David Bowie is the debut album by pop musician David Bowie, released in 1967 by Deram Records. Its content bears little overt resemblance to the type of music that later made Bowie famous, such as the folk rock of "Space Oddity" or the glam of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray have said, "a listener strictly accustomed to David Bowie in his assorted '70s guises would probably find this debut album either shocking or else simply quaint", while biographer David Buckley describes it as "the vinyl equivalent of the madwoman in the attic".
No matter how many substandard albums David Bowie has released in the latter part of his career, his eponymous 1967 debut album has always been perceived as the slightest long-player in his catalogue. For some, then, this deluxe version of David Bowie – expanded to two CDs, with lengthy booklet notes – will be almost laughably inappropriate.
As well as legendary lost song London Bye Ta-Ta and contemporaneous non-album Bowie material like the swirling Let Me Sleep Beside You and novelty song The Laughing Gnome, disc two virtually gives us the album we’ve heard twice over (stereo and – first time on CD – mono) on disc one in a different permutation: single and radio session versions and previously unreleased mixes. All very comprehensive, but aesthetically too much even if the parent album was the greatest ever made.
David Bowie shows talent, but one very much unrefined. Within a musical style that is baroque pop crossed with northern brass band crossed with music hall, parping horns and brisk drums decorate pretty but largely unmemorable melodies. The lyrics are above average – thoughtful character studies – but hardly deep, sort of toytown Eleanor Rigbys. Highlights are the orchestrated, melancholy Sell Me a Coat, Rubber Band – an old-time musician's misty memories set to a marching beat – and There Is a Happy Land, a shimmering musical adaptation of Keith Waterhouse’s novel of childhood. Everything is agreeable but nothing truly classic and the relentless whimsy gets tiresome.
What is extraordinary throughout, though, is a vision and individualism remarkable for a 20-year-old. Young Bowie has a penchant for putting himself in the heads of the old and the unhip, something very unfashionable in the insurrectionist 60s. Meanwhile, he is so determined to stick to his then-daring resolution to sing in his own English accent that in the bopping Love You Til Tuesday he spurns the opportunity to rhyme “branch” and “romance” that an American inflection would offer him. As for the closer Please Mr Gravedigger, its sneeze-punctuated vocal and lightning-and-footsteps backing make it as much radio play as song.
David Bowie is hardly an essential listen but historically interesting as unmistakably the entrée of someone with a future. This chance of reacquaintance enables us to acknowledge that it deserves a marginally higher place in the pecking order. Let’s see… Let’s Dance – move aside.
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