For some reason that is beyond comprehension to me now, when I first heard that Bowie was involved in making a Broadway (actually, off Broadway) musical, I was only mildly interested. When I head that Lazarus was opening in New York in 2015, I figured I would get around to going down and seeing it. Then Bowie died, the remainder of the show’s run sold out, and today it exists only as an original cast recording. Poignantly, the recording took place the day after Bowie died.
Although I know the play is supposed to be a sequel to the movie, “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which Bowie starred in as an actor, I don’t have the context of actually having seen the play with which to interpret the soundtrack. For this reason, I have no explanation why the first song is not a Bowie song at all, but an abbreviated version of, “Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart) by Ricky Nelson. But after that, the soundtrack becomes a Bowie cover album— all the rest of the songs are Bowie songs, performed by the play’s cast members. So far, throughout this project, I have commented on Bowie songs performed as classical music, jazz, children’s music and minimalism. This album gives them the musical theater treatment. Once again, the experiment works.
The most notable voice belongs to Michael C. Hall, who around the time of Bowie’s death was getting some attention performing the song, “Lazarus,” which while created for this play (I think,) was also one of Bowie’s hits off of Blackstar. My favorite performance on this album, however is Cristin Miloti’s version of, “Changes,” which she virtually spits out with a disgust previously hidden within the song’s subtext.
As a cover album, “Lazarus” benefits from picking from a wide span of Bowie’s catalogue, the earliest being 1970’s, “The Man Who Sold the World,” but continuing through with four songs from 2013’s “The Next Day,” which at the time had been Bowie’s most recent, and then four new songs created for the play (including “Lazarus”). In between are samples from the 1970s and 80s (though, oddly, and a little sadly, not the 1990s or early 2000s).
My version of the album includes a genuine, and welcomed bonus. I had already heard Bowie’s version of, “Lazarus.” Though Hall’s version is also good, Bowie’s is better. But the album also contains three other songs created for the play that I had only heard performed by Bowie in YouTube— “No Plan,” “Killing a Little Time,” and “When I Met You.” Fortunately, the album is packaged with a second CD, containing Bowie’s version of each of those songs plus his version of “Lazarus,” which is also available separately as an EP titled, “No Plan.” I’ll address that EP and its component songs separately, however I am happy that they are presented here as a separate CD, rather than tacked on at the end as bonus tracks, and I am happy that they exist at all— it is the first (and perhaps only) collection of “new” post-Blackstar Bowie music. Perhaps there are other recordings hidden away, waiting to be released, but these songs were not held back because they didn’t make the grade (as Major Tom might say)— they were used in the play and for the play. There’s a good chance Bowie intended to release his versions exactly as they were released, accompanying the original cast recording.
So, on the whole, “Lazarus” is quite satisfying and makes me want to see the show, which I’m sure will be revived at some point. For me, its another reminder that there’s more to come from Bowie, much as there is from Mozart or Cole Porter— his voice might be gone, but his music lives on, and it can be used in all sorts of new and creative ways