DAVID BOWIE REVIEWS:
Early On (1964-1966) (1991)
Early On (1964-1966) (1991)
Album Score: 9
You might read the title of David Bowie's archive release Early On (1964-1966) and be absolutely shocked to learn that he goes back that far. Indeed, I've known about Bowie's history for quite some time, but I still it to be incredible that he started releasing music the same year that The Rolling Stones released their first album. Of course, the reason that so few people know that Bowie started in the mid-'60s is because he failed to have any hits. And listening to the material on this compilation, it's abundantly clear why; this stuff just ain't that great! But this stuff ain't bad, either, and if you're a big-time Bowie fan, you might just find it worthwhile to pick up this archival release.
Just like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones before him, David Bowie got started singing covers of '50s rock 'n' roll. This album opens up with a surprisingly engaging take on “Liza Jane.” It's a far cry of course from capturing the same type of spirit that The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds were able to capture, but it's perfectly nice and toe-tapping. “Louie, Louie Go Home” is much shakier and less likable, but he makes up for that with an interesting take on “I Pity the Fool,” which features these heavily layered saxophone sounds. Hardly a revolutionary concept, but it's a lot of fun!
Everything after the first three tracks are Bowie originals, and they range from bad to mediocre to mildly good. (I know! He covers quite a spectrum!) “Take My Tip” is the very first David Bowie original, and it's a very confused little thing that shows some promise, but it's overall just too dull to make an overall impression on me. Probably the most embarrassing selections on this album are the folk songs. Excuse me while I barf on them! “That's Where My Heart Is” is terrible featuring a boring vocal performance and a dull melody. “Bars of the County Jail” is even worse... by the sound of the song title, it was supposed to be some sort of outlaw Johnny Cash thing, but it sounds so dang ham-fisted! Blah! ... But in those songs' defense, they both sound like they were demos, so maybe they would've been better if some executive let Bowie flesh them out in the studio. Eh. I still don't think they would've been very good songs.
“You've Got a Habit of Leaving” begins the 1965 era when he was performing in the band called Davy Jones and The Lower Third. That's a neat band name, but their songs are like a poor-man's The Who! They're certainly not terrible, but it's pretty obvious these guys were just blindly writing mod music without ever really feeling what made them tick. That is a very flat-sounding song, and that moment where they start to go NUTS over their instruments seems very tacked on. The B-side of that single, “Baby Love That Way” is even less distinctive. All I remember about it is a boring power chorus repeated a dozen times. Next!
“Can't Help Thinking About Me” was the very first song where David Bowie was known as David Bowie. (As you may or may not know, Davy Jones is also the name of the guy from The Monkees who was approximately 1,000,000,000 times more popular at the time.) That song also marks the moment when he decided to adopt more of a Brit-pop Kinksish tone with his songwriting, which is a lot more suitable to him! It's not a particularly great song, but I do enjoy listening to it.
At some point in 1966, Bowie and The Lower Third parted ways and he started a completely new band called The Buzz. Except he was releasing singles simply as David Bowie probably because The Buzz was a pretty terrible backing band, as you can witness for yourself in the thoroughly unremarkable “Do Anything You Say” and “Good Morning Girl.” So terrible, they were, that Bowie's manager replaced them with session musicians to record the final two songs on this compilation: “I Dig Everything” and “I'm Not Losing Sleep.” That's a good thing, because both of these songs are easily the best originals that this album has to offer. He seemed to be abandoning all of his earlier rock 'n' roll ambitions and trying out more straightforward pop music. They are both nicely written and even mildly memorable... Although they are also completely unoriginal. So, all they ended up achieving was yet another chapter in the tale of Bowie's failed singles.
This is definitely a nice collection for Bowie's avid fans who would find the idea of Bowie performing in all these mid-'60s bands to be a novel concept. Just realize that most of this material isn't particularly good. It took David Bowie a long time to mature as a songwriter... a VERY long time... Practically a century considering how quickly rock music was evolving back then.
Read the track reviews:
The Deram Anthology (1966-1968) (1997)
Album Score: 11
Here's a little trivia. This is the very first album that I ever reviewed. ...Well, not this album specifically, but it was the 1967 album titled David Bowie. All throughout that review I said that it was pretty dumb to own that album since you can own The Deram Anthology instead, which contains all of David Bowie plus a bunch of singles released at the time. So now, here I am finally rectifying my own hypocrisy and actually reviewing the Deram Anthology! Finally, the world can rest easy.
Truth be told, the best concentration of material on this collection is actually the stuff that appeared in David Bowie, so you're not missing out on that much. On the other hand, while you're out there collecting obscure David Bowie albums, you'd might as well be complete about it. At the very least, The Deram Anthology allows you to own a copy of “London Boys,” and you deserve a copy of that song. It is a true rarity in David Bowie's discography in that it's not only well-written with smart instrumentation, but he gives a truly gut-wrenching vocal performance through it. I think most of the world agrees that one of Bowie's greatest weaknesses was and how little he seemed to believe in the music he was singing. “London Boys” is an exception.
I think it's also safe to say that David Bowie finally figured out how to write consistently good songs. I already mentioned, at length, about how generally mediocre his songs were in Early On, but his songwriting skills have greatly improved by the time he was recording music for the Deram label. That said, he still couldn't come out with a hit to save his life! But he was making some noble stabs at it. And, truthfully, there's not a lot here that could legitimately overshadow the songs that were hits at the time. David Bowie was simply not cut-out to be a superstar in the 1960s.
He seemed to be very influenced by The Kinks at this point in his career, since most of this stuff fits comfortably in the brit-pop music-hall school, which was making the rounds in England at the time. “Rubber Band” is one of the more memorable songs here, a very goofy ditty featuring an intentionally melodramatic vocal performance, silly lyrics, and oompah tubas that keep a steady, marching beat. It's hardly a masterpiece or anything, but I enjoy the hell out of it all the same! “Uncle Arthur” is a very obvious stab at a quirky, Kinksian character study, but this is tons goofier than The Kinks ever were. (Poor Uncle Arthur is a man who keeps on trying to move out of his mother's house, but she keeps dragging him back!) Again, it's not a very “substantial” song, but it doesn't try to be. Really, if you've never heard these early Bowie songs you might be surprised at these attempts to turn himself into a novelty act!
“Love You Till Tuesday” is a surprisingly solid and engaging pop song where Bowie delivers a cute vocal melody and surprisingly sardonic lyrics. It sounds very dated; the instrumentation is quite cheesy. But I don't mind that at all. It's just a sweet little song. “There is a Happy Land” and “Sell Me a Coat” are both engaging ballads with sweet, child-like lyrics. “We are Hungry Men” is a toe-tapping song about a futuristic world where cities are so overpopulated that people have started to eat each other. (Ew!) “She Got Medals” is an enjoyable rip-off of “Hey Joe.” You can't go wrong ripping off that song.
And none of this stuff even vaguely resembles the stuff that he is most famous for. The obvious exception to that is an early version of “The Space Oddity,” which of course would eventually turn into his first big super-smash! He improved it much when he rerecorded it for a different label, but it's really cool to hear this earlier, and invariably dorkier, incarnation of it! I should also mention that The Deram Anthology also has a very silly children's song on it called “The Laughing Gnome,” which features a sped-up Chipmunk-style voice talking throughout it. It's a little bit annoying, but the song itself conjures a pretty cool '60s groove!
I had some pretty negative words to say about this release when I originally reviewed it. Needless to say, this cute album grew on me quite a lot over the years. I think a lot of my original distaste toward the album sprung from the fact that I hadn't listened to a whole lot of other cheesy '60s music music at the time, and so I couldn't quite appreciate where Bowie was coming from. Also, I thought that hating this album would make me “cool” across the Internet. But I have since realized that I can never be cool. I am the antithesis of David Bowie in that respect, since he looks cool no matter what he does.
Read the track reviews:
Space Oddity (1969)
Album Score: 11
After years and years of trying, he finally scored big with his outer space single “Space Oddity.” It didn't quite turn him into a household name, but people started to buy his records, which is certainly a step in the right direction for our dear friend David Bowie. (At the very least, he could stop doing that mime stuff, which is the only point in Bowie's unmatchably cool career that could legitimately be construed as uncool.)
“Space Oddity” is a great song, of course. This folky ballad does everything perfectly: The melody is catchy as all hell. Its concept about an astronaut deciding that he'd rather float around in space for the rest of his life than go back to earth is very dark and moving. The lush and orchestration instrumentation is full and sweeping without ever overdoing it. It's brilliant, and I love it no matter how many times I've heard it! It's a very serious song, which is a stark contrast from the silly children's songs he released in his debut album. (In a way, I wish that Bowie kept on writing silly music, because I adored the humor, but I guess you can't progress to become a major '70s star without getting SERIOUS.)
Unfortunately, Bowie still had a ways to go before he'd actually start writing consistently good songs. The song that comes after “Space Oddity” is an all-too-potent reminder of that! “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” is an overlong, boring jam-rock song from a backing band that was terrible at jamming. Making it worse is Bowie's lead vocals, which are way too high-pitched and wimpy for such music. So, he was a bit out of his league there. “Letter to Hermione” is a brief ballad, which is definitely more up his alley, but that's got to be the most dead-boring song of this whole album! A demo of it could have appeared on Early On, and I wouldn't have thought twice about it.
He makes for “Letter to Hermione” in a rather big way with a brilliantly engaging though extremely dated “An Occasional Dream.” That's not one of Bowie's more well-known songs, but I think some fans of Bowie's later works might be delightfully surprised with that one. Also, he does a shockingly convincing job channeling Dylan with the tuneful folk ballad “God Knows I'm Good.” Bowie isn't too well-known for writing lyrics that could be described as gut-wrenching, but he actually gets it there! This story about the poor shoplifter who gets caught and exclaims “God knows I'm good!” is among the more heartbreaking moments in Bowie's career.
There was a little bit of a tendency toward progressive rock all throughout this record, and the nine-minute epic “Cygnet Committee” was the most obvious example of that. Unfortunately, Bowie seems to prove that he wasn't really up to the challenge of that emerging genre. The song itself is very samey and boring, and (once again) the backing band is too uninteresting to come up with anything particularly worth hearing. The one thing that saves it is a vaguely interesting melody, and Bowie's tendency to throw some passion in his performance in the latter half. So, I can't claim that I ever get overly bored listening to it.
“Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” is a very lushly orchestrated song that's probably completely overblown, but I really like that song in spite of it! That seems much more like a successful example of that 'epic' thing he was going for in “Cygnet Committee,” except it's less than five minutes long! “Memory of a Free Festival” attempts the same thing, and nearly achieves it with that drunken chorus in its final half. But that song takes just a little too long to build up for my tastes.
