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Bryce Vine - Carnival Music Album Reviews

The debut full-length from the “Drew Barrymore” singer isn’t designed for conscious, focused listening. This is music for poolsides and basements.
Bryce Vine describes himself as “OutKast and Blink-182 got drunk with the Gorillaz.” Perhaps a more apt comparison is KYLE taking bong hits with Dave Matthews Band, or Jason Mraz sniffing poppers with Doja Cat. At 31, Vine is at an unconventional age for frat-rap prominence. He established a fanbase nearly a decade ago, as a contestant on “The Glee Project,” a reality television show based off the Ryan Murphy high school drama. His real rise came with 2017’s “Drew Barrymore,” a swirl of neon synths that went platinum, possibly by being added to every “Chill Vibes” playlist in existence.

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David Bowie - The ‘Mercury’ Demos Music Album Reviews

A new installment in Parlophone’s ongoing reissue series revisits an oft-bootlegged 1969 session with fellow folkie John Hutchinson: literal bedroom tapes, but still revelatory.

In the spring of 1969, David Bowie had been in exile from pop music for over a year. After splitting with his label, Deram, as they kept rejecting prospective singles, he’d formed a folk trio with his girlfriend, Hermione Farthingale, and John Hutchinson, a guitarist from his former band. Bowie auditioned for plays, crafted a cabaret act, joined a UFO spotting group, performed mime, got bit parts in films and commercials—a typical late-1960s creative experience. But his primary goal was another record deal, and he was running out of options. Philips/Mercury was one of his last shots—most other major UK labels of the ’60s had already released music by him, with no chart success. Befriending a Mercury A&R rep, Bowie had an inside connection, so he and Hutchinson auditioned via a Revox reel-to-reel.


The ‘Mercury’ Demos are simply that: 10 demos for Mercury by the folk duo of Bowie and Hutch (Bowie and Farthingale had broken up some months before). Bootlegged for decades, they finally get an official release as part of Parlophone’s ongoing reissue series. Happily, it’s a single LP here and not a cumbersome box set of 7" singles, as with the Clareville Grove Demos and Spying Through a Keyhole. Unhappily, it’s a single LP of demos whose retail price is more in line with that of a multiple-CD reissue set.

The packaging mimics a promo kit from 1969: photo contact sheets and headshots of Bowie and Hutch, a few stapled pages of “typewritten” liner notes. But as with the other Bowie demo sets, it can’t shake looking like a cynical bid for the fan wallet. Perhaps the final touch will be a “master” box set collecting all previous box sets. (Unlike Keyhole, at least, it didn’t wait months to appear on streaming services.)

Still, The ‘Mercury’ Demos are of historical interest and, if you’ve not heard the bootlegs, revelatory. There’s a solid upgrade in sound quality, as many bootlegs were based off a tape that appears to have been slightly sped up. The interplay of Hutchinson and Bowie’s guitars and their vocal harmonies are far better distinguished; there are also exchanges and jokes not heard on the most widely circulating boots.

Though these were literal bedroom recordings, complete with microphone clunks, quickly tuned strings, noise from another room, and an audible cigarette break, the tapes are the start of David Bowie as he’s generally remembered. His career retrospective Sound + Vision opened with the Mercury demo of “Space Oddity,” included in this set—Bowie marking off where he believed his performing self began and reducing the rest of his ’60s work to juvenilia.

Songs fall in a few categories. There are two covers, with prominent Hutchinson vocals: “Life Is a Circus,” written by Roger Bunn, and Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song,” which paid far more dividends for Duncan (a Bowie intimate and fellow UFO enthusiast) when Elton John covered it on Tumbleweed Connection. “She’s very underrated,” Bowie notes before the take.

Of greater interest are songs Bowie wrote after his breakup with Farthingale, which he’d record for his 1969 album Space Oddity: “Letter to Hermione” (here under its original title, “I’m Not Quite”) and “An Occasional Dream.” Gorgeous heartbreak mementos, they’re charming and sweet in their bedsit demo forms. The Mercury “An Occasional Dream” (an earlier demo of it appears on Clareville Grove) is preferable to its uptempo crushed-velvet version on 1969’s Space Oddity, with its jaunty recorder arrangement.

The Mercury set shows how swiftly Bowie was developing as a songwriter in 1969: Only “Ching-a-Ling,” Donovan-esque hippie flotsam, and the wonderfully odd “When I’m Five” hail from the year before. Freshly minted songs include “Conversation Piece,” destined to be a B-side (introduced as “a new one,” with Bowie prompting Hutchinson with its opening chords) and “Janine,” whose Space Oddity take (unsurprisingly) lacks the “Hey Jude” homage heard on the demo. Then there’s “Lover to the Dawn,” a Bowie/Hutchinson harmonized song about a “bitter girl” that Bowie soon worked into “Cygnet Committee,” an anti-counterculture rant/prophesy/freak-out track.

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But its centerpiece is “Space Oddity.”. Bowie had honed the song for months, cutting multiple demos, and a full-band take for a promo film. It was Bowie as a shameless magpie, scanning the radio dial and grabbing what he could. A guitar break from Fifth Dimension’s “Carpet Man.” A vocal arrangement in the line of another folk duo: Hutchinson as Ground Control Simon to Bowie’s Major Tom Garfunkel. And a lyric whose scenario isn’t far from the Bee Gees’ death-bubblegum hits “New York Mining Disaster 1941” and “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You.” The Mercury demo shows how tightly Bowie had constructed the song—it’s the blueprint for its single recording in June 1969.

Mercury signed Bowie, and “Space Oddity” hit No. 5 in the UK in late 1969, but he soon sputtered out commercially and didn’t become a star until landing with RCA two years later. Perhaps we’ll hear the groundwork for that record deal soon enough.


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