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ADRIAN THRILLS: After 20 years David Bowie's Toy comes out to play

ADRIAN THRILLS: After 20 years on the shelf, David Bowie’s Toy comes out to play

David Bowie: Toy (Parlophone)

Rating:

Verdict: Well worth a play 

Marina: Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land (Deluxe Edition) (Atlantic)

Rating:

Verdict: Adds more sparkle 

Six years on from his death in January 2016, David Bowie’s sense of timing remains impeccable.

On the eve of what would have been his 75th birthday tomorrow, the late singer’s estate this week announced the sale of his songwriting catalogue to Warner Chappell for an estimated £185 million.

The sale, which follows a deal last September for his recorded repertoire, gives the publisher the rights to hits such as Heroes, Let’s Dance, Ashes To Ashes and others — more than 400 songs which, as the publisher says, are ‘milestones that have changed the course of modern music’.

Six years on from his death in January 2016, David Bowie’s sense of timing remains impeccable

But this week’s Bowie-mania doesn’t end there. Today sees the arrival of Toy, an album recorded in 2000. There’s also a new vinyl imprint of 1971’s Hunky Dory, out today on picture disc, plus a live stream organised by pianist Mike Garson on Sunday. From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, Bowie is going to be hard to avoid this weekend.

Pride of place goes to Toy. Recorded ‘as live’ in a New York studio after his triumphant Glastonbury appearance in 2000, it saw him revisiting songs he wrote between 1964 and 1971, before he became a star.

The idea, initially suggested to him by Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott, was to revamp lost gems with his touring band.

When plans for an instant ‘surprise drop’ of the album were scuppered, Bowie moved on to make 2002’s Heathen, and Toy was mothballed. It was included in the pricey Brilliant Adventure box set last November, but is now out in its own right, with two new bonus discs of acoustic tracks and outtakes thrown in.

The most striking thing is the sheer verve of the performances. Toy was made in the weeks before Bowie’s wife, Iman, gave birth to their daughter, Lexi, and the singer, on a roll, is the energetic hub of a band featuring Garson, guitarists Earl Slick and Mark Plati, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer Sterling Campbell.

A few tracks, such as the lightweight Karma Man, fail to transcend their origins as 1960s period pieces. On Can’t Help Thinking About Me, David still sounds like a young mod trying to find his place in the world.

Singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis — a solo act who once traded under the alias Marina & The Diamonds — saw her fifth album, last year’s Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land, hampered by her inability to tour during the pandemic. With UK dates set for May, she’s hoping a ‘deluxe edition’ will give it a second chance

Elsewhere, he brings a playful authority to songs that were once gauche and earnest. I Dig Everything, from 1966, is revamped with real panache. You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving is driven by a Rebel Rebel-like groove. With clarinet and trumpet to the fore, The London Boys evokes the smoky ambience of a Soho jazz club.

There are two brilliant ballads. The theatrical Silly Boy Blue is lifted by Tony Visconti’s strings, and the superb, Ziggy-era cast-off Shadow Man is a classic finally getting due recognition. ‘Look to the stars and see his eyes, he’ll show you tomorrow,’ sings Bowie in an echo of 1972’s Starman.

The first bonus disc contains alternative mixes plus two unreleased tracks — a new version of the singer’s debut single Liza Jane (an American jazz standard), and the psychedelic pop number In The Heat Of The Morning. There’s also a different version of Silly Boy Blue with Moby and pianist Philip Glass.

The other disc — billed as an ‘unplugged and somewhat slightly electric mix’ — is essentially an acoustic version of the LP, with the guitars of Slick and Plati augmented by horns, harmonica and violin. This isn’t Bowie at his most innovative. But, in terms of performance, Toy captures him in his prime.

Singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis — a solo act who once traded under the alias Marina & The Diamonds — saw her fifth album, last year’s Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land, hampered by her inability to tour during the pandemic. With UK dates set for May, she’s hoping a ‘deluxe edition’ will give it a second chance.

The Welsh musician has added five new tracks, reiterating her standing as a quirky, forthright artist on the fringes of the mainstream. Having once aspired to be Britney Spears, Diamandis, 36, topped the charts with 2012’s Electra Heart, but has since distanced herself from glossy pop.

The extra songs here accentuate her move towards a strand of choral, electronic music somewhere between Kate Bush and Lana Del Rey. Happy Loner is a breathless piano ballad about the importance of charting your own course. Pink Convertible is an eco-anthem set in Hollywood, and Free Woman a straight-talking take on the ageing process. It adds extra sparkle to one of last year’s overlooked diamonds.

Marina starts a tour on May 17 at the Corn Exchange, Edinburgh (marinaofficial.co.uk).

Track of the week 

When I’m Gone: Alesso & Katy Perry

Perry’s ear for a good hook returned on 2020 album Smile, and she’s on top form again on this collaboration with Swedish DJ Alesso. Coinciding with her live residency in Las Vegas, When I’m Gone is a bouncy dance anthem punctuated with house-style piano

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