As soon as David Bowie‘s last album Blackstar came out I was discussing with a friend and fellow obsessive whether a subsequent ‘deluxe’ version containing extra, previously unreleased, songs would be released, as was the case with his previous album The Next Day.
I read everything I could find about Blackstar and the musical Bowie co-wrote called Lazarus, which were undertaken simultaneously and obviously share ideas and at least 1 song, ‘Lazarus’. Then he died unexpectedly and the depth and significance of his magic disappearing trick during the last decade became apparent.
I went looking for information about what recent unreleased Bowie material may exist, and I’ve put numerous previously unconnected fragments together here. Curiously no one has made a Lazarus Wikipedia page (at the time of writing this article). I’m not going to. If you’re interested read why I don’t contribute to Wikipedia anymore.
Lazarus the musical contains 18 songs including 14 Bowie songs from previous albums and 4 new songs, 1 of which is ‘Lazarus’ that is also on Blackstar. This means that there are 3 other new Bowie songs that only the lucky people who managed to get tickets to Lazarus have heard. These songs are believed to be called ‘No Plan’, ‘Killing a Little Time’ and ‘When I Met You’. A cast album was recorded on 11 January with no date of release (it’s possible it may be out in weeks, not months, given the circumstances). All we have to date is an excellent live tv performance of Lazarus.
In an audio interview recorded only days before Bowie’s death, Blackstar producer Tony Visconti says that 4 more finished songs were recorded during the sessions including 1 called ‘Wistful’ (which he says is in the musical, thus contradicting the only review that lists the 4 new songs).
Visconti says it was unclear when they were recorded whether they would be used in the album or the musical (from what we know, the album sessions were in January – March 2015). Lazarus was in production at this time and premiered in December 2015. The show may have changed during development, and Visconti may not have known which songs were in or out.
To keep it simple, let’s assume what we’ve learned so far is correct. This means that there are at least 4 more named, finished songs from the 2014 – 2015 Blackstar / Lazarus period ready and waiting to be released. Therefore we should expect a deluxe version of Blackstar to be released in the next few months.
Update 29 October 2016
Now that the Lazarus cast album with bonus extra Bowie songs is out it has been confirmed that Bowie did record ‘No Plan’, ‘Killing a Little Time’ and ‘When I Met You’ during the Blackstar sessions. But what of the other new unreleased song (or songs)?
Visconti has been quoted as naming it ‘Wistful’. Biographer Nicholas Pegg believes it is called ‘Blaze’. Saxophonist Donny McCaslin confirms he heard one more finished, mixed and mastered song but frustratingly doesn’t name it. Bassist Tim Lefebvre says ‘there are a couple’ of other completed songs including one called ‘When things go bad’ (at 3:02 in part 1 of the video).
3 into 1 doesn’t go. It seems unlikely that 1 song can have 3 different names. 2 names is quite common: a working title (often before the lyrics have been recorded) and the official title (when the song has been completed). So perhaps there are at least 2 more finished songs. Please Tony release us from this torment and clarify things!
But wait, there’s more.
Then there’s the unknown issue of what other recent songs may exist. Bowie seemed to be writing new material straight after the release of The Next Day in 2013. ‘Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’ was recorded as a single and released in 2014 with the home demo of ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’ good enough to be released as the B-side. If the other Blackstar home demos are this good, I’d love to hear them all. Add them to the deluxe version to come.
I absolutely love the demo of ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’. It’s brittle and manic whereas the Blackstar version has depth but is perhaps less histrionic overall. Conversely I prefer the Blackstar version of Sue. The re-recorded version has a great guitar line that has more emphasis than in the original, which I thought too smooth and restrained. I love that his final recordings are obtuse and spiky. I’m sure they have many more layers of meaning still to discover.
Perhaps there could be other home demos that didn’t get recorded for Blackstar? Even better, there are 5 new demos Bowie did since the Blackstar sessions.
Beyond the recent Blackstar / Lazarus period, there’s much to reconsider in the context of his death. I’ll go backwards in time from now to consider some of the most obvious examples of unreleased material that hopefully will be officially released in the coming months or years.
First, bootlegged incomplete fragments of the 1994 Leon (Outside) recordings have been available for a long time, but what seems to be the complete 3 suite work (as submitted to and rejected by the record company) suddenly appeared online for the first time in late 2014. Was this authorised by Bowie?
We now know directly from Brian Eno (co-author of and performer on the Leon recordings) that he and Bowie were discussing revisiting Outside about a year ago – in other words around the time of the leak. Eno and fellow co-author and performer Reeves Gabrels could presumably authenticate the original 1994 version of Outside, or complete production tasks, to enable its release. A complete version with all the artwork and associated ephemera would be nice.
In hindsight it’s plausible to see this leak as authorised by Bowie, a clearing out of unreleased work he valued but now knew he did not have the time to revisit, despite wanting to, because his priority with limited time left was new work. By late 2014 the songs for Blackstar would have all been written and the home demos recorded, as ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’ had been out for months by then and the studio recording sessions for Blackstar were about to begin in January 2015.
I wrote last year how the V&A ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition had become possible, even inevitable, after the 1993 revelation that he had been systematically archiving artefacts and costumes from his career. Bowie allowed full access to his archive but did not participate in the development of the exhibition.
It could really have happened at any time, so why did it happen when it did, synchronised with the release of The Next Day in early 2013? Did he already know his time was limited in 2012 or even earlier, thus necessitating the commencement of the project? The slow disjointed recording of The Next Day was unusual for Bowie, who has a reputation for working quickly and efficiently in the studio. His ability to work may have already been limited by illness.
Previously in 2011 two curious things happened within days of each other. On 20 March the album he recorded in 2001, Toy, was leaked online (though possibly not in its final submitted form). Like the original Outside, it had been rejected by his record company when delivered for release. Many of the songs were subsequently re-recorded on Heathen or reused as B-sides on associated singles.
On 23 March 2011 the video for the 2002 single ‘Slow Burn‘ from Heathen was published on Bowie’s official YouTube channel. The video has no credits, and was perhaps made by Bowie himself. It is not known why it was not released in 2002, or why it appeared unannounced in 2011. It was a delightful surprise. As I wrote recently, the video (if not the song) seems to contribute to the Major Tom narrative, which has been an important work for Bowie.
It was rumoured that the Toy leak was authorised, and in hindsight the timing of these events seems far from coincidental. It was perhaps another pre-emptive cleanout of unfinished business because (although we didn’t know it then) Bowie had already started recording The Next Day and had signed off on the development of the exhibition.
It’s easy to construct this historical narrative now. It’s all conjecture, but it all fits. It suggests Bowie knew several years ago his time was limited, not just the 18 months mentioned in obituaries. It also implies priorities. First came new work, with his career retrospective exhibition outsourced to the V&A so it didn’t consume any of his time.
Then came ensuring that good unreleased work from the past 20 years, which had been buried by idiot record companies, got out while he could make the choice to do so. Toy is not the greatest album Bowie made, but neither is it the worst. For some Bowie freaks (like me), Outside ranks just below Low and Scary Monsters. Its complexity and opacity, and the sheer sonic impression of it, makes it a significant work.
Finally some effort was made to spin the privacy and seclusion his illness created into a marketing strategy, which itself became a work of art. The unannounced online release of his first new work in a decade in the form of ‘Where are we now?’ in 2013 really was brilliant, spinning necessity into artifice by maintaining and extending his elusive image by being invisible while simultaneously being everywhere thanks to the exhibition and The Next Day.
I’ll leave analysis of the archives and earlier recordings to the experts.