pafford
First published: Record Collector, October 2008
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