David Bowie

Christiane F./Baal/Rarities

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A handy, if deeply unofficial, compilation rounding up what were, in 1995, some of Bowie's most in-demand late 70s recordings -- the Christiane F soundtrack album, the Baal TV play EP, sundry deleted 12-inch singles and a couple of random oddities. Since that time, Christiane F itself has been remastered for reissue; the remainder of this collection remains officially unavailable.

Christiane F* itself is nothing special. While the movie shows Bowie and his 1978 live band pounding their way through a selection of recordings drawn from the Low, Heroes and the live Stage albums, they were merely miming to the released versions, and it is those that appear here, offering up little more than a beginners' guide to Bowie's so-called Berlin era.

Things heat up considerably elsewhere, however, with ten songs all making their CD album debut. We can overlook the festive medley with Bing Crosby as the showbiz abberation that it was, and the 12-inch version of "Beauty And The Beast" (the second single from the Heroes album) adds little to the regular version. There's also a brief clip of "Revolutionary Song," from the soundtrack of the 1979 Bowie/Marlene Dietrich movie Just A Gigolo, which is more or less as disposable as the movie itself.

But the 12-inch "Heroes" combines the regular LP cut with the shorter, and seldom-heard French language version released as a single in 1977, while the extended "Cat People" is simply sensational, a smouldering electro throb topped by one of Bowie's all-time most committed vocals. Most listeners will be more familiar with the regular 7-inch edit, or the reworking that turned up on 1983's Let's Dance album -- don't let either put you off. This is Bowie at the top of his game.

Impressive, too, are the five songs Bowie performed in the BBC TV play Baal, stripping both his own style and substance down to the bone, and turning in one of the all-time great Brecht characterizations. It's also worth noting the transition from there into a German language version of "Love You Till Tuesday," recorded back in 1967. Of course it's stylistically jarring, but it's impressive nonetheless. So many critics rattle on about the young Bowie's debt to Anthony Newley and English music hall that it's easy to forget that German cabaret played as great a part in forging his outlook.

It's a ragbag collection, then, and one that could probably be done a lot better were Bowie himself to exert some influence over such creations. As a painless way of gathering up some increasingly hard to find odds and ends, though, it is certainly worth picking up.

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