David Bowie’s ghost album “Toy” comes out of limbo

(AFP) – This is the story of an album like no other: “Toy”, unearthed in its entirety today, was first left in a drawer in 2001 by David Bowie following a quarrel with a record company.

“Toy” is not known to the general public. Fans of the Thin White Duke, one of the artist’s nicknames, on the other hand followed his footsteps with a magnifying glass. First, because a poor-quality pirate version leaked onto the web in 2011.

Then because some titles of “Toy” found themselves in “Heathen” (2002), failed on sides B or on a compilation. “The fans still know two-thirds of the album”, clarifies for AFP Jérôme Soligny, author of “David Bowie Rainbowman”, reference work initially published in two volumes (Gallimard), subject of reissues and translations international.

“Toy” allows Bowie to give “a facelift”, as Soligny puts it, to little-known songs from his repertoire of the 1960s-70s (only three originals in the initial batch). That a born creator like him looks back on his past already makes “Toy” an album apart.

The main explanation for Soligny, is that “he adores the musicians with whom he plays at that time (the turning point of the 2000s), and when they suggested a cover, he accepted”.

– “Terrible people” –

The seeds of “Toy” are there with the reinterpretation, at the end of the 1990s, of “Can’t help thinking about me” (title of 1966) on stage with his group. It was with this formation that he gave one of the most significant concerts of his career in Glastonbury, England, in 2000.

This album is also notable in the course of Bowie, because it is during its recording in New York that the artist reconciles with his historical producer, Tony Visconti. He had no longer asked for it in the studio from “Let’s Dance” (1983, commercial card produced by Nile Rodgers, guitarist of Chic).

“Bowie wanted to work with him again, but at first in homeopathic doses, to see how it goes, because Tony and he are two strong personalities,” says Soligny. “Tony comes first to arrange the strings, and after that Bowie asks him to redo some mixes from Mark Plati (designated producer).” Visconti will then return to his role as producer until the last album “Blackstar” (2016, year of the singer’s death at 69).

But things got worse with the record company. “Virgin has become absolute shit. These people were terrible during the two years before I left,” Bowie said in 2002 in comments reported in “Rainbowman”. The artist puts “Toy” on the shelf and moves on when he takes out “Heathen” (at Iso / Columbia / Sony).

– Confusing pouch –

Bowie’s legatees are releasing “Toy” today (at Parlophone / Iso / Warner) in two stages. The album first appears in its original version this Friday in the gargantuan retrospective “David Bowie 5. Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001)”. This box set is rich with other recordings, such as a live on the BBC in 2000. On January 7, 2022, the eve of Bowie’s birthday, “Toy (Toy: Box)” will this time present the album accompanied by alternate versions. and acoustic.

“Toy” is an honest album, “missing link” as depicted by Soligny, between “Hours …” (1999) and “Heathen”. Bowie, who can no longer have the original tonality – “the cigarette years are heavy” – sings like “Scott Walker, whom he adored, he goes towards a baritone voice”, analyzes Soligny.

There remains the question of the cover, never appeared before and puzzling if not ugly, with the features of an adult Bowie on a face of a simian child. Which doesn’t surprise Soligny that much: “He always liked + freaks + as on the cover of + Diamond Dogs + (Bowie is half-man, half-dog) or on the cover of + Lodger + where he appears with a broken nose. This did not prevent her from working alongside the best fashion photographers to appear as beautiful as possible “.