Classic Compilation: David Bowie – The Platinum Collection

A pair of compilations and a bonus disc gathered together rather than a release in its own right, on the surface of it the lazily named The Platinum Collection is just another David Bowie compilation. Where this compilation scores over most others that cover Bowie’s career, is that each disc is themed by era, with the first disc covering the period from his break out hit “Space Oddity”, through his career peak with the Spiders from Mars, and onto the dystopian rock of Diamond Dogs. The second disc covers the period of Bowie’s career that critics and ‘serious’ Bowie fans tell you is his most important work, going as it does from the slightly clumsy genre experiment of Young Americans, then goes on to cherry pick from the more commercial moments to be found on Station to Station and his mis-named Berlin trilogy. At the time of its release, the third disc of The Platinum Collection was a bonus disc that was not available elsewhere. It’s something of a curate’s egg, covering Bowie’s 80s material which finds a brilliant track with the faultless pedigree of “Ashes to Ashes”, rubbing shoulders with far lesser material.

Of course, for me, disc one is the one that I play the most, because it’s by far and away my favourite phase of David Bowie’s career, and unlike almost other Bowie compilation it isn’t sequenced in chronological order. As a result of this the focus was less on Bowie’s much-discussed chameleonic qualities and more on the quality of the individual songs, with particular emphasis on his unbeatable trilogy of Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, and Aladdin Sane, with only a track a piece from Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World, and Pin Ups, as well as the most commercial cuts from Diamond Dogs. It also has its fair share of surprises, including superior alternative versions of “John, I’m Only Dancing”, “The Prettiest Star”, and Bowie’s version of “All the Young Dudes”, a track he had donated to Mott the Hoople, but had previously never released himself. The net result of all this is the single greatest David Bowie compilation ever released, and as a result the other two discs of The Platinum Collection can only come as something as a disappointment.

Disc two makes a decent fist of the Bowie era that you really can’t compile, but after the heights of disc one, the only way is down regardless of how well regarded a lot of the material from this period of his career is. It isn’t helped that after a great opener in “Sound and Vision”, and the quality being maintained by “Golden Years”, the ball is well and truly dropped with a couple of tracks from the opinion-splitting Young Americans, for some, the weakest of all of Bowie’s 70s albums. After this there is no real way of picking up the pieces and making this second disc a truly satisfying compilation. If I am to draw a comparison, the second disc is The Empire Strikes Back to the first disc’s Star Wars (call it A New Hope all you want, it was first released as Star Wars, that’s how I knew it as a kid, so it’ll always be Star Wars to me). The music on the second disc is perhaps the most sophisticated and serious, and this phase of Bowie’s career is the one that critics will always maintain is most important, however it will never have the joy and sheer entertainment value as the first disc. While this disc has landmark songs like “”Heroes”” and “Wild is the Wind”, it just can’t consistently match Bowie’s earlier material in terms of capturing my interest. Put it this way, one of the best tracks on this disc is “1984”, which really doesn’t belong here as it was originally found on Diamond Dogs, which was comprehensively covered on the earlier disc.

Disc three is almost inevitably the runt of the collection, boasting neither the rock and roll credentials of the first disc, or the chin-stroking pseudo-intellectualism of the second. Sure, it has the odd great moment here and there, but beyond the material from Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), the surprisingly effective collaboration with Queen, and the global mega-smash that was“Let’s Dance”, it’s hard to argue that the material here stands up to comparison of that on either of the two previous discs, but as a moping up exercise of Bowie’s least interesting creative period, it’s relatively effective.

Taking The Platinum Collection as a whole, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t value for money, particularly as you can pick it up for about £5 these days if you shop around, and as each disc is themed by era, but not sequenced chronologically, it offers something different to most other Bowie compilations, especially when you factor in the alternative versions and tracks that aren’t readily available elsewhere. Disc one is the keeper and is the best compilation of Bowie material to be found anywhere (sad though it is to reflect that Bowie tried to block its original release in the late 90s). Disc two would probably be better without the material from Young Americans, but short of totally ignoring that album, they couldn’t have been put anywhere else, as they would have been totally out of place on Disc one. Disc three is the moping up exercise and stops mercifully short of Bowie’s divisive Tin Machine years, but still contains just about every track you would need from his 80s output.

The fact it is made up of three individual compilations released together, The Platinum Collection is not your usual ‘Put the hits in chronological order and watch David Bowie evolve!” approach. Its relatively low price point makes it a tempting purchase both for the newcomer and the long term fan, particularly when you factor in the superior version of well known numbers, and is a reminder that sometimes the budget option actually turns out to be the best option.

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