David Bowie: Divine Symmetry | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

We have a tendency to think about 1971’s Hunky Dory because the second David Bowie lastly snapped into focus after years of useless ends and false begins. It opens with a music usually seen as his mission assertion, Changes, with its promise of fixed ahead movement and endeavor to make pop bizarre once more. It unveiled the model of glam rock that might ship his profession stratospheric, on Queen Bitch, and his most celebrated backing band, quickly to be renamed the Spiders From Mars. It contains a succession of his most indelible songs – Life on Mars?, Oh! You Pretty Things – and, in its lyrics, the preoccupations that might gas his profession via the Nineteen Seventies: sexuality and gender, imminent apocalypse, artifice and role-playing, the peculiar and disturbing concepts about mysticism and the occult that might reappear on Station to Station. Right here, finally, was the David Bowie who knew precisely what he was doing, who was now not pretending to be a hippy, or a proponent of “heavy” music, or an Anthony Newley-ish all-round entertainer; the Bowie who would so confidently minimize via the approaching decade that pop music and youth tradition had been each modified in his wake.

The reality, as revealed by Divine Symmetry – a fantastically packaged 4CD field set subtitled An Various Journey By means of Hunky Dory – seems to have been considerably much less simple than that. The primary CD of demos presents us with an artist nonetheless firing out songs in all instructions, together with the center of the highway. One minute he’s channelling the Velvet Underground or daringly capturing the cruisey environment of London’s homosexual scene on On the lookout for a Good friend, the subsequent he’s knocking out an oompah music meant for Tom Jones (How Fortunate You Are). Songs of the depth and thriller of Quicksand rub shoulders with stuff that harks again to his eponymous 1967 debut album – the protagonist of the jaunty Proper On Mom, delighted that his mum likes his fiancee, would match proper in with Uncle Arthur and the Little Bombadier.

David Bowie: Divine Symmetry artwork
David Bowie: Divine Symmetry paintings

A number of the much less acquainted songs are considerably extra attention-grabbing for what they turned than what they’re. Tired Of My Life is a mopey acoustic strum, nothing particular till midway via when it unexpectedly turns into It’s No Game, the opening monitor from 1980’s Scary Monsters and Tremendous Creeps. King of the Metropolis initially sounds naggingly, maddeningly acquainted. Thirty seconds in, when Bowie’s voice takes on a extra anguished tone, it all of a sudden turns into clear: it’s Ashes to Ashes, nearly a decade too early.

Whereas it’s fascinating that Bowie was nonetheless dipping into these songs for inspiration 9 years later, the general impression is just not of a laser-focused artist who’s lastly labored out what he desires to realize and the right way to obtain it. That impression is compounded elsewhere on Divine Symmetry by the lo-fi recording of a present at Aylesbury’s Friars membership in September 1971. It was a gig that provoked some lurid advance publicity – “It’s greater than possible that David Bowie will probably be showing completely in feminine clothes” – and subsequently gained a repute as an epochal occasion. However Bowie sounds nervous, timid, wanting to please; embarrassed by his previous (“We get this over with as quickly as potential,” he sighs earlier than House Oddity) however unsure the place he ought to head subsequent. He performs Queen Bitch and Adjustments however he’s nonetheless not above attempting to courtroom a hippy viewers (a canopy of Biff Rose’s Buzz the Fuzz is filled with Furry Freak Brothers gags about LSD and being busted by the person) and continues to be taking part in his sexuality for laughs.

It’s entertaining however gives no suggestion in any respect that that is the artist who, inside months, can be on High of the Pops, his arm slung round Mick Ronson’s neck, imperiously pointing down the digicam, asserting the arrival of a brand new decade much more emphatically than his previous frenemy Marc Bolan had the 12 months earlier than.

Divine Symmetry is packed out with radio classes and different mixes which can be generally intriguing and generally make you marvel what number of variations of David Bowie singing Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam an individual wants to listen to. What emerges is a gifted author greedy uncertainly for a brand new course, wildly throwing concepts in opposition to the wall and shaping an album out of those that caught.

There’s one thing curiously refreshing about that. The posthumous Bowie business has accomplished a powerful job of turning a fancy, flawed, good however mercurial artist into an unimpeachable genius who was at all times proper about the whole lot. It has created a fantasy world by which even the duvet of Little Drummer Boy he recorded with Bing Crosby – a single Bowie hated a lot, its launch spurred him to depart his report label – is value celebrating with a commemorative T-shirt. Wherein a 140-minute documentary could be made that tactfully neglects to say something wrongheaded that may besmirch the legend. It’s a wilful distortion that makes Bowie appear good, and thus extra boring than he really was. With all its flaws, Divine Symmetry redresses the steadiness, just a bit.

This week Alexis listened to:

The Summerisle Six – This Is One thing

The pleasure of studying different individuals’s best-of-the-year lists and discovering one thing you missed: on this case, wonderful chugging electro-pop from DJ Sean Johnston.