Well, in news that is perhaps even bigger than if he chose to come out of retirement, the big music story at the moment is the “leak” of an unreleased David Bowie album, Toy. A bit more info will no doubt emerge in this post, but the short version would be that this is the album that he wished to release after the …hours record, but a dispute with the label saw it shelved, with Heathen emerging soon after.
Whereas there seems to have been no intention to ever release the album (Bowie has had his own label arrangement for years and could have put it out at any time he saw fit), there is, you would image, a difference between it being unreleased and the great one’s feelings on this surfacing unofficially. In regards of the rise of the internet as a conduit for increased music piracy, when asked about it Bowie’s response was along the lines of “why should I give a flying f***”, pointing out that his stuff had been bootlegged since the 60s and hadn’t seemed to have had a negative effect on him thus far. Whereas there has been no official comment from him or his representatives yet, one suspects that the view here may well be different. This is not a fan recording of a concert, after all – what’s been passed around for free here (unless you are one of the people who have bewilderingly paid large amounts of money for a CDR of it off one of the more famous internet auction sites) is something that David Bowie spent a good deal of time and money to make.
If the question is have I then got a copy then the answer would be yes, dear reader. I am an avid Bowie fan, and so was not going to turn my back on this modern day curiosity from the great man. I am hopefully, however, not going to speak of Toy in the same way that several people are on the internet, which we shall get to later.
Exactly how “unreleased” the Toy album is would be something of a debatable point as around half of it has surfaced officially, with another decent chunk being songs heard before. Toy was conceived by Bowie as a part new album, part quasi-follow up to his covers album Pin-Ups, the difference being that instead of his heroes he would be doing covers, or if you will re-recordings, of some of his early, somewhat obscure songs from the 60s.
Of the new songs, at least two appeared directly on the album released instead of Toy, the rather good Heathen. Toy’s purported opening track, Uncle Floyd, was overhauled and appeared on Heathen as Slip Away, noticeably losing the intricate sample intro. Similarly, Afraid was also re-worked from the version here and appeared on the, if you will, “replacement album”. A couple of the other tracks on this presented version of Toy featured as b-sides on singles, or, perhaps with a sense of retrospective irony, as “internet exclusives”.
In regards of the other half of the Toy album, one track which certainly appeared on a subsequent release was the re-recorded version of Conversation Piece. It turned up on the 2 CD version of Heathen, and is as good to hear again now as it was then. Whereas the original was a rather folksy, quasi-Dylan number, this version has a much darker edge with a considerably deeper voiced Bowie. Well worth tracking down and hearing.
As far as the other covers / “updates” go, perhaps the one that us fans were most excited about was Liza Jane. As this was his first ever single (released under the name Davie Jones and the King Bees), it always had a kind of “bookend” feel to it. Splendid that it has surfaced, although if I’m honest it’s not the greatest ever Bowie track I’ve heard. And it’s not in the top 20/50 Bowie tunes, either. That said, the new version of I Dig Everything is excellent, as indeed is the refreshed take on Let Me Sleep Beside You.
Before going on with something of a “whine” or valid observation, I would say that this presented version of Toy is short of being a lost masterpiece, but is a well above average album. Whatever the dispute around royalties and publishing rights prevented this from being released as intended really did rob Bowie fans of some great songs. The sound of it is almost “transitional” when you place it in the context of its intended release date. It carries a good deal of the laid back, chilled sound of ….hours, but also anticipates the return to his edgier sound of the mid-90s, something that was present throughout Heathen and indeed on what looks likely to be his last studio outing, Reality. It is a shame that Bowie fans are in a position where they have no choice but to hear this via less than legal channels, but that’s the only way to hear these songs, sadly.
Right, on to the down side of this release. Whereas the vast majority of us Bowie fans are just happy to enjoy his music and chat about this n that from his career, there exists a minority, militant front obsessed with apparently “outdoing” any and all other Bowie fans with their (to their minds) knowledge and “expertise”. The emergence of this version of Toy has caused an unprecedented assault on the internet from this type of “fan”, to the extent that I am considering closing comments on this post.
The reason I keep saying “this version” of Toy or similar is as an act of appeasement to this rather obnoxious crowd. Apparently, according to these experts, this track listing is different from the one they were “told by sources very close to David would be released.”. Yeah, right. The main bone of contention would be the exclusion of a re-recorded Can’t Help Thinking About Me. The basis for the belief that this would be on the album appears to have been the fact that Bowie did it as part of the set for his brilliant VH-1 Storytellers show. No one has ever produced a scrap of evidence to suggest that he has re-recorded this slightly amusing, mostly dire song, but you try telling this lot otherwise.
Another annoying trend is the emergence of those saying “oh, I have had this for a few years now, this is old news”. No you have not, and not it isn’t. Bar some still unsubstantiated claims that a full version of the album made the rounds around 2005 (and I know of not one fanatical collector who was able to get even close to a copy of it), all that has surfaced before now have been “fan created” variants, featuring the known tracks that turned up as b-sides, album tracks and extras, complemented by the 60s versions of the songs Bowie was reported to have re-recorded. If you did indeed have it, why did you keep so quiet about it and why was no one else able to locate a copy?
Despite my appeasement in reference to those fanatics, I am pretty sure that this is the intended version of the Toy album. The source appears to be a CDR from the studio where Bowie was working on the tracks; it’s likely it could even have been a test pressing for the great one himself.
Now, whereas I am not usually prone to advising people on how to get music in less than legal ways, there seems to be little, if any, alternate in this incident. It is very difficult to avoid copies of Toy on the internet, quite frankly, and I would imagine that anyone who is of a mind to hear it has by now also located a copy. If you haven’t, and for some reason are unable to navigate the rather still waters of the internet towards a copy, then click this link right here and you should get what you seek.
If you do get or have a copy of Toy and wish to have some splendid artwork for it, then look no further. A very talented chap known only as Mr Richey on the Manics forum has created this fine cover for it :
I suspect that the actual artwork for the album might have been something of a homage to the famous Pin-Ups cover which featured Bowie posing with Twiggy. Whatever the actual artwork would have been, much like the “actual” intended track listing, is perhaps something that we shall never get to know.
Beyond who dared go against the trust of Bowie and release this album (unless the unlikely story emerges that he “arranged” the leak himself) the most intriguing aspect of this incident is whether or not Bowie will make a comment about it. I would suspect the answer is no. Outside of acting appearances that seem to amuse him (The Prestige, Extras and, erm, Spongebob Squarepants), the chap seems to be enjoying a quiet life rather too much to give the media a statement to feed on. who knows, though, with the interest in and generally enthusiastic response to this 'release', he may yet be persuaded that he has an absolutely massive enough audience to give one last album to.
Be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!