This is certainly a strange little album, and it sounds nothing like anything else Bowie would ever again produce. (His follow-up album was a weird sort of acid-rock.) Although, this is actually an album I would recommend that you purchase for your collection at some point. Everybody needs a copy of “Space Oddity,” of course, but songs like “An Occasional Dream,” “God Knows I'm Good,” and “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” are quite good too! (I had a lot of negative things to say about an album that got such a high score! Well... despite it, I do think the good moments on this album greatly outweigh the bad!)
Read the track reviews:
The Man Who Sold the World (1971)
Album Score: 9
I might be the biggest David Bowie fan that the world has ever seen, but I've always had trouble liking The Man Who Sold the World. I actually like the two previous in his discography better even though this has much more in common with his classic period. David Bowie and Space Oddity were fun and diverse little pop albums. The Man Who Sold the World is a boring and confusing attempt to combine pop with heavy metal.
He at least had a proper guitarist to work with. Mick Ronson was brought on board to become the leader of what was to become the Spiders From Mars. Just compare any song on this album with “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed,” and you'll immediately notice that David Bowie's band can actually *rock out* instead of being boring and lame. So, it isn't the band's fault that The Man Who Sold the World blows; it's David Bowie's fault. (I think Bowie knew that it wasn't that good, which is why he wore a dress on the cover. Instant controversy! But seriously, the man does look great in that dress!)
The first thing to mention about this album's downfall is David Bowie's wimpy little voice. As you probably know, his voice can be terribly annoying, and that is more evident than ever with this album. Heavy metal requires a heavy voice. Bowie's little mousy duck quacks seem far out of their element as they try to wail over those heavily distorted guitars like that. Also, the songwriting is really dull here for the most part. There are a few terribly good riffs here and there; “The Width of a Circle” is a notably good, heavy riff. But as a whole, these songs just don't cut it. Many of them are paced terribly, and there are scant few engaging vocal melodies.
At the same time, this is a completely respectable album, and I'll venture to say that it's one-of-a-kind. Heavy metal music was all the rage in 1971, but where other than here can you find something like that weird Muppet chorus and the broken-down-carnival imagery of “After All?” How about the spooky apocalyptic backing vocals found in “The Supermen?” There's certainly a lot of creativity evident in this record. This might just be his most creative and original effort of all time! I just don't think that the creativity was directed in quite the right places.
The only song on this album that's anywhere up there with the best that David Bowie has ever done is the title track, which you probably know by heart already! Every time I listen to this album and that song pops up, it always strikes me as being out of place. The big reason for that is because the song completely rules whereas everything else doesn't. But it also has the distinction of being the album's only POP song, which is far more up his alley. There's a little bit of a twisted and dreary atmosphere to it, but its central rhythm is lighthearted and shuffly, and the main vocal melody is catchy as hell. That's definitely more along his lines, methinks, and his voice sounds better singing it, too.
As far as the hard-rock/heavy-metal stuff goes, it doesn't get any lamer than “She Shook Me Cold.” Sure, the band could sound really hard and evil, but that song is just one big bore from beginning to end. Ronson was an excellent guitarist, but he doesn't deliver anything of much interest there. Making it even worse is Bowie's main vocal melody, which is kinda dumb and he sounds ridiculous singing it. “All the Madmen” is a similarly dull song that didn't quite seem to have its head fastened squarely on its shoulder. I like the Medieval undertones of it, and I think it was on the verge of becoming something great and memorable, but it clearly missed the boat.
It might not have sounded like it, but this album has actually grown on me quite a lot over the years! I used to not be able to listen to anything on it apart from the infinitely cool title track. I've also come to respect a few of these songs a bit more, and I now even think that “After All” is an engaging enough of a ballad to count among Bowie's minor songs. But I still don't seem to be able to see eye-to-eye with listeners who claim to love this album to pieces. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to. This is one messy and confused album. The next one, on the other hand, is a freaking masterpiece! (Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch........ I'm getting ready for it!)
Read the track reviews:
Hunky Dory (1971)
Album Score: 13
David Bowie had found his groove. Or rather, he reinvented his old one. He threw away that weird heavy-metal/art-rock piddle he was messing around with in The Man Who Sold the World and returned to doing what he did best: pop music. In a big way, Hunky Dory marked his return to the music-hall of his debut album except these songs aren't nearly as silly. While, I do like silly music, it's OK that Bowie wanted to get more serious. After all, that was the way of the early '70s, and, besides, Bowie proves that he can write some pretty interesting philosophical lyrics!
Mick Ronson was still hanging around lending Bowie his wicked cool guitar licks, but you'd have to squint your ears to hear him sometimes. Since Bowie was going a more theatrical route, he had his pianist, Rick Wakeman, take the center stage. Of course, we all know who Rick Wakeman is! He has mad piano-playing skills! Just listen to Wakeman playing those big, dramatic arpeggios in “Life on Mars?” I don't know much about being an awesome piano player, but I can definitely envision something terribly cheesy and cheapish there. Instead, Wakeman gives us a piano that's rich, dazzling, and big! ...Of course, that's a great song for the melody too. Whenever that grandiose chorus pops up, it's like it launches my mind into outer space (where it belongs)!
Perhaps the most notable development is that Bowie finally figured out how to write consistent melodies. Not everything is a home run, but almost everything is. I already mentioned “Life on Mars?,” but get a load of “Changes.” That's a real corker of a song! It has a little bit of a lounge-jazz beginning, which is nice, but the main thing you're going to remember about it is that pop-rock chorus, which is so snappy and so much fun that it'll have you singing “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-CHANGES!” along with it quicker than I can change my underpants! (It takes me roughly 7.4 seconds.) “Oh! You Pretty Things” is a very similar song. It starts out with Bowie singing a nice though ultimately uninteresting melody... But then the chorus comes in, and it hits you over the head like a ton of marbles.
“Kooks” is the song that bears the most resemblance to his debut; it's a cute children's piece that he wrote for his kid. Lemme tell you, if that song showed up in the middle of that debut album, it would've outshone everything else in awesomeness. That's gotta be one of the most delightful songs that Bowie has ever written, and that melody is catchy as hell. It's usually not considered one of the “substantial” songs on this album, but I love it to death.
As far as masterpieces go, Bowie had another one with “Quicksand,” which has one of the most beautiful, free-flowing melodies imaginable. That's the sort of song that seems to draw me more and more into it the more it plays. I've got a somewhat short attention span, but when I'm listening to that song, those five minutes seems to go by too quickly. It's amazing. Once again, Wakeman clutters the song up very pleasantly with his awesome piano skills, and the sweeping string section seems to come in at just the right times and intensities without ever once coming off as schmaltzy. This, along with those frankly breathtaking philosophical lyrics, clearly makes this one of the best songs that Bowie has ever written. Except it's not as good as “Life on Mars.” I like sci-fi more than philosophy. Unfortunately, not everything here is an instant classic. “Bewlay Brothers” seems to be along similar lines as “Quicksand,” except it doesn't quite make it for me. While it draws me in, it doesn't catch fire as readily. “Eight Line Poem” is so boring that I'm not even going to mention it.
Bowie pays tribute to a lot of his heroes in the second half of the album, and I like all of those songs! “Andy Warhol” is a terribly creative art-rocker with a creepy beginning and some cool Spanish guitar. “Song for Bob Dylan” is a strikingly melodic, and Bowie does a nice job imitating Mr. Zimmerman's vocal styling. “Queen Bitch” is the Velvet Underground tribute—it's the only true rocker on this album, and whenever I listen to it, it's like I'm listening to the awesomest thing on the planet. How is that for praise?
Well, there's my review of Hunky Dory. As you could probably tell, I'm a big fan of it. This is such a cool album that it probably doesn't even know how cool it is. That's right. Hunky Dory is a sentient being with self-esteem issues.
Read the track reviews:
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)
Album Score: 15
Oh man... How many times have I listened to this album? If it were possible for me to know the answer to that question, I'm sure it would surprise me and not surprise me at the same time. I've listened to this album a lot. And you know what? Even as I hear the first inkling of that ultra-clean drum beat fade in of “Five Years,” I still get tremendously excited about it. This is Ziggy Stardust!
Yes sir, I have made it no secret over the years that this is my absolute favorite album of all time, and it has held that position ever since I first bought it in December 2001. The big reason that it has kept that distinction for so long is that I have never, ever grown tired of listening to it. I didn't tire of it when I listened to it at least five times a week in 2002, and I'm not tired of it as I'm listening to it right now. (I apologize that most of the main body of this review is going to be an autobiography. Considering that this is my favorite album of all time, I think I should probably explain myself a bit.) Thinking about it, years later, it's really no surprise why I made such a connection with this album. Previous to getting into rock music, I only listened to Broadway soundtracks. I also used to read a lot of books as a teenager, mostly classic sci-fi. So, you tell me: How was I not supposed to become an immediate fan of a theatrical concept album about a rock 'n' roll space alien?
It's a great album, too. I know that for a fact, because I'm not the only person in the world who loves it! (Sorry, but in this case, I think it's a good idea to consult the opinions of outside personages.) Simply put, this is fun. Pretty much every single one of these songs is insanely catchy, they're loaded with Bowie's twisted personality, and there's even a fair amount of diversity that helps keep the experience punchy. This music ain't particularly original—Bowie was a trend follower and little more, this time riding high on the glam bandwagon—but you can bet your britches that he did this sort of music better than anyone else out there. You see, Bowie might have been no genius, but he was talented and had insanely good taste.
And Bowie does the right thing and lets Mick Ronson jam out much more than he did on Hunky Dory. Ronson's shining moment here is that absolutely thunderous solo he rips out in “Moonage Daydream.” Oh man, if you're prone to air guitaring, you have a classic there. Probably the greatest pop song of the disc is “Starman,” which has such a catchy melody that it always seems fresh and exciting to me. “Suffragette City” is a major rabble-rousing rocker that'll have you barking the lyrics along with Bowie in no time. I even completely adore the epic way this album begins and ends. The apocalyptic opener, “Five Years,” starts things off on a convincingly ominous note, and then “Rock N' Roll Suicide” is the dramatic closer featuring Bowie singing “YOU'RE NOT ALONE!!!!” among other things at the top of his lungs. Man, it gets me every time. I also must give a shout-out to the title track, which is without a doubt one of the coolest ballads ever written in rock 'n' roll. That's all that needs to be said about it! (Of course, you can still read more about it and a bunch of other songs in the track reviews! You're probably going to have to!)
Oh, and that Elton-John-esque power ballad "Lady Stardust" is a perfect thing for you to crank up on your stereo and sing along with it as loudly as you possibly could. On first glance, a song like "Soul Love" might seem pretty insignificant, but you might be surprised at how quickly a song like that will creep up behind you and charm the pants off of you! I suppose this isn't a perfect album, though. Ziggy Stardust is probably really a 14 sort of album that I only raised to a 15 because I bloody love it so much. Truth be told, it does have flaws in it. "Star" is an entirely decent song, but it doesn't quite get the wholehearted glam going like such powerhouses as "Suffragette City" could, and it falls relatively flat. I also don't care a whole lot for the soul cover "It Ain't Easy" even though I like those thunderous drums.
