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Week 17 | Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ‘74) (2017)

It seems that Bowie is a big seller on “Record Store Day.” Since his death, posthumous Bowie live albums have been released on vinyl, to be sold in record stores on that day, later to be released in other formats (I am currently waiting for my CDs of this year’s “Welcome to the Blackout”). “Cracked Actor” was last year’s contribution.

I like that this is happening. I imagine that hundreds of Bowie concerts have been recorded but never released as albums, so presumably this could become a genuine annual tradition and continue on for the rest of my life. Beyond the potential live albums, there is the potential for compilations (I think there’s a great potential album of Bowie songs that appeared on soundtracks and other artists’ albums, but not Bowie’s own albums). There’s doubtlessly piles of discarded material (there’s an album-length audio scratch-pad related to, but very different from “1. Outside,” that’s on YouTube but doesn’t exist as an album. And there’s at least one studio album, “Toy,” that only exists now as a bootleg but seems to be prime material for a posthumous release.

The only problem with all this is that none of this material was released during Bowie’s life because it didn’t make the cut. In some cases, the material is not necessarily bad, but someone made the call that something else was better. The middling “Toy,” for instance evolved into the excellent, “Heathen.” Along those lines, “Cracked Actor” sounds similar to the much earlier memento from the same Diamond Dogs tour, “David Live.” “David Live” is not particularly regarded as Bowie’s greatest contribution to music, and “Cracked Actor” is a not-as-good alternative. The album contains many of the same songs, including “Knock On Wood” (which I have thought of as the highlight of “David Live”) but has a little more from “Young Americans” and Bowie’s plastic soul period. Fortunately, there are many songs— 20– which for me should be part of the justification for a live album.

Unfortunately Bowie doesn’t seem at the top of his game on this one. He lingers on some words too long, seems slightly out of sync at some points, and shouts parts that we’re more accustomed to hearing him sing (on the studio version of the same songs). There’s too much brass for my liking. Also, while there are many songs, none appear on this album for the first time. As with almost all Bowie material, while imperfect, this album isn’t bad. It is new enough (new enough to me) that it remains on my iPod, so I m currently listening to it more than “David Live.” But I like “David Live” better.

Interestingly, all the reviews I’ve read of “Cracked Actor” reach the opposite conclusion— that is is far better than “David Live.” I don’t know if this is a function of it gaining value because it had been kept hidden, or if I just gravitate toward the familiar. I recall a similar critical assessment of “Santa Monica ‘72” compared to the “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture” soundtrack. The former had circulated as a well-regarded bootleg for years after the latter was officially released (“Santa Monica ‘72” has since also been officially released). I actually like both of those live albums better than either “David Live” or “Cracked Actor,” but the point is that these are all for fans rather than casual listeners, and fans tend to think they know better than record companies that choose one version over another.

That said, if Record Store Day keeps bringing with it new albums of old Bowie concerts, I’ll take it!

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