David Bowie Record Store Day 2017 Vinyl Reviews

This Record Store Day saw two “exclusive” David Bowie releases. One is a five-sided, three LP live album entitled Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74), while the other is Bowpromo, a re-issue of a promo-only LP from 1971.

Both of these are releases are limited editions. The live album got a pressing of 17,000 worldwide, while Bowpromo received a one-time pressing of 15,000. This will no doubt lead to them commanding a hefty price on the secondary market. As I write this in Tokyo, the record stores are just opening their doors in the UK, with the US soon to follow. Copies of both records are already flooding eBay, and I expect even more to show up on the site very soon. And if the stock at my local Tokyo stores was any indication, those who didn’t snag one in the stores within the first hour of doors opening will probably have to go to eBay if they want one.

But should you even bother?

Of the two, Cracked Actor is without a doubt the better. The album is taken from the September 5th Los Angeles show of his Diamond Dogs tour. That tour was also the basis for the 1974 David Live album. And while this is a different performance, the two albums are very similar. The setlists are identical for the first 10 tracks, a change only coming when Cracked Actor omits that album’s “Watch That Man.” And while the album does lack a few more tracks that were found on the most recent release of David Live, it does have some exclusives of its own. Young Americans outtake “It’s Gonna Be Me” makes an appearance, as does “John I’m Only Dancing (Again),” the first time either have ever seen release on an official Bowie live album. So that’s something.

And the performance by Bowie and his band is of course stellar and the new mix by Tony Visconti of course sounds great. It’s a fantastic collection of fantastic songs that sound fantastic all wrapped together on a 3LP set that looks fantastic with its super-glossy sleeve and nifty single-sided third record with a laser-etching on the unused fifth side.

But is it essential? Not really. If you have David Live you have over 90% of this album. Yes, it’s a different performance, but it doesn’t sound all that different to the untrained ear. I’m sure there’s nuanced deviations that hardcore Bowie fans will be able to lecture you on, but I’m not one of them. To me, this sounds like an abridged version of David Live with some alternate tracks thrown in. And yes, that’s cool, but it’s probably not worth forking down whatever the hell it’s going for on eBay at this minute.

Then there’s Bowpromo, a very strange release that’s probably even more niche in terms of appeal. As the included liner notes explain, the album is a partial reprint of an untitled promo LP that was sent out to various people in the industry in 1971 as Bowie was looking for a new record deal. The original release was a split record, with seven tracks by Bowie on side A and five by singer Dana Gillespie on the B-side. This version is a single-sided affair, only featuring the Bowie tracks

These are rough mixes of tracks that would eventually land on Hunky Dory, with Ziggy track “It’ Ain’t Easy” thrown in for some reason. The tracks vary from the final versions from Hunky Dory, but even as the included liner notes point out, they don’t vary all that much. “Oh! You Pretty Things” just has some extra reverb and other effects. “Kooks” includes some extra acoustic guitar. “Eight Line Poem” has some minor lyrical changes and a lack of reverb, as does “Queen Bitch.” “Quicksand” has some extra strings and “Bombers/Andy Warhol Intro” has less bass. That’s it. These should be bonus tracks on a box set, not their own separate high-price release.

Yes, I said high-price. I don’t know it’s going for in the states, but I paid nearly 8,000 yen ($80 USD) for mine. All because of some elaborate packaging.

Although I will admit the packaging certainly is top-notch, as it goes out of its way to replicate what an early-70s promo or press release might look like. Just like the original, the packaging is completely unlabeled with nary artist or song information to be found. Inside the box is an envelope featuring five very high quality press glossies and the liner notes, made to look like they were typed off a typewriter and hand-stapled. Cute.

But not $80 cute.

I get that if you’re a Bowie fan you’re probably going to want to hunt these down. If you’re fan of live performances then I could see the appeal of Cracked Actor, but I cannot recommend Bowpromo in the slightest. Sure, it’s a high-quality reproduction of an obscure curiosity, but that doesn’t make it interesting or even worthwhile. But certainly not worth what they’re asking for it, and definitely not what it’s going to go for on the secondary market. That goes for Cracked Actor too. If you can’t find that at retail, cool your eBay impulses. I know it’s marked as a Record Store Day exclusive, but I bet you’ll see this content make its way to another Bowie release at some point.

One Response to David Bowie Record Store Day 2017 Vinyl Reviews

  • Grebo says:

    There was also the RSD2017 release of “Without You I’m Nothing”, Bowie’s collaboration with Placebo. On a lovely 12″ picture disc, and featuring an epic U.N.K.L.E. remix.
    So yeah, it’s not solely Bowie, but it’s def. related and frankly my favourite of the 3 releases!

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