I doubt that there are a whole lot of people out there who will like Ziggy Stardust as much as I do, so take this review for what it's worth. It's not a perfect album, but it's sparkly, it's tuneful, it's inventive, and it's 100 percent entertaining. If you're looking for a mightily entertaining album with a slew of catchy melodies and a variety of musical styles, then this is a great pick for you. If you're looking for something introspective and/or something that's pure rock 'n' roll, then go elsewhere! I think people who don't like this album so much are betrayed by either of those two things. But as a sci-fi nerd who also happens to have a deeply rooted appreciation for catchy show-tunes, this one hits my sweet spot.
Read the track reviews:
Aladdin Sane (1973)
Album Score: 13
Alright. I'll fess up. If I'm going to give a 13 to Aladdin Sane, then I'm a lad insane. Most reviews I read of this are lukewarm at best, but I swear, I can listen to this album and enjoy the freaking dickens out of it. Nonetheless, I can still agree with everyone who says that this is a weak sequel to Ziggy Stardust. It has nowhere near the level of bright songwriting, melodies, or the overall epic quality. At the same time, however, that album was a masterpiece, so there was still plenty of room for a weaker follow-up to still be considered 'great.' (Also, I'm a starry-eyed David Bowie fanboy who can't think straight. Heheheheeeeee!!!!)
This album features everything that makes David Bowie great: Fantastic melodies and that alien sparkle. There's still not a whole lot of originality on here. I'd say this is even less original than Ziggy Stardust since most of these songs can be pretty immediately classified as “lounge-jazz,” “show-tunes,” “R&B” or “ordinary hard rock.” But Bowie's able to add some sort of extra edge to them, turning what would have been an ordinary ditty into something worthy of blasting out of your stereo at a level much higher than your eardrums can handle. And I've done this plenty of times! ...I'll definitely remember that when I'm 60 and need hearing aids.
Though there's not really much use in comparing this album to Ziggy Stardust. They're very different records. Ziggy Stardust was much more of a pop album, and Aladdin Sane is more rock 'n' roll. And lemme just tell you that Bowie has never rocked this harder. You get an immediate inkling of this with the album opener, “Watch That Man,” surely one of the more butt-kicking moments of his career. That's one tremendously upbeat and exciting song, and listening to Bowie's utterly spirited singing with it is very much a joy to th' ears. He was still faaaar from the best singer of all rockkind, but he had well gauged his own strengths and weaknesses enough that he could sound pretty great singing a song like that.
Naturally, since this album so frequently rocks so hard, you can bet there's lots of Mick Ronson! Yup! And this dude is positively on fire. He gives some of his finest foot-tapping glam-crunches all throughout this record, and he's also able to completely rock out with tremendously cool guitar solos. ...Maybe Ronson's finest moment here is in “Panic in Detroit.” That seedy way he plays at the end of it perfectly illustrates the utter mayhem and ugliness of riots! (Not that I know anything about riots... Other than what I've seen in movies...)
Though I'd have to say that the ultimate highlight of this album doesn't rock very much at all. It is the title track, where Bowie adapts the persona of some sort of lounge lizard. That song features one of his more compelling vocal melodies, but the most important thing you're going to remember from the experience of listening to that song is that absolutely wild loungy piano. ...And, sorry Rick Wakeman fans, but that's Mike Garson playing there! (OK, Wakeman fans would probably have much preferred that he joined Yes in the early '70s instead of carrying on with David Bowie!) Really, it's quite a thing that Bowie found a cool pianist like Garson who could improvise wildly on his piano like that. I mean, it makes my day every time I hear it.
I haven't talked about the album's big hit yet, “Jean Genie.” Like many of these other songs, it's not original whatsoever. It's based on a fairly ordinary blues-riff. But with the help of an inspired melody and a backing band that totally kicks ass, it becomes one of the most freaking enjoyable things on the planet earth. ...Man, there are more positively good songs on this album that I'd like to talk about, and I could go on forever. But I won't. Except in the track reviews.
Another reason for this insanely high rating has to have resulted from the fact that I've listened to this about a billion times. I will admit that I had a difficult time enjoying this record when I first bought it. ...So, obviously, this album benefits over albums I review that have only gotten three or four listens. Then again, I suppose that shouldn't be a big surprise to you and hardly inconsistent with the rest of this page. You know exactly how much this page is filled with some of the most intense fan dribbling of all the Internet! You also know full well that I once drove 700 miles for the sole purpose of going to a David Bowie concert, and I still consider that to be one of the best things I have ever done. So, there you go. David Bowie rules, and Aladdin Sane is fantastic! Get it!!
Read the track reviews:
Pin Ups (1973)
Album Score: 10
The dreaded covers album! It also happens to be the single David Bowie studio release I listen to the least. Can you blame me? It has the least David Bowie on it! What's more, hearing him cover all these British Invasion songs give me flashbacks of Early On, which pretty conclusively proved that he didn't belong in that era. But anyway, this album exists, so I'm gonna review it! (It is my personal mission to review every single album that ever existed. I also would one day like to walk through walls.)
Maybe there was some sentiment going around in the mid-'70s that a lot of the great songs of the '60s were going to quickly fade with time. I don't know. But Bowie really had a soft-spot for them, and he was famous, so he decided that he would do history a favor and make an album full of glammified versions of these old songs so that everyone would remember. Although, if that was the actual point of this album, then why did he cover bands like Pink Floyd, The Kinks, The Who, The Pretty Things and The Yardbirds who were doing a pretty good job of preserving themselves? I dunno.
That Pink Floyd cover is something else, and it's interesting that Bowie would choose something so blatantly psychedelic amidst a sea of more ordinary R&B ditties. Lemme tell you, Bowie goes to town with that one, incorporating all sorts of interesting touches including a fruity harpsichord, classical strings, and a bit of Mike Garson's wild piano. I suppose they could have tightened this up a bit and tried to develop a slightly thicker atmosphere, but its flagrant wildness shan't go unnoticed. Bowie's vocal performance is even appealingly upbeat and fun, although unfortunately quite sloppy. Bowie was never a great singer, but he was always a capable one, and I'm a bit disappointed that he didn't appear to try a little harder.
Bowie's utterly messy vocal performances are usually the primary complaint I read about Pin Ups, and I tend to agree with that sentiment. Although I suppose his messy vocals are just an indication that he wanted this album to be nothing more than an avenue for him to have fun! Unlike any other album he did in the '70s, this is the only one that seems lighthearted and not supposed to be taken seriously. That said, if you're a Mick Ronson fan, you might be pretty pleased with his performances on here. He is fantastic! Just listen to how he turns The Kinks' great pop song “Where Have all the Good Times Gone” into a massively butt-kicking affair. I also like that that he turned The Who's “I Can't Explain” into a more darker and pounding song than the original knew how to be. I'm also shocked listening to “Anywhere, Anyhow, Anywhere” and how much Ronson's guitar and the pounding rhythm section reminds me of The Sex Pistols. No joke!
It's also interesting to hear Bowie cover The Yardbirds' “Shapes of Things,” since that appears to be the most Bowie-like song of the whole album. He sounds more at home singing that huge, soaring melody amidst those apocalyptic, militaristic drums than anything else here! It's quite a good song, too, and it might just end up making you want to hear some Yardbirds! Although the second Yardbirds cover he does, “I Wish You Would,” doesn't appear to have been such an interesting song in the first place, and this cover only subtracts the grit from the original. Ah, in the end, British Invasion ditties were pretty hit-or-miss, weren't they? I've also taken some time to listen to the original version of The Mojos' “Everything's Alright,” and noticed that the voice of their lead singer bears an awful resemblance to Bowie's. And his performance is about as sloppy, so at least Bowie did a nice job keeping with that song's spirit!
So, in the end, Pin Ups is just a toss-off, and not meant to be taken seriously. (And calling it a “toss-off” doesn't automatically translate to it being 'bad!') I would only recommend it to you if you have every other one of his albums, and you want your discography to be complete. I don't find a whole lot of reason to really listen to this a whole lot. But when I do, I'm usually quite amused with it. There are some fun covers in here, and it's rather joyous listening to Bowie sing like mad over them. Not great vocal performances, but remember, he only did this album for kicks.
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Diamond Dogs (1974)
Album Score: 12
David Bowie still had one foot firmly planted in the glam scene when he recorded Diamond Dogs, but he was looking to go in a slightly different direction. He could sense that glam would soon become un-hip, so he knew that he'd have to reinvent himself, or risk becoming a dinosaur. ...Soul and funk music happened to be undergoing something of a renaissance at the time, and it looked like Bowie was going to jump on the train. But he wasn't quite ready to go head-first in the genre. This would explain why this album has a great glam anthem “Rebel Rebel” on it as well as the groovy proto-disco “1984.” Both awesome in their own separate ways!
Oh, and I know that 1984 was, like, a long time ago, but that was the future in 1974. Ten years in the future, as a matter of fact. Bowie's original plan for this was to put on a stage musical based on George Orwell's novel. But his widower didn't want him to do it, or whatever, so Bowie took the songs he had already written and made them a part of his own twisted view of what the future might be like. ...And, geez, that guy had a creepy imagination! Luckily, the album cover gives us a warning of that, but rest assured nothing in this album is even remotely as disturbing than that shiver-up-the-spine image of Bowie morphed into a dog! (...Oh, and guess what? With this album, David Bowie had successfully predicted the mullet. Bowie's vision of 1984 kicked Orwell's ass.)
A lot of listeners cite Diamond Dogs as one of the best things that Bowie has ever done, but I'm gonna have to disagree with that sentiment slightly. Of course, this being classic Bowie, it's still pretty great and has a ton of excellent material on it, but other parts of this album seem to just draaaaaag. On one hand, there's the rollicking “Rebel Rebel,” which clearly has one of the finest riffs ever written in rock 'n' roll. On the other hand, there's the slow moving and uneventful ballad “We Are the Dead,” which is quite boring. Not that “We Are the Dead” is a terrible song; it scores points for its decent melody alone. But compared to Bowie's previous classic albums, it is a bit of a drag and rarely does anything to slap my face. C'mon, man! Aladdin Sane was slapping my face left and right!
I'm also not always thrilled over the “Sweet Thing,” “Candidate,” and “Sweet Thing (Reprise)” thread of songs. Of course, all three of them are quite good, and I like all the wicked and twisted things he does to the instrumentation throughout much of it. The melody is memorable, and it's quite easy to sing along with. Bowie's vocal performance is excellent as he seemed to be trying out soul on for size for the first time. But I've also got to say that he could have done something to punch that whole experience a little better. The ending of the first version of “Sweet Thing” is really soaring, and I definitely appreciate that! It just needed more moments like that throughout the song. A more thrilling rhythm wouldn't have hurt, or perhaps some uber-crazy surprises. As it stands, it's a tad flat.
