“Nothing Has Changed” seems to be a very unfitting name for David Bowie’s three-disc compilation album. In fact, the album is a long, fascinating 59-track exploration of the acclaimed Briton’s diverse 50-year career. It is the perfect combination of songs to give any listener — especially a first-time listener of Bowie, such as myself — a deeply cohesive image of his transformation from a young ’60s rocker into a mature artist at the forefront of experimental music movements.
While the album is available in four different, uniquely constructed versions (3-CD, 2-CD, 2-LP, and 1-CD), it is the aforementioned 3-CD version that best provides a picture of Bowie’s career as it best demonstrates the artist’s great range of work.
As is appropriate to Bowie’s heavily introspective style, the three discs also come with three cover sleeves in which Bowie is seen examining himself in the mirror. These remind listeners that his songs and this type of compilation are gateways through which an artist such as Bowie can reflect upon his or her self-creation.
His introspective endeavor is further accentuated in the decision to order the songs in reverse chronological order. This means that the first disc starts with “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime),” the album’s only completely new song, and the third disc ends with Bowie’s first single, “Liza Jane.” By orienting his work around the present and moving incrementally back into the past, Bowie can slowly peel away the layers of his matured style to rediscover its creative origins.
This new track, “Sue,” is one of the best on the album and epitomizes Bowie’s flexible talent. Very different from any of the other songs, it combines jazzy overtones with a consistent drum-line. Bowie seems to have gone full force to impress listeners with a vibrant song from the get-go on “Nothing Has Changed.” He recorded the track in conjunction with Maria Schneider and her jazz orchestra to provide a powerful background for his strong voice in this song.
“Sue” — the album’s longest track — serves as an intense seven-minute reminder that, while this is a compilation album, Bowie is still an important force in today’s culture. The album also includes versions of songs from his 2001 unreleased (but leaked) album “Toy.”
The first disc is most indicative of Bowie’s vast artistic range. From the jazzy orchestral opening in “Sue” to the piano backdrops in “Shadow Man” to the experimental beat in “Hallo Spaceboy,” he is impressively able to apply his talent across all the provided musical underpinnings.
The second disc provides a similar flexibility. From the slow, somber pop in “The Buddha of Suburbia” to the quick, electronic funk beat in “Fashion” to the famous rock masterpiece “Under Pressure,” performed with Queen, there is, again, no mistaking that Bowie can work his voice to sound right with almost any background.
The final disc, in contrast, presents listeners with the rock and roll style that defined Bowie’s early career with tunes such as “Rebel Rebel” and “The Jean Genie.” The well-known “Space Oddity,” however, is a standout in this section, providing a more experimental acoustic sound that seems to naturally compliment his calm voice and style.
Other notable components of the album include the jolly aura present in “Dancing in the Street” — performed with Mick Jagger — the perplexing lyrics in “Ashes to Ashes,” and the soothing tones of Marius De Vries’ mix of “Seven.”
David Bowie’s style cannot be easily defined because of the expansiveness of his talent and discography. This album, however, displays his music’s ability to experiment and adapt over the years. Bowie might not give everyone what they’re looking for, but it is worth checking out at least some of its tracks, if not the entire album, to understand what made Bowie’s success span decades.