The subtitle of Divine Symmetry is "The Journey to Hunky Dory" but it could've easily been "The Journey to David Bowie" as this 1971 album is where Bowie hit his stride. This four-disc set, accompanied by a lavish book, illustrates that this was no simple process. Coming off the crushing hard rock of The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie sought to lighten his approach, reconnecting with both his hippie folk and pop origins while extending his reach into the underground. He flirted with the idea of forming a band called the Arnold Corns, he wrote songs for and sang with Dana Gillespie, and eventually solidified a backing band featuring guitarist Mick Ronson, drummer Woody Woodmansey, and bassist Trevor Bolder, an outfit that would later become known as the Spiders from Mars. "It Ain't Easy," the Ron Davies cover that sticks out on The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars, can be heard as part of the "David Bowie and Friends" performances on John Peel's BBC Radio in Concert, right alongside Gillespie taking the lead on "Andy Warhol" and George Underwood singing "Song for Bob Dylan." Their very presence on lead vocals shows how Bowie briefly considered channeling his different personas into different singers. By the end of the Hunky Dory sessions, he and producer Ken Scott decided to have Bowie sing it all, resulting in a record that seems a bit of a tour de force. Divine Symmetry reveals the amount of work that went into such confidence, offering a full disc of songwriting demos alongside two discs of live performances, plus a full disc of alternative mixes and variations that includes all the mixes from BowPromo, a mini-album of early songs sent to labels in hopes of securing Bowie a deal. There are rarities here: "Bombers," a maddeningly catchy pop tune that Bowie expert Chris O'Leary calls "grotesque," keeps popping up, as does the sturdy rocker "Looking for a Friend," while the whole set opens with "Tired of My Life," a song Bowie would later rework into "It's No Game" on Scary Monsters. All this repetition suggests that the path to Hunky Dory isn't a straight line: it curves and twists, lingers in some areas, speeds up in others. Each detour is fascinating: the live performances on disc three (which is essentially the Spiders) are leaner and fiercer than the David Bowie & Friends recordings but the ungainliness of those versions is also appealing. The end result is historically significant but also a pleasure: for anybody who has wanted to live within the world of Hunky Dory, this offers an excellent place to do just that.

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