The release

The Man Who Sold The World was released in the US in November 1970. Bowie was reportedly displeased that the label had changed the title from Metrobolist, and when his UK label prepared to release it in April 1971, he briefly and unsuccessfully attempted to have it retitled Holy Holy, after a recently-recorded single.

The album sold better in the US than in Bowie’s home country. Mercury’s publicity department gave it a bigger push, and the warm critical reception led to Bowie undertaking a three-week promotional tour of the USA in February 1971, his first visit there. Later that year he spoke to Penny Valentine from UK music weekly Disc and Music Echo, explaining why he thought the album had done well:

For one thing it got massive airplay, and I suppose in a way it’s more palatable than things I’ve done in the past because of its heavy backing.

That’s all credit to Tony Visconti, who produced it, it was my idea initially to get heavier – just to try another way – but he got it all together. I probably needed a heavier sound behind me, and obviously it’s worked. It’s not that I have a very strong feeling for heavy music – I don’t. In fact, I think it’s fairly primitive as a music form.

I look for sensation rather than quality, and heavy music seems to be full of musicians who have quality rather than musicians who for some reason can chill your spine. I suppose really I look for something in music that I look for in my own life.

David Bowie, 1971
Disc and Music Echo

In the UK, Melody Maker described the album as “surprisingly excellent”, while the New Musical Express called it “rather hysterical”. When the album was reissued in 1972, in the wake of Ziggy‘s success, it fared better, reaching number 24 in the UK and 105 on the US Billboard 200.

In April 1971 The Man Who Sold The World was released to complimentary reviews. Lacking a hit single, in fact no single, it failed to sell. But this has become one of my top three Bowie albums in my personal chart. It brings back fond memories of Mick Ronson goading me to listen to Jack Bruce’s bass playing and emulate him. If you have complaints that the bass is too high in the mix, blame Ronno. And even though Bowie threw me for a loop in his newly formed unorthodox method of song writing, his writing and performances were ultimately stunning.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

Reissues, remixes, remasters

In 1972, RCA reissued The Man Who Sold The World in the US and UK with a new sleeve. This was a stark monochrome shot of Bowie, clutching a guitar and performing a high kick, in a Ziggy-era jumpsuit. This remained the album’s official sleeve until the dress cover was restored for a 1990 reissue.

On the back cover were some liner notes containing more hype than Bowie’s backing band:

Chronologically, this is the second of David Bowie’s rock and roll albums, and at the same time, it is a clear landmark indication that what was once only rock and roll is now a boundless form of musical expression, yet still rock and roll. Bowie was a pioneer in this knowledge.

The music is unmistakable vintage Bowie. From the throbbing, sweeping ‘The Width Of A Circle’ to the eclectic and Bowie-ized synthesis, rock and rolling ‘Black Country Rock’, the album mirrors the intense and vulnerable sensuality of its maker.

Neither metaphor nor analogue, Bowie’s music insists on its own reality. Phantasmagoria is its reality; the preternatural its unsettling truth.

Never attitudinal, somewhat both stark and lavish (intelligent and sensual), this album, recorded at the onset of the decade, is a clear prognosis for the ’70s.

Another curiosity was a German edition with a bizarre illustration of Bowie by Witt Hamburg. This Alan Aldridge-inspired artwork depicted Bowie’s head on the wrist of a giant winged hand, suspended in the cosmos and flicking the Earth away.

Metrobolist

On 4 September 2020, Metrobolist, a new 50th anniversary version of The Man Who Sold The World, was announced. On sale from 6 November, it included eight songs remixed by Tony Visconti (‘After All’ was left untouched), plus Mike Weller’s original artwork and new logo.

Similarly to the previous year’s Space Oddity reissue, 2,020 copies of the album were limited edition on white or gold vinyl, with handwritten numbers on the labels. Just 50 copies, numbered 1971-2020, were on gold vinyl, with numbers 1 to 1,970 on white vinyl.

The limited edition copies were randomly distributed, with all other vinyl copies coming on black vinyl. Metrobolist was also available on compact disc, digital download, and streaming services.

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Here’s the press release announcing Metrobolist:

“Oh no, not me, I never lost control…”

DAVID BOWIE – ‘METROBOLIST’ (AKA ‘THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD’) 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

REMIXED BY TONY VISCONTI WITH ARTWORK BASED ON ORIGINAL TITLE & DESIGN

RELEASED 6th NOVEMBER, 2020 ON LIMITED VINYL AND CD FORMATS, ALSO FOR STREAMING AND DOWNLOAD AT STANDARD AND HIGH RESOLUTION DOWNLOAD (96kHz/24bit)

Parlophone Records is proud to announce release details for METROBOLIST (aka THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD) 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION to be released on 6th NOVEMBER, 2020.

This November sees the 50th Anniversary of the release of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World in North America. The rest of the world would have to wait until April 1971 to witness Bowie’s landmark entry into the 1970s, marking the beginning of a collaboration with guitarist Mick Ronson that would last through classic works including Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane—as well as the first in a 10-year series of indispensable albums stretching through 1980’s Scary Monsters…

Originally titled Metrobolist, the album’s name was changed at the last minute to The Man Who Sold The World — the original stereo master tapes were in fact labelled Metrobolist, with the title ultimately crossed out. The 2020 re-release of the album under its Metrobolist moniker has been remixed by original producer Tony Visconti, with the exception of the track ‘After All’ which Tony considered perfect as is, and is featured in its 2015 remaster incarnation.

The Metrobolist 50th anniversary artwork has been created by Mike Weller who was behind the originally intended album artwork which Mercury refused to release. The gatefold sleeve also features many images from the infamous Keith MacMillan Mr Fish ‘dress’ shoot at Haddon Hall which would cause so much controversy when one of the shots was used on the cover of the The Man Who Sold The World album in the rest of the world in spring of 1971.

The original U.S. release of The Man Who Sold The World utilised some of the original Metrobolist design elements.

As with the Space Oddity 50th anniversary vinyl, as well as a 180g black vinyl edition, it will come in 2020 limited edition handwritten numbered copies on gold vinyl (# 1971 – 2020) and on white vinyl (# 1 – 1970) all randomly distributed.

For the 50th anniversary the 1970 story of the gatefold sleeve can be told in full with unused ‘dress’ photos. As Mike Weller explains:

“There is a story concealed in the carpet-scattered playing cards, David has thrown a plain 52 card deck in the air as though “casting the runes” but in a significant break from 60s Tarot divinations such as I Ching etc he casts runes using a four-suit pack and switches man-dress, along with the Court Card of the Future from right hand to left, signifying a new decade and new cultural era.”

David personally delivered the Metrobolist concept and his gatefold plan to the record company for production and now with this release, it can finally be seen much closer to its original concept. Bowie speaking in 2000 said of the sleeve imagery:

“Mick Weller devised this kind of very subversive looking cartoon and put in some quite personalised things. The building in the background on the cartoon in fact was the hospital where my half brother had committed himself to. So for me, it had lots of personal resonance about it.”