This is it, the 100th album I’m commenting on in this blog. And this is a good one. The challenge for any posthumous Bowie album is for it to have anything truly new. This soundtrack manages to do as good a job as any, barring anything with songs that have never been released in any form before. Much like the documentary itself, I found listening to this two-CD set to be an experience. It includes a well-balanced mix of familiar songs, unfamiliar versions of songs we’ve heard before, narration and music created specifically for the movie. The songs often bleed into one another, so I think the best way to listen to this soundtrack is one disc at a time, in the intended order.
The experience begins and ends with barely audible narration from Bowie, which is also used in the movie. Sprinkled between the genuine Bowie songs are some pieces of ambient music listed as “Ian Fish U.K. Heir” (Mix 1) and (Mix 2). “Ian Fish U.K. Heir” is an ambient track from Bowie’s lesser known album, The Buddha of Suburbia, but these pieces sound like medflies of fragments of other Bowie songs set to what sounds similar to a theme used in the movie, Velvet Goldmine. Velvet Goldmine was the fictionalized story of Bowie’s Glam-rock period that, while named after an obscure Bowie song, contains no Bowie music. The piece of music I’m thinking of in that movie is used to accompany the appearance of a piece of jewelry used to symbolize “it”— a temporary status of coolness, creativity, conspicuousness that’s passed on starting with Oscar Wilde, eventually passing from the Bowie character to a character played by Christian Bale, who we never get to see actually use. I don’t know if this is coincidence, but I think it’s a kind of dreamy sound essential to establishing the tone of the overall Moonage Daydream soundtrack.
Also similar to the film, one of the earliest full songs is the Pet Shop Boys’ remix of, “Hallo Spaceboy,” and a live version of Bowie performing that song appears near the end. Repetition is a theme of the album— another version of “Memory of a Free Festival” also appears on the second disc. In each case, the second version is significantly different than the first.
Again, some of the songs on this album are exactly as we think of them. A handful of liver versions are also already familiar to me. But most of the songs are versions that are new to me. Maybe the best example is a live version of “Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me,” performed in Buffalo. So, finally, we have a Bowie album in which Bowie greets Buffalo. That, for me, is worth the price of admission!
The overall theme of the collection is that dreamlike quality, originality evoked by the ghostly narration by Bowie and furthered along by the movie-specific instrumental music. Its evoked again in fragmented versions of songs including “D.J.”, “Memory of a Free Festival” and “Modern Love.” In each case, either words or music were distorted or removed. As well, lines from some songs are spliced into full performances of other songs.
I think the album achieves two things: first, it contains a lot of Bowie music that sounds different than we’ve heard before, even in the case of specific songs that we have heard before, because of the album’s larger context. Second, it conveys the idea that in Bowie’s own mind, ideas collide against each other, come together, break apart and reform somewhere else. Chaos is a theme of Bowie’s music, a theme of the documentary and to some extent a theme of the soundtrack.
The replay value for this one is high for me. I’d class it alongside the great compilation album, Changesonebowie, and the great box set, Sound and Vision. In each case, the whole is greater than its component parts, and the component parts are pretty good to start. As an album, the soundtrack doesn’t need the documentary— it can stand on its own.
Quite worthy as the 100th album!