I should talk a lot about how this album opens, because that's awesome. There's an opening monologue where Bowie delivers a campy speech about the grimy future amidst some creepy instrumentation. That's immediately followed by the thrilling title track, which, like “Rebel Rebel,” has a great riff. It's not quite as good, but it's still utterly catchy and powerful. ...Interestingly, Bowie plays the guitar himself through most of this album. He had parted ways with Mick Ronson, and didn't bother to replace him. But as it turns out, Ziggy is quite a good guitarist after all, and he probably never needed anyone else! But I also understand why he preferred to outsource it. Bowie might be good, but he's no Mick Ronson! I'm more impressed with Bowie's saxophone solos, whenever they come up. They're wild, weird and usually very melodic.
“Big Brother” isn't usually considered a highlight of this album, but I actually consider it to be pretty great. That druggy, glam rhythm is cool, the atmosphere is bizarre, and the melody is complex and 100 percent catchy. It draws me in from its first notes and takes me into its grasp never letting go. That song leads into the closing track, “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family.” It's about as goofy and hilarious as the song title leads you to believe... Basically, it's just a weird and bouncy groove that gets repeated for two minutes, until the tape gets stuck. Pretty cool effect!
As a concept album, I've gotta say that Diamond Dogs is far more intricate and well-thought out than Ziggy Stardust was. I really adore this album, and I sit through it quite a bit, but somehow I don't seem to be able to get 100 percent caught up with it as I would like. It has to do with the overabundance of relatively slow and uninteresting songs. But I guess it could also be that this album is too dang grimy for me!
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David Live (1974)
Album Score: 8
What a load of bollocks! My spell-checker claims that “bollocks” isn't a word, but I know for a fact that it is a word. And one of the reasons it was invented was to describe David Live, David Bowie's first official live album. This is so much BOLLOCKS that it lives and breathes the term! The prospect of David Bowie releasing a live album should have been a wonderful thing. He might not have been known for giving as great live concerts like Eric Clapton or The Who, but they were certainly pretty good, and of course a lot of fans flocked to see them. As a Bowie fan myself, I'd be greatly interested in hearing what the dude sounded like live.
But if he was going to release a live album, then why the hell did it have to be one from his 1974 tour right after retiring his Ziggy Stardust persona? I mean, at least release something with Mick Ronson on it! By far the worst thing about this live album was that Bowie was in the middle of trying to morph into his blue-eyed-soul “Thin White Duke” persona, but he didn't have too many soul songs in his back-catalog. He hadn't even released Young Americans yet. To compensate for that, he made the very misguided decision of transforming his old hits into soul ditties. The result is something akin to pissing on everything that made those songs great. Perhaps it not have been so bad if Bowie would have just sung these normally. I mean, he had a pretty terrible voice as it was, and the last thing he needed to do was to adopt these bizarre “soulful” intonations throughout. Not only does it sound very awkward most of the time, but it obscures the melodies!
I can't believe what he did to “Diamond Dogs.” It manages to be even murkier and more depressing than the original, and it doesn't have anything even close to its drive. It's just SCREWED UP! God, if that weak, mutilated version of the riff they try passing off isn't enough to make you want to blow your own head off, then your will-to-live is much stronger than most suicide hot-line operators'. Pathetic. I'm also quite miffed over this version of “Space Oddity.” It's one of the great space-folk songs of all time, and there's a “soulful” saxophone noodling all throughout it. Don't you see the problem? No wonder Major Tom didn't want to come back to Earth!
Ughhhh, and “Jean Genie.” What made Bowie think it was alright to sing the opening without the pounding riff playing as loudly as possible? And his new guitarist, Earl Slick, really blows at doing solos. I hate to say it—the dude seems pretty talented otherwise. But then again, can you blame him for botching the solos? Bowie himself had no idea what he was doing throughout most of this, so can't really blame Slick for not being able to gauge proper solos! I'm also confused why the saxophone is allowed to play some of the riffs that the much more powerful electric guitar did so well in their original incarnations. The saxophone destroys “Cracked Actor” by reducing it to a weak, weak little squeaky mouse whereas the original was such a spirited piece of Stonesy brilliance! (I know, that's David Sanborn playing there who is typically quite great, but ........ arrghhhh! I don't like listening to him here! Obviously, he was just as confused as everyone else.)
Maybe it's no real surprise that the main highlight of David Live is “Knock on Wood,” an actual soul song. I haven't listened to the original, but Bowie does a nice job keeping the swinging rhythm going, and his vocal performance is spirited enough to work. I should also point out that his Latin-esque treatment of “Aladdin Sane” is surprisingly good sort of in spite of itself. Otherwise, these new interpretations of the classics didn't work. That said, most of these songs were originally so good that it was close to impossible for Bowie to have completely ruined them. “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” "All the Young Dudes,” “Watch That Man,” and “Time” don't sound half bad even though their original versions are about a billion times better.
So, yeah, this is a pretty terrible live album for David Bowie. I'm not saying that he shouldn't have eventually released a live album from this era; I'm only saying that it shouldn't have been his first live album. He should have released Live at Santa Monica instead, and waited until 2008 to release this as an archival release. That way, he would have kept his 1974 fans from intense disappointment, and he would have pleased a select few of his weirdo fans leftover in 2008 who actually wanted to listen to what came out of his post-Ziggy tour. Of course, that wouldn't have made David Live suck any less; it would have reduced the album from being an outlandishly bad addition to his discography to a mild curiosity that people had almost forgotten about.
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Young Americans (1975)
Album Score: 10
Transformation complete. David Bowie the androgynous space alien had completely morphed into the blue-eyed soulster known to the world as The Thin White Duke. It's cool how Bowie was able to come up with so many awesome aliases, but when I take a listen to this album, I've gotta wonder: Why the did he ever want to go soul? I mean, he doesn't do anything particularly interesting with it. These are more or less straightforward songs. Two of them, “Fame” and the title track , are great of course, but the rest either can't seem to catch fire or they totally bomb. It's no wonder Bowie would start to undergo his next transformation immediately after this album's release! (Hey, you've got to give this guy a lot of credit for knowing when to bail out of sinking ships.)
But at least Young Americans did grant the world “Fame,” David Bowie's first #1 chart-topping single in the United States, and it continues to hold up well. It's hardly an original song; Carlos Alomar went on record saying that the lifted the riff from somewhere else. But, seriously, what a cool song! That riff is funky as all hell, and Bowie barking “Fame!” all throughout the running length quite engaging. The biggest surprise of them all is that one of this song's co-writers is John Lennon, who can also be heard on back-up vocals. Even 30+ year after-the-fact, the prospect of Bowie and Lennon collaborating still strikes me as weird. Aren't they completely different musicians? Anyway, “Fame” is a great song, and in my opinion singlehandedly makes Young Americans a worthwhile venture, overall.
But you also can't forget about the title track, which is equally as good. It's energetic, crunchy and absolutely fun from beginning to end. After sitting through the abysmal David Live, it's nice to find out that Bowie figured out how to sing a soul song! He gasps and grunts throughout the song stylishly while remembering to keep going with the main melody. And the main melody is pretty freaking catchy, too.
Unfortunately, there are other songs on Young Americans. They are generally so weak that you'd might as well not even listen to them. I mean, whenever I put on this album, I pretty much only listen to the two monster classics and forget about everything else! The second track “Win” is a dreary and hookless song that moves along at a snail's pace. It's devoid of anything resembling spunk or personality, which makes it entirely un-Bowie-like if you ask me. “Right” gets a nice little funk rhythm going, but it also strikes me as faceless and uninteresting. It's a dime-a-dozen bedroom-soul song from an artist who was way too talented for it. There's some nice drama going on with “Can You Hear Me,” but again, it's just so dull that I can't even remember it after it's through playing. ....And I've played this album a fair deal over the years! So, I say “meh” to these songs.
By far the weirdest moment of the album is the Pin Ups-style cover of The Beatles' “Across the Universe.” Before you throw accusations at Bowie for screwing up a Beatles classic, you're going to have to listen verrrrrrry closely to one of the back-up singers. Yes sir, that is John Lennon! Who the hell knows what compelled either of them to do this? This cover is so bad that it practically ridicules the original, and it also doesn't seem to belong on this otherwise extremely serious and polished album. .......I'm scratching my head!
Before this album review runs out, I feel that I must point out that listening to David Sanborn's saxophone noodling throughout the album is freaking fantastic. He's the only thing I pay attention to sometimes! I hated his saxophone playing in David Live, but here, he's noodling along most brilliantly! So, let us give kudos to that guy! (And I listened to a few of his solo albums a few years ago............... NOT HALF BAD, I TELLS YA!)
Young Americans probably deserves a 9 for all the boringness that it inflicted onto me over the years, but the title track and “Fame” are such explosive monster-classics that they redeem those boring moments. Then again, you can pretty easily get those two songs on a Greatest Hits compilation or on iTunes, which is what I'd recommend you do unless you're a discography collector. Even as a pretty rabid Bowie fan myself, I can only seem to make it to the middle of “Win” before I just skip down to “Fame.” ...So, this album isn't exactly getting my heartiest endorsement!
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Station to Station (1976)
Album Score: 14
It was as though the weakly blue-eyed soul guy from Young Americans suffered a heart attack and died, and then a mad scientist came along, stole his corpse, and turned him into Robocop. Except David Bowie doesn't fight crime; he sings rock music! (He could probably fight crime if he wanted to, though.) Station to Station is very much the same sort of funky R&B album that Young Americans was except this is far weirder. And when it comes to David Bowie, the weirder it gets the better. The beats are far more mechanical and European, the melodies are more distinctive, the atmospheres are thick and drugged up, and Bowie's vocal performances seem more natural and passionate. You know what else, the most important thing? This album absolutely rocks.
Yes sir, David Bowie had successfully taken R&B and melded it into his own twisted image, and the result is one of the most uninhibitedly enjoyable albums that I've ever had the pleasure of sitting through. And this is easily one of my favorite albums of all time to sit through. There are only six songs on here, meaning that most of them are insanely long, notably the 10-minute title track. But holy hell, all of these songs pick up so much incredible steam that they are unstoppable. Even the ballads. Not even Superman could stop these songs. I mean, Superman might have been able to reverse time by spinning the earth backwards, but he'd be powerless against the sheer rockin' power of Station to Station. (Superman probably would love this album, though. Logically, I would assume that Superman had super-good taste in music. He'd have no reason to stop it. Logically.)
