In the year 2000, having been disappointed in hours… (I find myself liking it more now), I wasn’t paying much attention to what David Bowie was doing. Had I been, or were I a BowieNet user, I might have known that he was working on an album of self-covers that he said was “not so much a Pin Ups II as an Up Date I,” but which never saw the light of day.
In was only after Heathen came along and rekindled my interest that I learned of the existence of Toy. For many years after that it was a tantalizing mystery — a few of the songs were released as B-sides or bonus tracks, and while none of them were that great, many of us held out hope that Toy was the Great Lost Bowie album.
Which it wasn’t. When the full album was finally leaked online, sometime in the 2010s, it became clear that not releasing it had been the right decision. It has some good moments — the two new compositions that start the album, “Uncle Floyd” and “Afraid,” are keepers and would be repurposed for Heathen — but on the whole it’s a snoozefest. All the remade songs are squeezed through the same mid-tempo, AOR-slick filter, stripping them of whatever ramshackle charm they may have had in the first place.
A case in point is “I Dig Everything,” which in its original iteration is a bouncy little number with a strong swinging-60s vibe, and thus very un-Bowie:
David spent decades trying to bury it in the deepest possible hole along with the rest of his pre–“Space Oddity” output; only in his fifties did he start to embrace his earliest work, which seems like a healthy development. But the Toy version of “IDE” sounds like what it is: a middle-aged boomer trying and failing to recapture the spirit of a long-lost era. Bowie still had some new ideas left in him, as a song like “Floyd” or “Afraid” attests; he was wasting his time excavating the distant past.
What that in mind, I shan’t waste any more of my time or yours on Toy. It was a well-intentioned bust that DB recognized as such; he never sanctioned its release in his lifetime, and who knows if he ever would have. We’ll move on to greener pastures next time.