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David Bowie’s Legacy: Always Cashing In The Same Star, man.

At the record company meeting, on their hands (at last!) a dead star! Oh, you perfectly prescient thing, Morrissey! So ‘The Dame is dead, long live The Dame’ cash converters industry has begun. The painting of that vulgar picture has begun, folks.

I’m not sure the hastily cobbled together cash-in that is Legacy would’ve been approved by David Bowie in his lifetime, coming as it does less than two years after the Nothing Has Changed collection. In fact all Parlophone – the Warner Bros owned label that controls the bulk of the Bowie catalogue – have done is taken the double-disc edition of that album, which was thoughtfully and carefully curated by the Thin White One himself, and added three songs: Slow Burn, I Can’t Give Anything Away and Lazarus – the Blackstar single that dropped just two days before his death – at the expense of Love Is Lost and that Sue nonsense with the Maria Schneider orchestra.

I can’t deny it’s more than a little lovely to see the splendid PSB Remix of Hallo Spaceboy included for the third time on a Bowie best of. The radical remodelling of a wilfully but woefully uncommercial album track was Bowie’s biggest selling single of the 1990s after all, but considering Pet Shop Boys were a Parlophone act for 27 years you’d think the label would remember there is no ‘The’ in the dynamic duo’s moniker, actually.

On the bright side, Dancing In The Street with The Mick Jagger is included

Legacy’s bombastic cover font aside, even the title is lazy and cliched, especially when Future Legend is shouting from the Manhattan (Chase) rooftops. Mind you, I heard a rumour from Ground Control they’re keeping that one back for a compilation of material focusing on the young master Jones’s early years.

Of course, this zero-effort collection is obviously aimed at the “mass market”, Christmas and casual/newer followers. While I don’t have a problem with something aimed at a newer fan base, especially since Bowie’s demise, it’s definitely a crass cash-in job, and so soon after his passing sucks, baby, sucks.

Surely if they were targeting casual Bowie buyers they would have included Cat People and something from Labyrinth, both of which are well known to a whole new generation. Christ, even The Laughing Gnome would’ve shook things up a bit. Frankly, slightly modifying the NHC tracklist in about two seconds just doesn’t cut it.

It is natural for any business (and the Bowie industry is, after all, a business) to capitalise on an artist’s death. However, one would have hoped that in the case of such an incredibly important cultural figure as David Bowie it would have been done with a little more style and taste.

When the album was announced last September, I posted a little something about this very subject on Facebook, and the irrepressible Jeff Rougvie, who curated the Rykodisc reissues for Bowie in the late 1980s and early 1990s made these interesting points in response, and which he repeated on his thoroughly recommended website:

One of the last truly prescient quotes from the man himself was this: “in X years copyright will be meaningless” – and he’s not wrong. 

Certainly all of these releases are sanctioned by either DB or the estate and, with the end of the rock era and people actually paying for music on the horizon, it’s probably smart to make hay while the sun still shines. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to build as much wealth as possible in the wake of a passing. 

After all, if you were he, would you not want to provide for as many generations of future Bowies as you possibly could? Refreshing greatest hits packages every few years is commonplace and this is the first since DB left us. This package isn’t designed for hardcore fans, it’s designed for the masses.

That said, the marketing of these things as containing “new” material is deplorable, abusive of the fanbase and predatory, IMO. A big part of the Ryko pitch to DB was to limit the number of compilations, especially in the wake of RCA’s post “Lets Dance” cash-in comps. 

I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into compiling “The Singles” and we outright rejected three comp ideas DB himself had proposed because I thought they were maybe good for the bank account in the short-term but bad for long term cred (ours and his).

Even though I’d guess he was befuddled by that decision, I’m happy we held the line and I’m sure it has helped his legacy, but those were different times. Remember, you don’t HAVE to buy as much as you may feel ritualistically impelled.

Plenty of food for thought there then. So perhaps The Dame would have signed off on Legacy after all. Truth be told, he often gave the impression he was happy to jump on the back catalogue’s bones for a quick one as long as he was the person firing the shots.

But David Bowie is of this blue planet no more. And in the death, as the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare, what can his long suffering faithful do? Who is the representative fans can vent their spleen at? Perhaps wisely, the powers that be are keeping their identity under wraps for the time being.

On a final point, I still believe it’s unlikely Bowie Inc will never truly open the vaults as long as people keep buying these worthless repackages. Legacy reached No.5 late last year – no doubt boosted by the cynical but superfluous inclusion of a “new” stripped down remix of Life On Mars? – which pretty much guarantees more of the same old same old in the coming years. There’s gonna be sorrow alright.

For Legacy, Ken Scott has thoughtfully removed the guitars and drums from Life On Mars?. Oh great, said no one ever..

Conversely, you don’t need me to point out how many unreleased Bowie compositions have been issued since Rykodisc’s licence expired in 1996, do you? It’s ZERO.

Legacy’s success means no genuine rarities, no anthology and no visual gems coming out any time soon. What Bowie’s real mean team should be doing is placing focus on repaying his fans for decades of loyalty as, without them, his family wouldn’t be enjoying the massive riches they currently do.

However, as I pointed out in a 2008 cover feature for Record Collector magazine, one source that was close to the man himself offers up an intriguing reason for the lack of unreleased gems. “The accountants are saying that the catalogue has sold well enough for David not to need to plunder the vaults… A lot of it he plans to hold back till the contract expires, and use as collateral to sell the catalogue again. And then there’s the stuff he only wants to be heard posthumously…”

The Bowie contract with Parlophone is set to expire in December this year, though there’s a strong chance it’ll be extended quietly, just as it did in 2012, amid the carving up of EMI between Universal and Warners.

It’s the theatre of financiers, the season of the scavengers. And they’re winning.

Steve Pafford

 

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