In late October, Virgin reissued six CDs from David Bowie's back catalog. Coinciding with his current tour with Nine Inch Nails, the reissues come at a time of renewed interest in Bowie's musical career. All were digitally remastered from (in most cases) the original analog master tapes. Five of the CDs now include bonus tracks.

Originally released in 1983, the multi-platinum "Let's Dance" contains Bowie's biggest hits of the 80's -- the title track, "China Girl", "Modern Love", and his 1981 collaboration with Queen, "Under Pressure" (as a bonus track). Differences between the new version and EMI's original release were subtle. The reissue has color in the booklet, while the EMI version does not. The original CD has a more resonant low end, but the reissue has more punch to it.

Bowie's follow-up album, "Tonight", didn't have quite the commercial success of "Let's Dance", but still reached platinum status. The album's first single, "Blue Jean", as well as "Neighborhood Threat" and "Loving the Alien" are all standout songs. Virgin's reissue contains three bonus tracks from various movie soundtracks. The booklet is the same as the EMI version. Sound quality on Virgin's CD is noticeably better than EMI's.

Bowie's career started to wane with the release of his next album, "Never Let Me Down". Though it arguably contained some of his best performances, it was panned by critics. At Bowie's request, Virgin left off one of the original CD's better songs, "Too Dizzy". Apparently, he didn't feel the track fit in with the other songs on the album anymore. They added three bonus tracks to make up for it though. Virgin's remix of the 1987 album has a bit less bass than the original, but still sounds great. The booklets are identical between the two CDs.

1989 saw the debut release by Bowie's new band, Tin Machine. There are quite a few differences in the reissue of this one. The original EMI CD was a picture disc with the songs listed on it. Virgin's has the songs listed on a plain white label. The Virgin CD sounds tighter than the EMI, but EMI's is warmer. Virgin's CD also had a much higher output level than the original. Included as a bonus track on the reissue is a live country version of "Bus Stop".

Virgin's reissue of Bowie's "Black Tie, White Noise" CD (originally released on the Savage label) is somewhat disappointing. There were no bonus tracks added, and the packaging was better on the original. Where the reissue has a blank white inlay card under the clear CD tray, the original had red lettering which lined up with the lettering on the CD. The sound on Virgin's CD is slightly better than the original.

The last CD in the series is Bowie's soundtrack for the BBC television mini-series, "The Buddha of Suburbia" (available for the first time in the US). Bowie covers a wide range of musical styles on the CD, from the avant-garde jazz of "South Horizon" (featuring Mike Garson on piano), to the funky "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad". The CD also includes the original version of Bowie's latest single, "Strangers When We Meet".

David Bowie has redefined the limits of rock music for over 25 years now. With the six new CDs, Virgin has documented an important period in Bowie's groundbreaking career.

© 1996 Steve Marshall