Audio Remasterer: Ray Staff.
Recording information: Olympic and Island Studios, London (1974-12-??_1974-08-??_1974-); Plant, New York, City, NY (1974-12-??_1974-08-??_1974-); Sigma Sound, Philadelphia (1974-12-??_1974-08-??_1974-); Studio L Ludolf, Machineweg 8-12, Hilversum, Holland (1974-12-??_1974-08-??_1974-).
A sequel to the 2015 box Five Years 1969-1973, 2016's Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) covers just three years but this stretch in the mid-'70s happens to be the peak of David Bowie's superstardom. That much can be gleaned from the number of albums within the set: three studio albums -- Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, each released in a subsequent year -- along with the double live album David Live from 1974. Four albums in three years is plenty but to that core canon Who Can I Be Now? adds five additional alternate albums, each with varying degrees of rarities. There are full latter-day remixes of David Live and Station to Station -- the former from 2005, the latter from 2010 -- the concert album Live Nassau Coliseum '76, which was added to the super deluxe 2010 reissue of Station to Station, a bonus disc of single edits and stray songs entitled Re:Call, plus an early version of Young Americans called The Gouster. The latter seems to bend the rules of this extensive Bowie catalog reissue project, which is to preserve the officially released canon and keep unreleased tracks -- whether they surfaced on the '90s Rykodisc reissues or remain unheard -- locked up in the vaults. The Gouster contains "Who Can I Be Now?" and "It's Gonna Be Me," both originally released on the 1990 Ryko edition of Young Americans, along with alternate versions of "Can You Hear Me?" and "Right," plus the disco version of "John, I'm Only Dancing," but otherwise it plays like Young Americans, only not quite as good. Furthermore, its presence calls into question why the unreleased outtake "Shilling the Rubes" is left behind alongside the "Dodo" that showed up on the Ryko CD of Diamond Dogs: if the door is opened for some outtakes, it's hard not to miss those that are absent. Still, this is quibbling. The Who Can I Be Now? box set remains as beautifully produced as Five Years, and a deep dive into its contents produces many rewards. Perhaps the alternate album mixes are only slightly different, but it's hard not to be impressed by the rapid development of Bowie's music during these three years. The distance between Diamond Dogs and Station to Station is vast, and the addition of the live albums accentuates how deeply he cared for strong, deeply etched funk to offset his art. Listening to all this music in a concentrated blast, such progression is a wonder to behold. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine