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Music Review: David Bowie – VH1 Storytellers

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Recorded on August 23, 1999, David Bowie’s Storytellers could have been a classic, instead it falls far from greatness in many ways. I wonder why VH1 decided to release this edition instead of others that are in the can such as CSN&Y or Steely Dan? Bowie’s Storytellers has some good tracks, but none that will leave you begging for more. Unless you are a Bowie maniac, you may want to pass on this live CD for the only one or two decent songs.

Bowie opens with “Life on Mars” from his 1971 album Hunky Dory and is off to a promising start. He then teases us with arguably the best song in this performance, “Rebel Rebel.” Unfortunately, either in good fun or because he is bored with performing the song after all of these many years, he ends it abrubtly a short way into the number. David! Please cut something else, something that isn't “Rebel Rebel.”

Next is “Thursday’s Child,” a good, but unimpressive newer song, followed by one of the best songs on the album, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me.” It’s a song from early is his career and Bowie has fun with what he believes are less then perfect lyrics. It’s at this point though that I begin to wonder what was going through his mind when he chose this track listing. I can dig obscure Bowie songs, but for Storytellers I want to hear and learn about the nuggets, those great Bowie tunes that everyone knows and loves.

I understand that he has distanced himself from a lot of the hits but Bowie fans never tire of them and this would be a great opportunity to learn more about their origins. Something that could of elevated this live record, "China Girl,” unfortunately is not up to par with the original, but is a welcome addition to the set list.

After the uninteresting and unnecessary song, "Seven," from his newest album (at the time), is the noteworthy, "Drive-In Saturday." This is an interesting choice because it was originally written for Mott the Hoople but rejected after the success of “All the Young Dudes.” From Bowie’s rendition you can actually imagine Mott performing the song, and I wish they would have recorded it. The last song on the album is “Word on a Wing” from Station to Station, and David’s voice is unusually deep and pitchy, especially at the beginning, He almost sounds like a David Bowie impersonator as though he needed to drop the original key down to reach some of the higher notes in the song. This is just one more instance of what could have been a great performance on this album, but falls short.

I’m a huge Bowie fan, and love almost everything he does, but the track listing for Storytellers as well as the performance is less then stellar. The DVD features four additional songs that could have been included on the CD ("Survive," "I Can't Read," "Always Crashing the Same Car," and "If I'm Dreaming Life"), since it only clocks in at 44 minutes. Even with the inclusion of the extra songs, the DVD doesn't offer anything different, only the images of Neo-Bowie fans bobbing their heads. In fact it shows a Neo-Bowie, caring very little for the music that made him famous.

At one point when Bowie tells a joke about the Small Faces you think the microphones can’t pick up the laughter from the audience, but then you realize there is no laughter because those present probably don’t know who the Small Faces are.

Storytellers is a great idea on paper, but it rarely delivers up to expectations. Many of the artists tend to trivialize their earlier work as if the music that brought them recognition is now irrelevant and unimportant. Many times the songs are good but stories behind them forgettable. One of the few times Storytellers worked well was with Bruce Springsteen. His song choice was excellent and the way he shared them was as if we were all sitting around his kitchen table and he was truly moved that we were interested, much like a loving grandfather remembering his glory days.

I highly recommend that edition of Storytellers over this one unless you want to hear about Bowie meeting Marc Bolan for the first time or of him having to pee in a sink at a club early in his career. That’s about as interesting as it gets. I give this two and a half stars out of five.

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About Cody Conard

  • http://www.musicbigot.com/ Music Bigot

    Thanks for weighing in on the David Bowie VH1 show. I agree with you. Interestingly, don’t you think Bowie has the highest profile of any musician not producing these days? Seriously, when was the last time he released relevant music? I guess it doesn’t matter, because all we have to do is put on Ziggy Stardust and he’s right back in the game.

  • Cody Conard

    I totally agree with you, I don’t really care too much about his career after Let’s Dance, but it doesn’t matter, because Everything before that is just perfect

  • mike L

    For those readers who left Bowie after his early work, I can only say you are missing out on a lot of first class work. What you ahve to do of course is change frames…Bowie moved on musically and the old rock and roll of Ziggy belongs to the period. Listen to “Slow Burn” from Heathen…”Nite Flights” or “It’s Gonna Happen Someday” from Black Tie White Noise, or ‘Thru these Architect’s Eyes” from Outside… Truly they are no radio songs like Rebel Rebel…but they are great songs…Mike Lane