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Week 41 | No Plan (2017)

“No Plan” is an EP comprising the four original songs Bowie wrote for the musical, “Lazarus”.  My version came with the cast recording of “Lazarus” which doubles as a Bowie cover album because it mostly contains covers of older Bowie songs performed by the play’s original cast.  Bowie performs his own material on, “No Plan,” and what had been a bonus disc was also released on its own.  

The world first came to know these songs from the musical, in which Bowie did not personally appear.  So the way I received the Bowie EP provided a contrast between his interpretation of his own songs and the songs as performed on the cast recording.  I am not a fan of bonus tracks on albums, but am quite happy with bonus discs, so in my thinking this was exactly the right way to package this material.  

Of course, I would have purchased “No Plan” on its own had it not been a bonus disc, but I think I would have been left wanting.  In a way, “No Plan” is Bowie’s very last original album.  While it is possible (even likely) that some previously unreleased songs will emerge on some future compilation, “No Plan” is almost certainly the final compilation of songs recorded as part of the same project.  I’m not sure if Bowie knew that these songs would be released together, but he probably did, and even if he didn’t, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think we would have gotten to this point anyway had Bowie lived.

That said, “No Plan” is disappointing as Bowie’s final album in part because it invites comparison to his previous two.  The last album released during Bowie’s life was “Blackstar.”  The songs of “No Plan” were recorded during the “Blackstar” sessions and have a comparable sound.  But as is often the case, Bowie had a good sense of what to leave out.  “Blackstar” is one of Bowie’s shortest albums.  He easily could have included the songs, “No Plan,” “Killing A Little Time” and “When I Met You,” but he chose not to.  These are not bad songs, but “Blackstar” is stronger for their exclusion.  

Before “Blackstar,” Bowie released what was another bonus disc, “The Next Day Extra.”   The name of that one itself cements its status as a bonus EP— but it includes 10 songs and clocks in at over 40 minutes— more music than “Blackstar” and other Bowie albums.  “The Next Day Extra” could have been given a different name and released as a stand-alone album, which as far as I know it was not.  Just in terms of the amount of music, “No Plan” takes a back seat to “The Next Day Extra” as a bonus disc, so as a stand-alone EP it comes off as a decisively minor work.

Of the four songs, “Lazarus,” previously appeared on “Blackstar” and was a hit.  Bowie’s version got a lot of play in 2016 (actually starting in late 2015), and the star of the musical, Michael C. Hall, made prominent appearances performing the song as well.  As a result, what seems new about “No Plan” are the three other songs.  Of them, I especially like “When I Met You,” which sort of reminds me of “Drive In Saturday.”  The songs, “No Plan” and “Killing a Little Time,” are nice but unremarkable.  Both are of a similar type as “Where Are We Now” from “The Next Day.”

There’s nothing bad about “No Plan,” but again it is a minor work.  Other than “Lazarus,” I don’t have any of its songs on my IPod playlist (I might get around to adding, “When I Met You”).  Because the entire EP is brief (around 17 minutes), I don’t often listen to it as a CD.  I’m glad it exists, but I suspect over time this one will fold back into being a bonus disc, probably attached to future releases of “Blackstar

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