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Week 77 | Toy (2001)

In recent weeks, I have commented on albums that are not broadly popular— the Tin Machine albums and”Tonight.”  I like each of them.  I see genuine virtue where many don’t.  I often found with Bowie that repeated listening of albums that go down rough the first time lead to appreciation.  But even I have my limits.  “Toy” breaches that limit.  

In a way, I’m glad I don’t like, “Toy.”  In my own head that fact gives integrity to my adoration of so much other Bowie music.  It also reiterates that to my liking, Bowie took a few years to hit his stride.  “Toy” was recorded in 2001, but most of the songs were new versions of his earliest songs from the 1960s.  For the most part, I don’t like his pre-Space Oddity songs, and with, “Toy,” I still don’t, despite superior production quality.  The problem isn’t Bowie’s voice, either in the 60’s or 2001, nor is it the instrumentation.  The problem is that the songs aren’t very good. 

I’m not alone in my assessment — “Toy” was never released.  The album is pretty easily accessible—for instance, its on YouTube, and I suspect it will be released at some point, but it more falls into the category of curiosity rather than a collection of enjoyable music.  

The album does have a few high points:  three new songs that are out of sync with the rest of the album.  Before the excellent album, “Heathen,” Bowie recorded original versions of “Uncle Floyd” and “Afraid” for, “Toy.”  Also included is the pretty good new song, “Your Turn To Drive” (AKA “Toy”).  This song didn’t appear on any officially released album until the deluxe edition of the  2014 compilation, “Nothing Has Changed,” however I had purchased it as a standalone download before that.  If anything, the contrast between these three good, new songs versus the bad old songs highlight not only that Bowie had progressed, but that he was not over the hill in 2001.

There’s still more that’s not awful:  “Conversation Piece” was a slightly newer song than most of the others, and crosses over into long list of Bowie songs that I like.  Also, Bowie included a new version of the first song he ever recorded, “Liza Jane.”  Bowie didn’t write this song, which he first recorded all the way back in 1964.  Its pretty simple and inoffensive.

So, “Toy,” isn’t all bad, but some version its the good elements exist elsewhere.  Since what’s left are covers of Bowie’s own early songs, they too exist elsewhere, so there’s less of an attraction to listen to them on, “Toy,” simply because that’s where they live.  Ironically, I still listen to some of these songs that I don’t like because I had downloaded them on an old iPod, which I now have more or less permanently hooked up to a speaker.  Afraid to try to revise the playlist, when I use this particular device, I hear what I wanted to a few years ago as opposed to what I would have compiled today.  The repeated listening doesn’t help.  

There’s an argument to be made that, “Toy” is actually Bowie’s low point.  His prior album was the mediocre (for him), “…hours,” and for whatever reason, “Toy,” unlike his otherwise least popular albums, was never officially released.  So this might represent the bottom of the barrel.  Fortunately, Bowie would bounce back with one of my favorites, “Heathen,” which was also both commercially and critically successful.  

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