The thought of listening to a 10-minute David Bowie song might be a harrowing idea when you first read about it. After all, the previous song he wrote that lasted about that long was “The Cygnet Committee” from Space Oddity, which I'm sure we all remember was charming but dull. ...However, “Station to Station” is the sort of song that draws you in right from the moment that stilted groove begins to play, and it doesn't let go until the fade out. The thematic idea of that song was (...wait for it...) trains; the track begins and ends with an extended soundbyte of a steam locomotive! But the groove itself, all chugging and mechanical, sounds like the R&B interpretation of that train. Cool idea!
“Golden Years” was the hit single, a song that Bowie had originally intended for Elvis Presley. But good thing The King didn't take it; he wouldn't have sounded quite as cool singing it as Bowie would have. (Not that Elvis wasn't cool; he just didn't have it in him to give it quite the extra-terrestrial kick.) Also, “Golden Years” is by far one of the hookiest songs that Bowie had ever done, so it's nice to hear it surface so predominately on one of his albums! “TVC 15” is another rabble rousing mechanical classic with bizarre lyrics about a television set gobbling somebody up. Who other than Bowie would sound convincing singing a song about that?. Bowie takes a moment to croon at us on “Word on a Wing,” but it's a different sort of crooning than Bing Crosby; it's more like crooning from a space-alien. I gotta assume a Roxy Music influence here! ...Yeah, these songs are pretty weird.
And the album ends with what's certainly his greatest cover of all time, “Wild is the Wind.” I had been listening to Station to Station for at least a couple of years before I even realized that was a cover! Bowie hadn't been very well known for his covers, but he treats this song as though it were his own. In keeping spirit with the rest of this album, he incorporates a mechanical drum beat and a drugged-up atmosphere, but .......... Wow. Bowie's vocal performance is so stop-dead-in-your-tracks fantastic that I can hardly believe it! By the end Bowie's singing so passionately and gut-wrenchingly that I can't help but feeling it right in the center of my chest cavity. I can't say that Bowie ever does that too often. He probably gave better vocal performances on “Heroes.” And also on “It's No Game (Pt. 1).” But that's about it.
Is Station to Station the greatest David Bowie album of all time? Nah, I don't think so. Give me Ziggy Stardust over this anytime of the week. If it's for no other reason, Ziggy Stardust was the more diverse and more joyous record. But I also don't hold it against people who think Station to Station is superior. After all, Bowie had a lot of great albums each of a vastly different species, and it's quite a chore for anyone to pick out a favorite. And then there are rumors that David Bowie was so hopped up on cocaine that he doesn't actually recall recording this album. If that's true, then this is a pretty glowing endorsement for cocaine!!!! ............But in all seriousness, don't do cocaine. It's bad.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 14
Well, we knew that Station to Station was leading up to something, right? David Bowie teamed up with Brian Eno, formerly of Roxy Music, and together they made an album that completely stripped Station to Station of its R&B elements and just kept the robotic beats and drugged-up atmospheres. The result was Low, one of the most fascinating albums ever released onto this universe of ours.
Low is split up into two separate parts. The first is a collection of dance songs, and the second is a collection of ambient instrumentals. The dance songs are my favorite, of course, since I like to pretend I know how to dance! Plus, these are some of the strangest dance songs that I've ever heard; they are drugged-up, have herky-jerky rhythms, and utilize infectious disco bass-lines. (Ah, sound like proto new romantic music to anyone else?) Not only are these songs hella fun to dance to, but they also have some of the catchiest melodies that Bowie had ever written. And that's really saying something.
The opening track is an instrumental although it's still 100 percent dance music. Man! That main melody delivered to us by that guitar is something that still manages to always get stuck in my head, and I like it. And that whooshy synthesizer bending down the entire time was nothing more than a stroke of genius. “Breaking Glass” is the first actual *song* of the album, and doncha just love Bowie's ultra-cold and emotionless delivery that emphasizes the lower range of his vocal chords? Well... Bowie's always had trouble expressing emotion with his voice, so now that he's trying hard not to, he sounds cooler than ever! “Sound and Vision” is probably the most celebrated song of Low, and that's for good reason: It's freaking catchy. And how did they come out with that hi-hat sound? It sounds like someone keeps spilling a bag of sand! Man... “Be My Wife,” “Breaking Glass,” and “Always Crashing in the Same Car” are also terribly infectious and fun to listen to. You can tell how good an album is if I don't go into detail discussing some of the songs in the main portion of the review, but it seems like I should!
My only gripe, and it's a very minor one, has to do with the creepy ambient stuff on the second half. In keeping up with the cold and lonely feeling of the dance portion of the album, these are some very cold and lonely instrumentals! Thus, if you're one who is easy to get depressed and doesn't particularly like being depressed, then I wouldn't be surprised if you generate some sort of aversion to these songs. But if you're like me and like to get down on yourself sometimes, then these might be just the ticket for you! While I find these instrumentals to be more fascinating than not, they do occasionally strike me as dull.
“Art Decade” is very slow moving and I can't honestly say that it puts stark images in my mind like I believe a song like that is supposed to. Also, “Subterraneans” gets rather dull as well. On the other hand, I've rarely felt the longing desperation that they've managed to conjure for “Warszawa.” Whew! That's one heavy-handed experience! It's probably slightly unfair of me to be so down on these songs, since one of the reasons I do it is because I know as a stone-cold fact that they greatly improved the ambient stuff for the follow-up album, "Heroes". But anyway, these are still great ambient songs. Easily the nicest thing about them is that they're filled with melody. Whether it is a dirty guitar noodling around moodily, towering chords playing starkly, squeaky synthesizers bending around as though they're talking to us, or Bowie's lyricless vocals, they are delivering an interesting melody. And that's just awesome.
Low was an influential album, too, and it once again thrust Bowie onto the forefront of pop-music evolution. I'm told that the ultra-clean drum thwops featured throughout this record ended up inspiring that trend musicians had in the '80s of making their drums REALLY LOUD! ...Well, maybe that wasn't such a great thing, but at least you can say that it seemed like a great idea right here at its inception. That drumbeat played an integral part in creating these drugged-up atmospheres, after all. Plus, Bowie helped start the whole trend of singing coldly and without emotion, which of course everyone did in the '80s. Again, maybe that wasn't a good thing, but he certainly sounds cool doing it here. All in all, Low is a massive classic. Not only did it inspire an entire generation of musicians and listeners, but it's also one hell of an entertaining record.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 14
David Bowie was never one to repeat himself, but he did like to make sequels. That's why, just like Low, half of this album consists of drugged-up dance tunes and the other half is anguished instrumentals. The main difference is that everything here is lusher and more atmospheric. For my money, this marks an improvement over Low. If Low was an empty mansion, “Heroes” is the same mansion with a lot of decoration in it. Maybe there are some interior decorators out there who think these guys gave it more decoration than it needed. But I happen to like the decoration!
Also unlike Low, this is the album with “Heroes” in it, which is clearly one of the greatest songs ever written. Pretty much everything about that song is brilliant. Bowie's main melody is rather simple and catchy, but it's powerful and makes plenty of room for Brian Eno's electronic fireworks for the instrumentation. These guys somehow managed to maintain a drugged up atmosphere while continuing to keep the overall experience upbeat and accessible. That's probably more difficult than it seems! But the star of this show has to be the lyrics and Bowie's vocal performance. (And you should realize that singling out lyrics and vocal performances for a David Bowie song is exceptionally rare.) His lyrics about a pair trying to maintain love across the Berlin Wall has a tendency to hit me square in my soul, and he sings it as though he was experiencing it himself. It's romantic in a very dark and twisted way. I like it.
Even though everything else on this album isn't “Heroes,” they all happen to rule quite mercilessly on their own. The two opening tracks “Beauty and the Beast” and “Joe the Lion” are some of the catchiest and most danceable tunes that Bowie had ever come up with. These are the sorts of songs that are infectious enough to have worked perfectly well on the disco floor back in 1977, but artsy-fartsy enough that you don't have to feel like a dope for listening to it. Maybe they were too short and complex to have been a hit with the mainstream crowd (and they weren't very popular as far as I can tell), but at least us music geeks know of their appeal.
The whole Berlin connection doesn't just end with the title track. The four-track instrumental suite in the second half of the album amazingly chronicles what Berlin was like when World War II began up until the start of the Cold War. That's quite an amazing feat. The first track, “V-2 Schneider,” gives off a real optimistic feeling to it with military drums and subtle hints of airplanes taking off. “Sense of Doubt” is post-war feeling with Berlin lifeless and in ruins. “Moss Garden” shows the town slowly coming back to life, and “Neukoln” depicts the distinctly ugly and seedy Cold War period. It seems that most people who don't care much for this album cite these instrumentals as the main reason why, but I swear these are the most fascinating pieces of the album (apart from the title track, which is also about Berlin). They're so freaking descriptive and emotional! Plus, they're very brief, normally around four minutes long, and not boring whatsoever. (Then again, realize that I'm coming from the perspective of listening to a lot of this sort of music. I've sat through about 10 Klaus Schulze albums, and only God knows why.)
The weaker songs of the album are surely the other dance songs that I haven't mentioned yet. “Blackout” is a great portrayal of madness and paranoia. Perhaps it's just a little too effective at it since it's not particularly pleasurable to listen to! (Of course it still earns an A for the disco beat and infectious bass line alone.) “Sons of the Silent Age” is easily the most bizarre track of the lot, and it's very difficult to get into. But I've come around to appreciate how freaking spaced-out the thing is. Some listeners have felt slightly betrayed by the album closer, “The Secret Life of Arabia,” which is a strangely upbeat and straightforward ditty compared to the emotionally anguished tracks that proceeded it. But I'm an American, and I like a happy ending. Plus, it's another great disco dance song for your friends to dance to.
Of all the Berlin Trilogy I've got to assume that Low was the more influential album for the '80s since it sported a distinct new romantic flavor. However, I'm sure that the lush feeling of this album had a profound influence on acts like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush who embarked on similar things in the '80s. Of course, those two completely rule, so if they were in anyway inspired by “Heroes”, then there's another reason that I'm utterly indebted to it.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 11
This actually sounds like a solid, competent live album, which means that this is the biggest step-up imaginable from that curious debacle Live, released four years earlier. At the same time, you realize that this is live David Bowie who was predominantly a studio musician and pretty much planned his concerts to the note, so he doesn't jam out or anything. There's nothing more that you'd possibly get out of here that you couldn't get better out of the meticulously produced studio albums. ...But pretty much everyone realizes that, so if you're a big David Bowie fan, and you want to hear stripped-down (and perhaps even more accessible) versions of his work, then you'd be pretty well-advised to take a look at Stage. It ain't half bad.
