So, what do we make of 'The Gouster' then, the real dangling carrot of the new ‘Who Can I Be Now?’ set, a so called unreleased album from the mid 70's? Obviously that phrase is a little misleading, 'The Gouster' is basically a first draft of 'Young Americans' that was dumped and morphed into the latter following some recording sessions with John Lennon. There's nothing here that's previously unheard, so era hailing Holy Grails like 'Shilling The Rubes' remain just a tantalizing snippet accessible via YouTube or the murky world of bootlegs. A shame but let's judge this album on what it is, and the track listing is at least true to what was put together at the time. The album opens with the exquisite full length 'John, I'm Only Dancing (Again), it would have been a great album opener at the time, marrying Bowie's new direction tidily to his recent past. This track was first made available in 1979 as a standalone (12") single, the mastering here is smooth and respectful, no over the top pumping up of the volume with no subtlety. 'Somebody Up There Likes Me' we know from 'Young Americans' so what can you say, a Bowie classic of its era. Of greater note is 'It's Gonna Be Me' a track dropped from 'Young Americans' that waited for its debut until Rykodisc’s 1991 re-issue campaign. This is that first heard non strings version, and it is amazing (though I prefer the with strings version personally). To us mortals what you hear makes you think 'why was that dropped', it is stunning with a drop dead vocal, a career highlight if recorded by virtually anyone else, a consummate soul ballad yet for Bowie it's a cast off. Tony Visconti has suggested Bowie felt it was too personal for release at the time, listen from 4m10s to 5m16s and you'll understand what he means, Bowie is stripped bare and vocally bares his soul in one of the great moments of his whole recording career. If for nothing else, then 'The Gouster' is worth its resurrection here for simply giving this song it's long overdue place as a centerpiece of a fully-fledged Bowie album. 'Who Can I Be Now?' is another song that had to wait for the Rykodisc era to make itself publicly known. If it didn't follow 'It's Gonna Be Me' it'd surely be hailed as another moment of sublime delight, it's that good, a lost classic.
'The Gouster' then concludes with three 'Young Americans' staples. 'Can You Hear Me' was the soul ballad classic that survived the chop, here there is an alternate version with a different vocal getting a first official airing (though familiar via the world of bootlegs). It's chilling, I may had made a little tear hearing this for the first time at this quality on the 'The Gouster' today. It's a ‘Bowie is really gone’ moment. The familiarity of 'Young Americans' provides some light relief following this. We all know this song and the fact that it became the title track of the finished album is no bad thing despite the quality of what was left off. 'Right' brings 'The Gouster' to its belated conclusion, and again we have a different mix with a different vocal take.
In conclusion then, 'The Gouster' is and sounds complete as a Bowie album. despite the inclusion of the disco 'John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)' it is a bit more one paced than 'Young Americans' turned out to be, soul ballads dominate and in that sense 'Young Americans' is more the classic album of the two. In this CD/digital age there would have been no issue, everything could have been released, but 20 mins per side was the order of the day in the mid 70's. There could have even been a great double album here, but what was is what is, 'Young Americans' is a deserved Jewel in the Bowie canon, and now we can at least appreciate that 'The Gouster' would have been so too.
This review will form part of a larger 'Who Can I Be Now?' box set review.