Bowie as ever bucks the trend.

David Bowie "Nothing Has Changed".

Dou­ble-vinyle edition.

Like Reader’s Digest and tinned spaghet­ti, great­est hits albums are a cul­tur­al affront. By tak­ing the orig­i­nal out of its con­text, and reduc­ing and re-pack­ag­ing it with such shame­less cyn­i­cism, you hope­less­ly deval­ue it whilst insult­ing the intel­li­gence of those you are try­ing to appeal to.

Invari­ably, they’re some­thing the record label releas­es behind your back, and as such, most artists want noth­ing to do with them. As ever and as usu­al, David Bowie appears to be the excep­tion to this.

Some­thing about the man seems to give every­thing he does an irre­sistible sheen. And of late, he’s pulled off the remark­able feat of mak­ing even his mon­ey mak­ing schemes look chic. After he issued his Bowie Bonds in 1997 for a cool 55 mil­lion pounds Ster­ling, and when­ev­er anoth­er ad appears propped up by one more of his (albeit re-mas­tered) tracks, we all applaud, impressed.

The triple cd and the one to get.

The triple cd and the one to get.

Instead of lament­ing that one of the giants has joined the great unwashed to spend what remains of his pre­cious time in point­less­ly dredg­ing through his back cat­a­logue to need­less­ly gen­er­ate yet more un-nec­es­sary mon­ey. We con­grat­u­late him on treat­ing the mon­e­ti­za­tion of his back cat­a­logue with as much imag­i­na­tion as he would the cre­ation of a new album.

And now he’s pulled off the same feat with (anoth­er) great­est hits col­lec­tion, Noth­ing Has Changed.

Per­haps it’s just that when an artist does take a per­son­al inter­est in a great­est hits album, we’re so unused to it that it feels like they’ve called around to our house to talk us through it personally.

The fact of the mat­ter is, the tweaks that he has made to this one prob­a­bly amount­ed to no more than a one line email dic­tat­ed to one of his assistants.

Yet there’s no get­ting away from it. Noth­ing Has Changed feels like Bowie has per­son­al­ly over­seen it. And as such, it feels so much more sub­stan­tial than a con­ven­tion­al col­lec­tion. Once again, and as ever, we’re impressed.

The 2-cd edition.

The 2‑cd edition.

There are three dif­fer­ent ver­sions, each (again) with their own bespoke cov­er art. And, as not­ed by the boys from Pitch­fork who give it an 8.8 here, you can ignore the two more con­ven­tion­al dou­ble albums, and go straight for the impres­sive­ly dynam­ic triple cd ver­sion.

It sounds like only a small thing, but going through his career as it does in reverse order is inspired. Instead of wear­ing out the first cd, return­ing to the sec­ond, and only occa­sion­al­ly dip­ping into the third, you lis­ten with rapt atten­tion to all three as it builds and builds.

It’s not that there’s been noth­ing of worth since 1990. But truth be told, the gems have got­ten few­er and fur­ther between. So the fact that a num­ber of the more recent tracks have been giv­en a re-mix helps to bol­ster the ear­li­er (ie chrono­log­i­cal­ly lat­er) tracks.

But even here, you sense his per­son­al pres­ence. When James Mur­phy ref­er­ences Ash­es to Ash­es in his Love is Lost, and then the Pet Shop Boys give Space Odd­i­ty a nod on their Hel­lo Space­boy it’s impos­si­ble not to imag­ine the great man stand­ing behind them at the mix­ing desk, over­see­ing matters.

In the midst of those 5 extraordinary years.

In the midst of those 5 extra­or­di­nary years.

But what real­ly makes the whole thing so cap­ti­vat­ing is the con­fir­ma­tion that Bowie has a Mozart-esqe abil­i­ty to churn out impos­si­bly mem­o­rable melodies at the drop of one of his many hats. What this means is, that he is at once an albums artist, and a sin­gles artist.

On the one hand, there’s the Bowie who made, arguably, the most impres­sive and out­ra­geous­ly diverse 6 albums ever pro­duced, over a six year peri­od between 1975 and 1980, begin­ning with Young Amer­i­cans and cul­mi­nat­ing with Scary Mon­sters.

From total immer­sion in Philly soul, to the fore­front of the elec­tron­ic avant-garde, and on into the sec­ond wave of punk. And all just two years after being the new­ly crowned king of glam rock.

And yet at the same time and dur­ing all of which, he can pro­duce a nev­er-end­ing string of out­ra­geous­ly hum­ma­ble tunes that pull unashamed­ly at the heart strings. From Life On Mars and Dri­ve-in Sat­ur­day in the ear­ly 70s to Every­one Says Hi in 2002 and Where Are We Now? from last year’s oth­er­wise (whis­per it) huge­ly dis­ap­point­ing The Next Day.

It’s this com­bi­na­tion of artis­tic ambi­tion, and an ear for the per­fect melody that makes Bowie so beguil­ing, and keeps us all so con­sis­tent­ly impressed. And that’s what rais­es this col­lec­tion up so thrillingly.

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