It made sense to start the album out with the instrumental “Warsazawa,” because it was pretty stripped-down in the first place, and it gave Bowie the opportunity to give a huge, dramatic entrance. I don't get nearly the same feeling of desperate isolation when I listen to this version (mostly because I hear an audience cheering), but at least it's well-written and has a memorable theme.
After that, he launches into his song of the hour, “Heroes.” Right away, it's evident that Bowie wasn't even trying to give it the same sort of drama and passion as he did in the studio. He gives a nice vocal performance, surely, but it comes off as lightweight and casual. The instrumentation is very stripped down, and almost seems trashy at times. (Spread out through this album, I occasionally hear drum crack that sounds like a whip. Cool sound, but it's also quite corny.) On the other hand, it's great that Bowie didn't take himself so seriously. Many other artists at the time come off as pretentious in the live setting (*cou—BillyJoel—gh*), but Bowie seems only to want to give his audience music they can dance to. This was smack dab in the middle of the disco era, so he was pandering well!
But not all of this is danceable. Since this was done in the wake of Low's and “Heroes”'s release, you can expect that Bowie might want to cover some of the instrumentals. I already mentioned that having “Warsazawa” at the beginning was cool just as entrance music, but I seriously wonder why he even bothered with the others. The live musicians are fine, but they don't come off especially impressive, and they treat it as though they're going through the motions instead of trying to absorb us in a hugely mind-altering soundscape. ...Man, I wonder if he would have just been better off just playing the album and having some sort of laser show!
He also has this somewhat annoying tendency to lump songs from the same album together. All the Ziggy Stardust songs are tracks 11-15, and the Station to Station songs are tracks 17-20. It's not a huge criticism of the album, but hearing them lumped together like that only serves to make me want to turn this lightweight live album off and listen to the original albums! ...That said, putting all the Station to Station songs at the end were kind of cool, since they were the most obviously danceable ones. I guess since this is basically a dance album, you'd as well put all the best DANCE songs at the end.
Like the vast majority of live albums on the planet, its only purpose is to serve as a document of an artists' live performances at the time. So, anyone who wants to hear what his stage shows were like in 1978, then step on board! More than that, Stage would be a good pick for fans who have listened to his albums so dang much that they want to hear them done differently for a change. Stage might not be better, but these casually presented songs are, without a doubt, different. Most of all, this is just a fun album to sit through, which is a helluva lot more than I could say for that rancid Live. As a huge Bowie fan, I am glad that I have this live album. I find myself putting it on from time to time.
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Album Score: 12
The third album in the Berlin Trilogy is perhaps the most controversial. Bowie and Eno no longer seemed to be interested in creating these texturally rich synthscapes as they had before; rather, all 10 of these tracks are more or less art-house dance songs. The duo apparently still wanted to experiment hence every single one of these songs sound like they are on drugs. The melodies are weird, the instrumentation is weirder, and Bowie's singing sounds crazed and paranoid. (He even freaked out the entire USA by performing this material on an episode on Saturday Night Live! Although I think people watching it were probably more freaked out over the dress and earrings he was wearing.)
The first time I heard Lodger, I was not a big fan of it. The one quality that Bowie was almost always good for in his previous albums and most of his later ones was writing accessible music. While this album is surely more accessible than Captain Beefhheart's Trout Mask Replica, I found it pretty difficult to wrap my mind around. Much of the music on Lodger is off-the-wall, obscure, and even occasionally ugly. But, after awhile as I listened to it more and more, these dang messed-up songs eventually grew on me. (And I think my mind got warped in the process.)
The first half of the album contains what's easily the weirdest and least accessible songs. It also seems to be a mini, loose concept album about sailing around to Africa and Turkey (on drugs). It opens with “Fantastic Voyage,” a catchy if somewhat off-puttingly lethargic song that gets you right into that drug-induced haze. If you're listening to Lodger for the first time, and you find that song a little too freaky, then I would press “stop” on your music player, because your brain might explode if you dare to listen to anything else on here.
The second song “African Night Flight,” a bizarre, rhythmic sound-effects driven piece that might very well illustrate what it's like to overdose on cocaine. The interesting thing there, in a historical point of view, Bowie seems to quasi-rap there. He's just muttering off the lyrics because he's freaking out too much to sing properly, but people who like to say that Bowie was on the forefront of many musical movements like to add “rap” to the list as well. I personally wouldn't put Bowie on the forefront of rap music, since I haven't heard anyone rap like that since, but it's interesting all the same. The hookiest song of the first half is the funny blend of electronica and Middle Eastern music “Yassassin (Turkish For Long Live).” All I care to say about that is listening to those drunk, bendy synthesizers is intoxicating, and Bowie's come up with a pretty dang memorable melody.
The second half contains all the songs that anybody actually remembers from Lodger. “DJ” is the drugged-up disco track that goes “I am the DJ, I am what I play!” Like most of the stuff from the first half, it's crazed and bizarre and a little difficult to get into, but I find that cliché disco rhythm and the drugged-up atmosphere enticing. “Look Back in Anger” is another one of the more celebrated songs here, and that's for good reason; it has a menacing rhythm and atmosphere, Bowie's vocal performance is amazingly paranoid! “Boys Keep Swinging” is my personal favorite probably because it has one of the most normal/accessible melodies of the lot. But that also has an interesting, drug-induced atmosphere to rival anything else here. And, yes, it's a great song to dance to!
“Repetition” is an interesting song that's characterized by an extremely repetitive guitar that sounds like a cross between a rubber band and a bullfrog. Bowie's monotonous recitation of the lyrics are also pretty entertaining as he details the mundane events of a guy who's bored with life. “Red Sails” is only interesting because has the exact same backing music as “Sister Midnight” from Iggy Pop's The Idiot. Of course, Bowie wrote the music for that album, but why recycle it?
For Bowie fans, this album seems to be strictly love-it-or-hate-it. On one hand, the danciness and drugginess of this album are great. On the other hand, this album is frequently so freaky that it can hardly contain itself. Perhaps the most rational stance is to remain on the fence about it. Lodger is certainly way too interesting and artistic to dismiss it, but sometimes it goes overboard. What's more, Bowie's written much better melodies. So, there's Lodger for you. Make it one of the last classic Bowie albums you purchase, but do purchase it eventually.
Read the track reviews:
Scary Monsters (1980)
Album Score: 13
What an album this is, and I guarantee that you've never heard anything like it. This can be classified as new-wave pop, but it's so seedy, drugged-up, and insane that it might have you gasping for air. (Well, this is tame compared to Pere Ubu of course, so I guess it depends on what you've been exposed to!) Naturally, this being Bowie, he makes everything perfectly accessible to average listeners. Many of these songs even had their place on the radio in its time, as I'm sure many people who grew up in the early '80s know “Ashes to Ashes” by heart.
The album opens with “It's No Game (Part 1)” featuring one of Bowie's greatest vocal performances to date with the most terrifying, paranoid scream-singing that he could possibly muster. All of that is put to a heavy beat, drunken disco bass, and a detached and seedy electric guitar that seems to be striking a balance between grooving and making cat screeches. I know that might sound positively awful to you, but I swear it sounds awesome. That guitar is played by former King Crimson member Robert Fripp, and it runs throughout the entire first half. He's so good that he deserves an Academy Award for best supporting actor.
Fripp pretty much stole the show in “Fashion;” his desperate, attention-starved guitar is the only thing that gives the song personality amidst that cold disco synthesizer and Bowie's intentionally emotionless singing. The vocals and the slick groove take care of the gloss and polish on the outside of the fashion world, but Fripp shows us what everyone's thinking. I used to not care a whole lot about “Fashion,” but now I think it's the coolest thing around. It's exactly what I have in my mind when I think of fashion type thingies..... which isn't too often, but it happens.
The title track is also excessively cool with its menacing industrial rhythm, a catchy melody, and more of Fripp's electric guitar. You should especially check out his crazy, scaling solo at the end of it. Sure, it would have been an excellent dance song without the guitar and I would have liked it, but it wouldn't have had nearly as much soul without it. Man... I could spend all evening gushing over Robert Fripp! But I probably have better things to be getting on with.
Let's talk about “Ashes to Ashes” since that's the song everyone seems to love the most out of Scary Monsters. And why shouldn't they? It is excellent with those bouncy keyboards, detached rhythm, and one of the most hopelessly catchy melodies ever unleashed onto mankind. Lyrically (you probably know this already) it is the sequel of Bowie's 1969 breakthrough hit “Space Oddity.” I guess Bowie must have been feeling guilty for leaving old Major Tom in space for so long! Really, I adore the first five songs of Scary Monsters more than I adore pretty much anything. I didn't talk about “Up the Hill Backwards,” but rest assured that's great, also.
Unfortunately Bowie loses much of his luster in the remaining five songs. “Teenage Wildlife” is entertaining with a nice 'n' crunchy drums and guitars, but it seems so tame compared to the first five that it only suffers in comparison. “Scream Like a Baby” has a nicely done, seedy atmosphere, but it's melody is pretty terrible. The lowest point of the album has got to be “Kingdom Come,” which sports a terribly over-the-top vocal performance. He sounds like he's on drugs throughout this entire album, and he's usually awesome at it, but not so much there.
Despite the weak second half (which still contains good to excellent songs for the most part), Scary Monsters continues to thrive today as one of Bowie's most popular albums. For most Bowie fans, it is a perfect combination of his artsy-fartsy Berlin Trilogy albums and his straightforward pop classic of 1983, Let's Dance. While I'll take the Berlin Trilogy over Scary Monsters anytime, I'll agree that this is one hell of an entertaining record.
Read the track reviews:
Let's Dance (1983)
Album Score: 11
After a three year break from making music, Bowie decided that it was time for a big change. He bleached his hair blonde, put on a yuppie outfit, and wrote music that pandered to a wide international audience like he'd never done before. The result was Let's Dance, his biggest seller of all time. Its title track even hit #1 on the Billboard charts for a week, which was considered quite an accomplishment in the '80s.
Yes, he completely threw his artistic ambitions out the window; Let's Dance isn't interesting to my “art-loving brain” at all. This is an air-headed '80s pop album and little more. However, considering the first three songs on it totally kick ass, I think we all can forgive him. I'm sure most of you reading this either know these songs by heart or well enough to at least know what I'm talking about. But in case you forgot, here they are: “Modern Love!” “China Girl!” “Let's Dance!” There are five other songs on this album, and they suck my butt, but we're not going to talk about those. The three monster classics are loaded at the beginning, and it's pretty easy to forget the other ones exist. So, screw 'em.
“Modern Love” rules! You'll know that about it right away the moment those awesome, muted riki-tiki-tiki-tiki sounds make their way into your ear canal. But don't turn the volume up on your speaker too high, because it won't be long before those huge stadium drums start blasting away like Greek gods playing with thunder. Not that I'm usually a fan of loud, '80s style stadium drums, but when it's done in a danceable fashion to a catchy riff, it can be extremely fun. Bowie's singing is done with gusto, too, even though the lyrics make no sense to me. Lyrics aside, I love listening to every second of it. I love getting it stuck in my head, and it even makes me want to dance. I mean, seriously makes me want to dance. I'm not a dancey sort of person.
