David Bowie

Nite Life

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AllMusic Review by

Though time, and a modicum of European success, eventually vindicated the impossible conceit of David Bowie's Outsider tour, hauling an implausible catalog of obscure oldies around on the back of an impenetrable new concept album, the opportunity to re-evaluate The Tour That Time Ignored is not one the bootleggers have exactly grasped with both hands. Like the American audiences who vanished in droves the moment the opening Nine Inch Nails left the stage, stunning tapes have been conspicuous by their comparative absence, and Nite Life doesn't exactly remedy that situation. No matter that Hamburg, up there with the Loreley Festival, was widely cited as one of the finest shows of the tour; an audience recording is an audience recording, no matter how good the source tape was, and the opening "Motel" sets the scene for too much of what follows: booming sound, weak stereo, distant vocals, and an audience which is obviously enjoying itself far too much. Like it or (more likely) hate it, the tour was at least sonically dynamic, with the new arrangements of old semi-favorites painting new pictures which were as admirably adventurous as they were frustratingly dilettante ("Andy Warhol," "Man Who Sold the World"). It is this dynamism and adventure which are most sorely lacking here: audience responses to the visuals don't count. Neither do six bonus tracks from London and Sweden elsewhere in the tour. They enjoy better sound, but they're frustratingly out of context. Some excellent performances do shine through. "Hallo Spaceboy," probably Bowie's finest new song in a decade, would sound great whatever the quality, and a version of Scott Walker's "Nite Flights," gratuitous nod to a currently credible pop icon though it was, at least let Bowie acknowledge where many of his own best, post-Ziggy ideas came from. The Walker Brothers' own Nite Flights album is essential listening for anyone looking to unravel the secrets of Lodger, Scary Monsters, and Outside itself. Nite Life's own greatest failure is its inability to do those secrets the justice they, and Bowie, deserve.

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