David Bowie – Fresh From Divorce: The Scary Monsters Chronicles (Godfather Records GR580)

Fresh From Divorce:  The Scary Monsters Chronicles (Godfather Records GR580)

(79:30):  Scary Monsters & Super Creeps  (alternate take), It’s No Game (alternate take), Tired Of My Life (demo for ‘It’s No Game’), Cameras In Brooklyn (early version of “Up The Hill Backwards”), It Happens Everyday (early version Of “Teenage Wildlife”), Laser (early version Of “Scream Like A Baby”), Ashes To Ashes (unreleased disco remix), Kingdom Come (alternate take), I Am A Laser (recorded with the Astronettes – different lyrics), Because You’re Young (alternate take), Is There Life After Marriage?  (unreleased), Panic In Detroit (re-recorded), Crystal Japan (Japanese only single), Alabama Song (Japanese only single), Ashes To Ashes (“Tonight” T.V. Show, USA, 5 September 1980), Life On Mars (“Tonight” T.V. Show, USA, 5 September 1980), The Man Who Sold The World (“Saturday Night Live”, T.V. Show, USA, 15 December, 1979), Boys Keep Swinging (“Saturday Night Live”, T.V. Show, USA, 15 December, 1979), TVC15  (“Saturday Night Live”, T.V. Show, USA, 15 December, 1979)

David Bowie’s divorce from his wife Angela became final on February 8th 1980 and the following week he was in New York starting work on Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps),the first album after the “Berlin Triology.”  Working with producer Tony Visconti and the Alomar/Davis/Murry backing band, they laid down instrumental tracks for the songs that would appear on the album for two and a half weeks.  Only “It’s No Game (No. 2)” would be completed.

Two months later they would reconvene at Good Earth Studios in London to complete the album. Mixing would be finished by April and the album would be released on September 12th.  The album would reach #1 in the UK and climb as high as #12 in the US.  It received rave reviews when first released and has since been used as a benchmark. 

The liner notes point out :  “The album was very well received, peaking at No. 1 in the United Kingdom with U.K. music magazine Melody Maker called it ‘an eerily impressive stride into the ’80s’ and Billboard reported that it ‘should be the most accessible and commercially successful Bowie LP in years.’  Another magazine, Record Mirror, going so far as to laud it with seven stars out of five!”

Fresh From Divorce collects together relevant documents surrounding the creation of the album including alternate versions and demos.  And since this was during Bowie’s longest hiatus from live performance (after the Stage tour in 1978 he wouldn’t tour again until 1983), included are two television appearances which are rare live outings from this period.

The first track is an alternate take of the title track.  The basic vocal and instrumental track is the same.  But it’s ninety seconds shorter.  The wild and discordant Robert Fripp solos in the released version are replaced by the more lyrical solos of Carlos Alomar.  An alternate take of “It’s No Game (No. 2)” follows.  This is pretty much the same as the released version except it lacks the spooky sounding coda.

“Tired Of My Life” is said to be the very first song Bowie wrote when he was sixteen in 1963.  Recorded at Haddon Hall in 1970 according to the book Moonage Daydream by Dave Thompson, it features Bowie, and acoustic guitar, and someone (Mick Ronson?) on backing vocals.  Only the third verse shares come commonalities.  From the demo he sings:

“Throw a rock upon a road, and it breaks into pieces
Shake a branch upon the snow, the sun is defeated
Pull the curtains on yesterday, and it seems so much later
Put a bullet in my brain, and I make all the papers

Which, ten years later, became:

“Documentaries on refugees, couples ‘gainst the target
Throw a rock against the road, and it breaks into pieces
Draw the blinds on yesterday, and it’s all so much scarier
Put a bullet in my brain, and it makes all the papers

And it’s no game”

The entire theme of the song changed from youthful confusion to adult cynicism.  It’s interesting that the one verse retained from “Tired Of My Life” addresses the relationship between him, his persona and the public.  With the many changes of style and musical direction, this would be a characteristic of his career. 

“Cameras In Brooklyn” is an early version of “Up The Hill Backwards.”  There is less echo on Bowie’s voice and the Frippertronics are missing.  It also has slightly different lyrics, such as “skylights are falling” instead of “witnesses falling.”  Following is “It Happens Everyday,” the original name of “Teenage Wildlife.”  The take is the same except for a short count-in at the beginning.

“Laser” is another old track rearranged and rewritten as “Scream Like A Baby” for Scary Monsters.  The early demo is free from synthesizers and has a more controlled vocal performance.  There are some lyrical differences too, including singing:  “I’m learning to be an integrated part of society” instead of “I’m learning to be a part of soc-society.”  Another rewrite occurred in 1973 and was recorded by the Astronettes as “I Am A Laser” and is included in this collection.

“Because You’re Young” is one of the more unusual tracks on the album.  It features a guest appearance by The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, but it is a strangely subdued and pop sounding, being at odds with the rest of the material on Scary Monsters (and the tracks on the Berlin Trilogy albums for that matter).  This is a demo of the song with slightly different lyrics such as opening with “Look in my eyes / nobody home” and has a more raw feel to it.  Comparing this to the commercial version suggests too much editing was done and a strong track was basically ruined. 

“Kingdom Come” is the only cover tune on the album, written by Tom Verlaine.  This alternate version is lacking Fripp’s contribution and sounds much more mild compared to the final take. 

The several unreleased tracks have varying degrees of interest.  The disco mix of “Ashes To Ashes” is an eleven minute edit of the album track with long instrumental passages in the beginning.  These remixes were popular in the late seventies, seen as a away for rock artists to gain cross-over appeal.

“Is There Life After Marriage?”, a tune which gives inspiration to this set, is rumored to exist and has been included on various titles as such.  But in reality this is an instrumental runthrough of Cream’s “I Feel Free,” a song Bowie and Ronson covered in the early seventies and would eventually recorded in 1993 and released on Black Tie White Noise

“Panic In Detroit” was re-recorded in December 1979, before the Scary Monsters sessions began, intended for broadcast on ITV’s Kenny Everett’s New Year’s Eve Show.

“Crystal Japan” with the b-side “Alabama Song” are two songs also written and recorded in 1979 and was released as a Japan-only single in February 1980.  “Crystal Japan” was going to close Scary Monsters but was replaced by “It’s No Game (No. 2)” which was a wise decision.  The instrumental, which was used for a sake commercial in Japan, sounds too close to the Eno produced material like “Warszawa.”

The disc closes with two appearances on American television.  Bowie played two songs, “Ashes To Ashes” and “Life On Mars,” on the Johnny Carson show right around the time the album was released.  The appearance was taped right off of a telecast and is in good quality.  The disc closes with his appearances on “Saturday Night Live” the previous year playing three songs:  “The Man Who Sold The World,” “Boys Keep Swinging” and “TVC15.”

Overall Fresh From Divorceis a strong compilation of tapes from the era.  There has been some discussion about more boxsets from EMI similar to this year’s Station To Station, before Bowies’ contract expires in 2012.  Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) is one of the titles under discussion and the contents focus upon these particular tracks which makes this a good title to have until more is released. 

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