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Album 101: “Divine Symmetry,” Part 4, Disc 4

The concept behind Divine Symmetry is that it tracks the evolution of the collection of songs that would eventually find their way on to Hunky Dory. The first three discs include some demos and live performances. They include both songs that would eventually make it all the way to the final album, as well as some that dropped off along the way. Given that premise, and given that its at least plausible that anyone listening would have both listened to the first three discs in order and is already familiar with Hunky Dory, the fourth disc is a bit of a disappointment.

On the one hand, Disc four contains several songs that are virtually (or actually) indistinguishable from their final form. It’s not disappointing to listen to “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Quicksand,” “Changes,” “Andy Warhol” and others— its just that we have somewhere else to go for the same (or nearly the same) versions of those familiar songs.

Of songs on this disc that are less familiar— they aren’t too much less familiar. “Bombers” and “Amsterdam” were easy enough to come by prior to this collection, but also appear on some of the previous discs. “Lightning Frightening” appears here for the first time within the context of Divine Symmetry, but was also not hard to come by before— and in any case, Bowie probably didn’t include these three songs because they just aren’t as good as what he ultimately selected. Nonetheless, Disc 4 includes two similar versions of “Amsterdam” and “Bombers” as well as two (again, similar) versions of “Changes.” I get the sense that the disc is meant to be more of a document than something intended to be heard for entertainment. As a collector of a sort, I kind of understand the value of owning this disc, but why would I put this on instead of Hunky Dory itself? Why would I want to hear the same song more than once on the same album? The answer is that I don’t.

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