David Bowie VH1 Storytellers

David BowieVH1 Storytellers
Here's a necessary tautology: VH1 Storytellers tends to VH1 its performers, turning the most iconoclastic and bombastic of guests into adult contemporary crooners. In his eponymous outing, even David Bowie falls prey to the phenomenon, though his storytelling abilities and above-average catalogue — he's still David Bowie — make the session more than entertaining. A deft, wry and polished raconteur, Bowie is affable, amiable and perpetually eloquent. His tales sparkle with famous allusions made familiar (i.e., "Iggy Pop and I were a couple of very naughty boys who went to Berlin to learn to be good"). Celebrities turn up as commonplace characters, with names like Mott the Hoople, Marc Bolan and Barbra Streisand appearing regularly, giving the session a voyeuristic allure without turning it into a tabloid-y rehash. Shot in 1999, the set-list amalgamates old favourites and then-new cuts. Lacking the legendary status of hits like "Rebel Rebel," which itself is a playful, although truncated, selection, the latter, like "Seven" and "Thursday's Child," play particularly well. Still, highlights remain the established fare. Early Bowie cut "Can't Help Thinking About Me" gets the vigour it deserves, the singer's sharp band ripping through it despite the adult contemporary backing vocals. "Life on Mars" gets a bizarre chamber arrangement that surprisingly works and "Drive-In Saturday" is a '50s-style school dance number that scintillates, largely thanks to Bowie's assured, expanding voice. Conversely, other usually rollicking songs get slowed and deflated, especially "China Doll," yet Bowie's stage presence keeps the dandyish set marching admirably forward. Decent extra materials feature four unaired songs, including a fantastic rendition of "Survive." The package also comes with a CD version of the original eight-song show but, given the watered-down nature of many of the songs, it's better to watch them rather than hear them blind. (EMI)