Perhaps the song people remember the most from Let's Dance is “China Girl,” which Bowie had co-written earlier with Iggy Pop for 1977's The Idiot. I can't say for certain which is better, but this '80s dance slicked-up version is just about the coolest, suavest moment of Bowie's career. The Oriental-esque riff is memorable and so is the main vocal melody, which Bowie sings with the smoothest, deepest vocals that he was able to muster. That's an awesome singing voice.
While “China Girl” might be the most well-known cut from this album today (probably thanks to Adam Sandler), it was the title track that made the hugest splash at the time being the fourth best selling single of 1983. And why shouldn't the gum-popping teenagers have bought it in droves? The moment it starts playing, I want to do nothing else but get up from my chair and dance! ...Of course I never actually dance to it, because as I said earlier I'm not a dancey sort of person, but I'm dancing to it in spirit. If I listen to it when I'm walking around outdoors with my iPod, I pick up my step a notch! My only beef with that song is it's wayyyyy too long at 7 and a half minutes. The four-minute radio edit, however, cuts the fat beautifully.
The rift in quality between that trio of golden pop masterpieces to the remaining five songs is so great that it's almost hard to believe. I've listened to this album all the way through probably 30 times in my entire life, and I'm still crapping my pants over it. I will say that some people rather like “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” and I'll concede that it's OK. But even then, I find zero urge to dance to it. It's not interesting at all in the artistic sense, so it's just an ordinary, forgettable '80s pop song in the end. You can read about what I think of the other songs in the track reviews, but I warn you that they're pretty grim. He should have known better.
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Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (1983)
Album Score: 13
Here is the David Bowie live album to own if you only own one (which might be a good idea). Nowhere else will you find him so energized and so completely rude. As you might have so cleverly deduced from the album title, this concert was recorded for a movie, which I had seen quite awhile ago. (I remember specifically that I hadn't even yet acquired Aladdin Sane when I saw the film, which was the album Bowie was supporting at the time of this concert.) My recollections of the movie is that it was quite an amazing thing; even before I was a complete Bowie fanatic, I recognized it as one of the finer video rock 'n' roll video documents ever released. With that said, I remember criticizing it at the time for its footage, which seemed rather grainy, but in retrospect, I would rethink that to say that its rough and grainy quality was just about right for it. It matches the rough and grainy quality to the music exceedingly well!
Bowie was of course the star of the show, but it was the lead guitarist, Mick Ronson, who gave it its personality. He plays with so much raunchy verve that it might make you soil your pants if you aren't being careful enough. Sure, he was playing quite roughly and obnoxiously throughout Ziggy Stardust, but multiply that by a factor of six to get a general idea of what to expect here. Bowie also does what he can to trash things up heartily, but I always get the impression that it was Ronson who he was trying desperately to catch up with.
For that reason, they knock "Moonage Daydream" so much out of the ballpark that it landed in the ballpark of a neighboring state. Ronson of course had a great guitar part in the studio cut, but here, the whole thing's utterly coked up; all those rough screechy, scratchy, and sireny noises he makes is out of this world. I especially adore the powerful way they treat that descending chord progression at the end of the song where its rhythm section pounding is away so loudly that it hurts; it's like they were playing as though it were the end of the world.
And perhaps it was the end of the world for these guys, in a way. At nearly the end of this album, an out-of-breath Bowie, announces to his audience that this was the last show that they would ever do. I gotta say, the teenaged audience's reaction to that is pretty entertaining; they sound as though Bowie had just collectively punched them in the gut. Though truth be told, I probably would have screamed out in agony if I were a teenager at the show. It's the sort of thing that teenagers do.
I can also tell the audience were quite a young and unruly bunch when Bowie tries to shut them up when he attempts to perform a "respectable" song, a cover of Jacques Brel's "My Death." Anyone who knows Brel's work knows that he is melodramatic as hell, but that isn't necessarily a bad fit for Bowie's style. However, I'll admit that having such a song in this performance interrupted its rock 'n' roll flow. Another disappointingly lifeless spot is the moment he pulls out "The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud," weirdly enough. Though, fortunately it's just a snippet of it, and it ends up leading into a raucous chorus of "All the Young Dudes," which is a song he had written for Mott the Hoople.
There are a few moments on this disc that, despite all my fan-worshipping of it earlier, Mick Ronson's ultra sloppy guitar just seems too much. For example, he makes all sorts of screechy and scratchy noises throughout “Cracked Actor,” even though I think that song would have been far better served had he concentrated more on beefing up its rhythm section! On the other hand, Ronson was completely genius on "Space Oddity." Natrually, they didn't have the ability to bring in the score of Mellotrons needed to recreate that space launching sound from the original, but they had Ronson there to create such an effect with his amazingly thick and textured guitar! How he was able to do such a thing, might not even be human, which I suppose is the reason everyone said he was from Mars. Those high-pitched, acid-triply, wobbly sounds he makes at the beginning of the song is just the ticket as well.
Well. I could write about this live album forever it seems, and there is so much more for me to talk about! After all, a double album like this has a lot of moments on it. If anything, it makes me want to go see that concert film again, which I'm almost positive I would enjoy more now than I did when I actually watched it, which must have been sometime in the summer of 2002. Without any more thought of the matter, of Bowie's earlier official live releases—such as David Live and Stage—they didn't exactly show Bowie to be much of a live artist. I get the complete opposite impression when I listen to Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture. If you like rude and energetic live albums, whether you're a fan of David Bowie or not, I highly recommend this album.
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Album Score: 9
David Bowie scored it big with his 1983 pop classic Let's Dance, and he released this follow-up just one year later presumably in hopes to continue riding out that wave of success. He didn't work very much on this album, however, and it shows. It contains no more than two good songs, and the rest are pretty much forgettable.
But I did say there were two good songs, and boy are they GOOD! “Loving the Alien” opens the album, and it is a rather glorious seven-minute synthesizer symphony! It might have been good to shave off the running time by a minute or so and tighten it up, but never mind; I can listen to it and be completely transfixed by it. It has all the makings of a good Bowie tune: it has a catchy melody, an overblown vocal performance that's fun to sing along with, and I can sense quite a bit of friendly weirdness lurking behind it. It's a clever song, it's a fun song, and it's verrrrry '80s (some of us like that sort of thing). All in all, it's a good reason to own Tonight.
Another good reason to own Tonight is an industrial dance ditty by the name of “Blue Jean.” I like that rhythm because it is mesmerizing and it contains some great crunchy saxophones. Most importantly, the melody is catchy, and catchiness is all I want in my pop songs, dang it! I also have to give Bowie credit for another good vocal performance that starts to turn into scream-singing at the end, and appropriately so, since the lyrics pertain to unrequited love.
Everything else pretty much sounds like he was trying to emulate a cheap Vegas act. “Don't Look Down” is a cover of a pretty decent Iggy Pop song, but instead of turning it into an awesome pop song like he did with “China Girl,” he turned it into a cheapo adult-contemporary/reggae hybrid fully equipped with bedroom soul saxophones, plastic synthscapes, and a boring lounge jazz vocal performance. Blech! His cover of The Beach Boys' classic “God Only Knows” is completely butchered and overblown. Of course that was such a great song that even Bowie's cheap Vegasfied rendition could not destroy it, and I admit that I have a rather fun time listening to it, whether that's for good reason or not. But surely that's more evidence that this guy was just lazy, and here at Don Ignacio's Music Reviews, we do not condone laziness.
“Tonight” is another Iggy Pop cover he tried to turn into an adult contemporary/reggae hybrid, although that one seemed a little more appropriate for such treatment. It has an OK tune, but the lackluster singing and instrumentation undermines the effort. He brought in Tina Turner, of all people, to sing back-up vocals, but he might as well have brought in Carrot Top for all the good it did. She's only singing at 1/5th of her capacity deeply in the background. What's the point? Maybe he just wanted to get a close up look of her legs!
Interestingly, despite this being the direct follow-up of Let's Dance, there aren't very many straightforward dance tunes in here! Maybe the closest this album has is “Tumble and Twirl,” but that's rather dark with a weak melody, and it still gives me visions of a cheap night in Vegas. “I Keep Forgetting” is a cover of an old R&B tune, and it's cheap, but not terrible. If Elvis hung around in the '80s I could picture him doing something like that. In Vegas.
Aw, Bowie was obviously trying too hard to be a huge pop star like Michael Jackson and Madonna. I guess it was working for the most part, because he was selling these albums like hotcakes! But Bowie rather forgot that just because '80s teenagers were bubble-gum-popping ditzes, they'd still prefer that albums be solidly good instead of just having two good songs on it. Had he worked harder to better develop the supporting material, he might have had a pop classic on his hands that would have resonated through the ages. Instead, this is usually considered the lowest point of Bowie's career.
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Absolute Beginners (1986)
Album Score: 14
The 1986 rock and jazz musical Absolute Beginners, directed by Julien Temple, was a commercial bomb, and it never even received a proper cult following. It's been awhile since I've seen it myself (I rented it on a VHS tape), but I remember that it was an enjoyable, energetic, and offbeat film that blows the pants off of most other rock musicals I've seen. I found the plot to be a bit confusing, but compared to the film adaptation of Tommy, it's as straightforward as a Lifetime Original Movie. Plus, it starred David Bowie in a prominent supporting role, which is precisely why I'm talking about this in the context of his discography. However, he hadn't much to do with this soundtrack other than penning and performing a few songs. Also in the cast, amazingly enough, was Sade and Ray Davies (!!!), each of whom contributed one song each.
Bowie, on the other hand, contributed three songs, which was why he was way more awesome than those two. However, I shouldn't get too excited about Bowie's presence on this album, because one of these songs, “Volare,” he didn't actually write, and the other song , “That's Motivation,” isn't terribly interesting without the imagery of the scene to look at. That leaves only one original Bowie composition on here that's worth its weight in gold, and that's the title track.
