Today, on David Bowie's 70th birthday and first since the departure of the Star Man, I want to take a look at the "lost" Bowie album Toy from 2001.
Toy was recorded in 2000-2001 and was meant to be the follow up to 1999's ...Hours. However, the label apparently didn't like the direction of the album and decided to shelf it. The set was a collection of re-recordings of some of Bowie's earliest songs with 3 newly written songs added to round out the 14 track list. Criminally, this album still has not been officially released. The 3 new songs did finally receive an official release ("Uncle Floyd" and "Afraid" both appeared on Heathens, though not in their original forms and "Toy (Your Turn To Drive)" was available as a digital download from iTunes). Some of the other tracks appeared on various CD single releases the world over. However, with the beauty of the YouTubes and the Internets, it's out there for our enjoyment.
While the new tracks showcase the direction Bowie was headed in the new millennium, the new versions of his 60's tracks blow away the originals. While generally keeping the arrangements and structures similar, the modern production turns these tracks into something else entirely. The Toy version of "Conversation Piece" is a desolate masterpiece that stands up to some of his best work. The despair drips off of this one while still somehow managing to sound hopeful. "I Dig Everything" and "You've Got a Habit of Leaving Me" rock in ways that the originals couldn't muster. There's even a Ziggy era track redeux. "Shadow Man" shows the immense beauty and power of Bowie's vocals.
While Toy will never be considered an "essential" collection of tracks, it's definitely essential for fans of the Thin White Duke. It's convergence of past with the (then) present is a perfect encapsulation of what Bowie really was. Inventive, fun, experimental and beautiful all wrapped up in tracks that span 40 years.
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