My DJ friend Dave mentioned to me the other day in an online conversation that he thought David Bowie’s 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World was about as close as Bowie got to a Black Sabbath-sounding record as he ever tried to do. I hadn’t really considered that concept before although I know the album quite well.
However when I heard the new remix done by Tony Visconti, issued for the 50th anniversary of the album, that concept made a great deal of sense.
Restored to the original title and design that Bowie had envisioned for the album – – Metrobolist — this new 50th Anniversary vinyl edition of the album features a very bold and aggressive mix by Visconti, Bowie’s long-time production partner. He plays bass on this album as it was a period before Bowie’s “Spiders From Mars” band had fully come together.
In this new mix, certain songs rock like a jackhammer in a way that the original only hinted at previously. Sure, you could turn up the volume on your old version — which we all did! — but on Metrobolist the sense of overdriven distorted Les Paul-through-a-big-Marshall-amp is palpable. Mick Ronson’s guitar playing on these recordings has never been quite so in your face as on this version.
“All The Madman” sounds amazing and much more like what I suspect the band might have actually sounded like playing in the studio, amps pumped up to 11 and all that… Yet when the band switches into the bolero-esque double time section toward the end you suddenly hear not just a bunch of snotty glam rockers but a tight band of guitar-hero contenders who could turn on a dime into Allman Brothers territory. It is all there on the original but on the new version the contrasts are much, much more apparent — you can now feel the power this group had going on.
“Don’t set me free, I’m as heavy as can be…”
Bowie’s vocals are also much more clear and audible on Visconti’s new Metrobolist mix. The separation is outstanding yet it still holds together as a rock album — actually it holds together even better as a “hard” rock album because it is so much hotter sounding. It is not like he put lots of new effects on this (although I think there may be a couple of moments here and there as there were on the Space Oddity remix).
It is really more about just bringing out the sound that was already on the tapes and adjusting the balances a little bit. Songs like “Width Of A Circle” sound just huge here. On “Black Country Rock,” you can feel Bowie’s Marc Bolan-isms toward the end there (Visconti produced many early T-Rex recordings, in case you missed that connection).
Visconti’s bass playing also comes into greater focus on Metrobolist. Not that he was buried on the original mix — the band at its core is essentially a power trio. But instead of the sort of reigned-in thuddy classic Fender bass sound on the original now you can hear the sparkle in his instrument. Think of it this way: it is the difference in sound between how say, Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney’s bass might have sounded in the ‘60s on record as compared with Chris Squire’s more aggressive “lead” bass we heard on tracks like “Roundabout” by Yes in 1971.
So going back to the headline I posited at the start of this review, the question remains: “Do you need to buy David Bowie’s Metrobolist on vinyl?”
If you are more than a casual Bowie fan but on the fence, the answer is a resounding: yes! If you are an audiophile Bowie fan who wants to hear this music in its best possible light, the answer is a resounding: yes! If you are a hard rock fan who likes Mick Ronson’s guitar work but may have felt non-plussed by this early pre-Ziggy Stardust work, the answer is a resounding: yes!
Pressed in Germany, the 180-gram black vinyl version I bought at Amoeba Music is perfectly quiet and well centered. It sounds great when you turn it up loud.
You can also find Metrobolist streaming on Tidal (click here) and Qobuz (click here) in 96 kHz, 24-bit resolution. It sounds good here too but it is also much brighter. To my ear it is a bit too bright as compared to the vinyl version, so I’m not sure what is going on with the masters that were sent to these services. I had to turn the volume up significantly louder to get the full impact of the new mix when streaming but by then it felt like a harsher listening experience. I’m just guessing here, but I wonder if they just took the master as optimized for a vinyl pressing and put it on the streams — perhaps it might have had a brighter high end knowing that it would have to be pulled in a bit in the final vinyl disc mastering stage? Again, I am purely speculating here, of course…
But I guess it all points to my final answer to the question above: Metrobolist seems to be an essential release to hear on vinyl. Get it.