David Bowie - Divine Symmetry Music Album Reviews

David Bowie - Divine Symmetry Music Album Reviews
The new Hunky Dory-era box set offers a tantalizing peek behind the curtain of Bowie’s theatrical persona during arguably the most pivotal moment in his life and career.

In 1971, radio host John Peel introduced the 24-year-old musician featured on a broadcast of Pick of the Pops as “a young man who writes good songs and makes good records, but never seems to get the recognition he deserves.” In his early career, the artist born David Robert Jones didn’t seem like he was headed toward stardom. His first instrument at age 13 was not guitar or piano, but saxophone. He hopped from small band to small band in high school, rebranding as Davy Jones and then, to avoid confusion with the Monkees singer, as David Bowie. In 1967 he released a self-titled album of music-hall-style rock on a small label, but they rejected some of his singles and the partnership collapsed. He stayed at a Buddhist monastery in Scotland, joined a mime troupe, and dabbled in experimental performance art. He landed at Mercury thanks to some lucky connections, and remained relatively off-radar until five days before the Apollo 11 launch in 1969, when his cosmic single “Space Oddity” briefly catapulted him into mainstream consciousness. But the following year his third album, the eclectic and single-less The Man Who Sold the World, found most of its success in his town of Beckenham, England.

Talented but creatively disarranged, Bowie found himself at a crossroads. “In the early ’70s, it really started to all come together for me as to what it was that I liked doing,” he reflected in 2014. “What I enjoyed was being able to hybridize different kinds of music…. I didn’t really see the point in trying to be that purist about it.” With this revived perspective, along with a transformative trip to the United States in 1971 where he rubbed elbows with creative muses like Andy Warhol and Lou Reed, Bowie became “more cynical” about the boundaries of the artistic world and more inventive about his place in it. When he returned home to England, back to his newborn son and a piano gifted by a neighbor, the young artist pieced together what would become his fourth record, the first he ever co-produced and his first after signing with RCA: Hunky Dory. In his words, it was “the album where I said ‘Yes, I understand what I’ve got to do now.’”

Divine Symmetry, subtitled An Alternative Journey Through Hunky Dory, is the latest box set to explore Bowie’s oeuvre. The 4xCD collection surveys the year leading up to the album’s release; it includes previously unreleased tracks, demos, live recordings, and studio sessions from the era, as well as updated mixes. The music is accompanied by a 100-page book featuring facsimiles of primary documents, insights from insiders like co-producer Ken Scott, and liner notes by Tris Penna; there’s also a separate booklet in Bowie’s own hand that gives an intimate look at his process through sloppy footnotes, scrapped chords, and fashion doodles. It’s a look into his mind during the most consequential transition of his career, a retrospective peek at him rehearsing the character of himself.

Divine Symmetry is by no means the first attempt at chronicling Bowie’s musical development, but it feels especially personal, perhaps because of its smaller size (Five Years was a whopping 12 discs), perhaps because of the volatility of this time in his life. The stakes feel higher: We want to see his path to the success we already know exists. In this collection, we hear him begin to construct the theater of Hunky Dory: He’s practicing, testing lyrics, workshopping different arrangements, messing up, joking around. He’s also stitching together the tapestry of his next record, a little project called The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. 

Divine Symmetry’s demos and offcuts strip back the warm, piano-centered framework that makes Hunky Dory feel like it always belonged on Earth. On Ziggy and albums to follow, Bowie would reinvent the interstellar, guitar-centric sound of “Space Oddity” and The Man Who Sold the World with a mature glamor that grew from Hunky Dory’s grounded orchestration. The piano offered a palette that was both rich and mellow, allowing Bowie to play around with a malleable and unique yet still classic tool. Songs like the forgotten “How Lucky You Are (aka Miss Peculiar)” are early examples of him working on the keyboard; his playing is rudimentary, with buoyant hits on every beat in the waltz. A curious vaudevillian spirit was brewing that would appear more fleshed-out on tracks like “Fill Your Heart” (a Biff Rose tune ultimately recorded by Rick Wakeman on a Bechstein grand). A similar bareness can be heard in the “Life on Mars?” demo, a short piano skeleton of the cinematic masterpiece to come. Before he was venting about a “God-awful small affair” in crystal-blue eyeshadow and auburn hair, he was just a man at a piano singing softly about a “simple but small affair.” His growth as a lyricist can be seen in the melodrama of one line.

The live recordings offer special insight, illustrating which of his instinctual choices Bowie opted to keep. With just gentle guitar strums below his voice, the John Peel version of “Kooks” is a lullaby compared to its oom-pah-driven final product; though recorded for broadcast, it feels as though Bowie is singing directly to his son. It’s a souvenir of the song’s emotional essence—an eccentric new father’s playful imagination of his child’s future—that adds an endearing new dimension to the Joplin-esque veneer of the studio version. The “Queen Bitch” demo and live recordings are tame and melodic compared to the acrobatic talk-singing of the album cut, where the verses take on an intensity already present in the chorus. Though his performance on Peel’s show sounds tightly wound, Bowie’s liberated “In her frock coat and bipperty-bopperty hat!” is a glimpse at the song’s intended character. As the jealous narrator watches a male lover court a sex worker on the street outside his window, we get a closer look at Bowie’s evolving relationship with sexuality and identity, one that sounds less campy and more heartfelt.

The box set also includes early versions of songs that were later sidelined, like the folky, harmony-stacked “Tired of My Life (Demo)” and the previously unreleased “King of the City (Demo).” They draw attention to his growth as a lyricist, even within the span of the album’s creation: “Come back to the real thing, baby/I’ll make it all slow down, baby/We’ll tell our friends we’re finding our own way” is underwhelming beside the mind-bending novelty of watching the ripples change their size. We get to know the battle-satirizing “Bombers” better than ever before; the caricaturistic track that Bowie described as “kind of a skit on Neil Young” was left off the original Hunky Dory at the last minute. The demo sounds like it went through a food processor, but the 2021 remaster on Disc 4 allows for proper redemption. These mixes (including remasters of the seven-track 1971 promotional album BOWPROMO) avoid sounding unnaturally clean; with Scott reprising his role as producer, they retain some of the dirt and charm of their earlier, less professional iterations.

Divine Symmetry is forgiving of Bowie’s transitional trials. For a box set focused on a single album, it doesn’t feel as self-indulgent as it might have; the multiple versions of songs are perhaps excessive for a passive listen, but the collection represents an invaluable document of his artistic growth. Hunky Dory is an approachable record: playful and earnest, a musician’s self-rejuvenation that bursts with palpable curiosity. The album’s conception comes across as rather anti-rockstar and endearingly human, a glimpse into the workshop of Bowie’s vaudeville theater before it turned into an arena.
Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
David Bowie - Divine Symmetry Music Album Reviews David Bowie - Divine Symmetry Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on December 17, 2022 Rating: 5


Post a Comment