David Bowie’s toy: the box is a pleasant curiosity

Online banking with David Bowie branded debit cards? There would be a scramble for that now, but in 2000, when Bowie launched BowieBanc.com, only 1,500 depositors signed up. The bank swelled the following year, although the singer avoided the fallout. He had given his name to the company, without investing any money in it.

At the same time, he was involved in what was to become another failed project, Toy, an album of his 1960s songs re-recorded with his 21st century band. Much to his dismay, his then-label Virgin / EMI turned it down in 2001. A version of the album leaked in 2011. But he had to wait until after the death of its creator for an official release, initially in the last year. box Brilliant adventure. It is now available as a standalone album with two CDs of studio scrap, collected together as a Toy box.

When he did Toy, Bowie was in his mid-fifties and recalibrating his love for the new. He had a permanent home in New York with his wife Iman Abdulmajid and a healthy lifestyle with days starting at 5 a.m. He was a new father: Iman gave birth to their daughter in 2000. He also had a variety of new businesses. In 1997, he raised $ 55 million with his “Bowie bonds”, an innovative financial instrument linked to royalty income. The following year he launched BowieNet, an internet server and online fan club. Then came the hapless Bowie Bank.

If the singer, with his obligations, his bank and his internet platform, tried his own version of Citizen Kane, the showman mogul, so Toy could have made a moment “rosebud”, the childhood toy that reveals the secret of a life. But the album turned out to be less invested in its past than that. Rather than a self-assessment, it was part of a stylistic linchpin from his 1999 album. Hours towards a more classically Bowie-esque sound, far from the frantic experiments of its releases of the 90s.

The songs take his early swing and left work, when he was an avid celebrity aspirant, and make him sound bigger and bulkier. “I Dig Everything,” a 1966 flop single, is bundled into a smooth and punchy number. “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving,” a Who-type mod relic from 1965 when he recorded as Davy Jones, is a curious hybrid of retro-pop and alternative rock. “Karma Man”, originally recorded in 1967, is designed to sound like a song by a Britpop band influenced by Bowie (Blur, to be precise).

The singer is at the peak of his vocal form in “The London Boys”, a 1966-inspired B-side about the descent of a young con artist, going from a washed-out sled to beautifully dramatic screams. “You did it with the rest of the toys,” he sings of the song’s fallen hero. The meaningful look at Toythe title strikes a chord; the same is true of a powerfully sung piano ballad on doppelgängers and alienation, “Shadow Man”, first recorded in 1971. Bowie’s reactivation of this set aside resulted in the edition. deluxe from his 2002 album. Pagan, widely judged as a return to form after the disappointing Hours.

Apart from these highlights, Toythe songs sound like exercises back with Pagan. The singer has fun amplifying the formative Bowie-ness of early singles such as 1966’s “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”, but he lacks a deeper sense of self-examination. That will come later, with his last two albums, The next day and Black Star. In comparison, Toy is a pleasant curiosity, the product of a period of transition for Bowie.


Toy box‘is published by Parlophone / ISO Records