Bowie had released “Absolute Beginners” as a single at the time, and it bombed commercially just as the movie did. However, I've always thought that song should be just as widely loved as Bowie's other classics from the era, right alongside “China Girl” and “Ashes to Ashes.” It is such a sweet and sincere song with such romantically heartfelt lyrics and a catchy tune that I can't understand what was preventing those hairspray ridden teenagers from going out and buying it. I mean, these were the same people who had recently bought “Sussudio,” weren't they? Most importantly, the song has that distinctly alien David Bowie vibe, so you can bet it makes a pretty freaking awesome listen. I suppose its one turn-off was that it wasn't really a dance tune. It's paced similarly to “Heroes,” and it also happens that the strange romantic vibe I get from the lyrical matter is quite similar to “Heroes.” Naturally, the instrumentation is entirely streamlined for an '80s pop audience, but that was never a turn-off for me since I eat '80s pop music for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I know it's hard to believe, but there are a lot of other songs on this disc, and I should probably start talking about them before I die. Some of you might be wondering about the Ray Davies song, and to my delight, it actually sounds like a classic Kinks song. That is strange considering that the actual Kinks sounded nothing like that in the '80s. It's not quite as classic as The Village Green Preservation Society, but it's right out of Everybody's in Showbiz. Even the lyrical matter, about a middle class family man who likes to keep his nose down and ignore the insane problems his family is having, seems just like old times.
Sade's song, “Killer Blow,” manages to sound exactly like a Sade song, and this film was released right at that band's peak. I'm not aware of any other place to find that song other than this soundtrack, so perhaps this has more of a market for diehard Sade fans than diehard Bowie fans. This album also contains what I understand to be a fairly well-known song by The Style Council called “Have You Ever Had it Blue.” It's a bright and colorful song, and it keeps the jazzy nature of the rest of this album fully intact. The Eighth Wonder, whose front woman Patsy Kensit played the main female love interest in the film, is credited to performing the jazzy and wildly entertaining “Having it All,” which sounds miles away from the (mostly bland) electro-pop that the band was best known for producing at the time.
There's so much to talk about that I'm at the end of the review and I hadn't even yet mentioned that jazz legend Gil Evans was in charge of the general soundtrack of the film. His stuff is terribly good. While his jazz instruments might have an entirely mainstream feeling them, nothing about them seems fake or plastic. I mean, the horns BLARE, the saxophones swing, and the shuffly rhythms are crunchy and danceable, and the tunes are catchy and well-sung. The eight-minute instrumental “Riot City” is works of art within itself. If you took a listen to it, you would understand why they called it “Riot City.”
In short, this is a damn fun soundtrack album. I know I concentrated mainly on that David Bowie song, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if there were people who liked that Bowie tune the least out of everything. That's not me, of course! This review doesn't really belong on my David Bowie page since he was only a tiny reason this soundtrack album is awesome. However, I do actually own this album and I'd might as well talk about it. The Absolute Beginners soundtrack is a lot of fun, and you're missing out if you haven't listened to it.
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Album Score: 9
It was the mid-80s, which meant that the time was right for David Bowie to stuff a sock in his pants, sport a full-fledged freak mullet, and attempt to seduce under-aged girls on the silver screen. Though perhaps we shouldn't lay too much of the blame of this potential embarrassment on Bowie himself, since he didn't have a whole lot of control over his costume or the content of his music videos. All he did was play the lead role in a goofy fantasy movie directed by Jim Henson, and he wrote a handful of songs for it.
Even though I was a child of the '80s and a die-hard fan of The Muppets, it wasn't until my early 20s when I finally saw this film. I can't say what took me so long; I suppose I didn't put much stock in a Muppet movie that didn't star Kermit. I do wish I had seen it as a child, however. At least, I'd imagine, I wouldn't have been bothered so much by the plot's complete lack of sense. More importantly, I wouldn't have been plagued with such cynical thoughts about Bowie's distinctly pedophiliac manner towards 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly. (And, really, what was with those crystal balls he kept waving in her face? Oh the horrors I began to understand about the world after my sexual awakening!)
Despite my somewhat cynical attitudes towards this children's film, I found Labyrinth to be an entertaining and imaginative film. I own a copy of it, and I'm probably one of the people on that bandwagon that has catapulted the film into its current status as a cult classic. As a Bowie fan, I also have to marvel over the fact that he could get away with anything. There was literally nobody else in the world who could have worn a costume like that and not come off as a total ass. You know what I'm talking about.
Since I'm allegedly a music reviewer, and I'm allegedly reviewing a soundtrack album, I'd better get on with talking about the actual music! This certainly isn't a significant release in the Bowie catalog since he only wrote five songs for it, and the remainder of the tracks are instrumental pieces from Trevor Jones. Jones is an acclaimed composer, but I find his instrumentals to be wholly underwhelming. They're synth-heavy, very '80s, and completely cold and emotionless. They set the scene only passably in the film, but they're completely worthless listening to them outside the context of the film. So don't bother.
Thus, the only reason you're going to buy this album would be for the Bowie tunes. And even then, you're going to have to not feel too silly about yourself listening to them. I mean, he did fashion these as kiddie songs, and, what's more, they're laced with Muppet voices and cooing babies. As a whole, I really like these songs. What the hell do I care if these are kiddie songs, anyhow?
“As the World Falls Down” is a gorgeous ballad that is delicately textured and well-sung. It not only has a great tune, but it has that weird and twisted romantic vibe that only Bowie could pull off so well. The first time I listened to the song, I was endlessly captivated by it. My admiration for that song has cooled off a bit since then, but not a whole lot. “Magic Dance” is a silly song, and it's even sillier if you remember the scene from the movie in which Bowie dances around with a bunch of Muppets and rather violently tosses around a baby in the air as though it were pizza dough. “Underground” is the catchy closing music, which nearly turns into a full-on gospel song. It made pretty exciting closing credits music!
The other two original tunes aren't quite so special. “Chilly Down” has a weak hook, and it's sung by annoyingly screechy Muppet singers. “Within You” just seems half-written. However, the song is atmospheric and dramatic when you see it performed in the movie, and so it's passable. But you don't need to listen to it separately in a soundtrack!
My main complaint about the Bowie pop tunes, and one that is shared by many other reviewers, is that the production is soooooo '80s that it starts to approach Madonna-style electro-garbage. However, I find these songs well-written and catchy, and I enjoy the experience of listening to it. I mean, there are just some tunes that are too good to be ruined by '80s song production.
Read the track reviews:
Never Let Me Down (1987)
Album Score: 8
I used to consider this album a marginal step up from Tonight, but I've reversed that opinion. Even though Tonight had far more clunkers in it and was probably more embarrassing for Bowie, that album at least had two unequivocal '80s pop classics on it, “Loving the Alien” and “Blue Jean.” This album only has one song that even approaches that level, the title track. While that's a good song, I wouldn't call it a great reason to go out and listen to this album. (The only reason to go out and listen to this album would be if you felt like bashing your brains in with dull adult contemporary music from an artist who should have known better.)
That's right, Bowie continued his journey on that bandwagon of horrors, further contemporizing the pop-radio sound he had been working on ever since Let's Dance. Except Let's Dance had some great songs on it, and this album has none! While writing a boring adult contemporary album might be acceptable for an aspiring Phil Collins, it's far beneath the talents of David Bowie. That said, this album offers a number of hints of his freaky old self.
As I said, I like the title track. The melody is nice and the adult-contemporary guitars and rhythms play a crunchy and appealing texture as opposed to the usual plastic boringness that pops up in other songs. I also really like the way he sings it, adopting a pleasant high-pitched coo instead of his more typical flagrant, undisciplined manner. That song is a belated tribute to his fallen friend John Lennon, and I'd imagine he sang in such a way to sound like him. He should sing like John Lennon more often!
Unfortunately, most of the other songs don't have nearly as catchy or well-developed melodies as that. “Time Will Crawl” has what amounts to a three-note melody that's sung amidst plastic, adult-contemporary instrumentation. I don't find listening to it a tedious experience in any way, but I find woefully little that's engaging about it. I have similar complaints about the album opener, “Day-In Day-Out,” which is rife with fake horns, boring stadium drums, and a forgettable melody.
I like the song called “Zeroes,” however, which I'd imagine is a view that might not be shared by a whole lot of people. It's such an over-the-top stadium rock song that it's a parody. (Perhaps Bowie was feeling a little bit guilty for writing such an obvious stadium-rock song as “Day-In Day-Out” so he decided to “redeem himself” by making fun of the style?) You'll hear the song open with squeaky, cheering sound-effects as though he were playing before an audience of ghouls, and then it launches into one of the album's most memorable melodies that features a soaring chorus. (Unlike most of these other songs, I can actually hum it, and it sounds interesting to me.)
I suppose because Bowie was worried that this album was coming off as too mainstream and unexciting, he did a couple of artistic songs in the middle of the album, like he was trying to combine the percussive heavy styling of Art of Noise with the adult contemporary atmosphere of the rest of the album. But that only resulted in messes. “Glass Spider” starts out interestingly enough with a tongue-in-cheek, sci-fi poem that mimics Spinal Tap's “Stonehenge,” but that soon devolves into a curious pop song with an annoying rhythm section and a criminally uninteresting vocal melody. “Shining Star (Makin' My Love)” isn't quite as bad, but that busy drum machine rhythm he creates doesn't mesh well at all with the bland adult-contemporary melody he's singing.
Apparently because Bowie still wanted to help his dear, struggling friend Iggy Pop earn royalty payments, he covers “Bang Bang,” a selection from his 1981 album Party. I find it pretty amusing listening to Bowie imitate Pop's flagrant mannerisms. But that wasn't the world's most interesting tune to begin with, and it's made even more boring with all this boring late-'80s style instrumentation.
Just as much as people like to argue at what point he reached his height in career, they like to determine where he reached his low. His career low has got to be either David Live, Black Tie White Noise, or this album. (I'm taking Tonight out of the equation, because I already told you why I thought that album wins over this. So suck it!!!) Even though this was a career low, it's not the worst album I can think of. Everything apart from those two weird songs in the middle are passable.
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Tin Machine (1989)
Album Score: 10
After Never Let Me Down flopped, Bowie realized that he was getting nowhere with that fickle pop crowd, and he figured the time was ripe for a total change of scenery. And boy did he ever change his scenery! This is a guitar oriented album inspired by the Pixies, filled with gruff garage-rock and lyrics that are uncharacteristically angry and snarly. Bowie, of course, had been modifying his sound constantly throughout his career, but this is the first time ever that one of his albums didn't even *hint* at what his next album was going to sound like. If you played Tin Machine and Never Let Me Down back-to-back, you wouldn't suspect they were from the same artist. ...That is, apart from the immediate giveaway of Bowie's distinctive singing voice.
In a way, this was a completely different artist. You'll notice that Bowie's name was nowhere to be seen on the album cover. Instead, this was a whole new band, and Bowie was just another member of it. (Of course, that wasn't functionally true. Paul McCartney also claimed he was just *another member* of Wings, but of course he completely ran the show.) The lead guitarist was Reeves Gabrels, and the rhythm section consisted of brothers Tony Sales and Hunt Sales. Bowie took on the rhythm guitar, wrote most of the songs, and did the lead vocals.
Many people were initially cynical toward the prospect of such an album, but after listening to it, they might have been surprised at how decent it was. While this is hardly among the great garage-rock albums ever made, it's a good one. It's entertaining. More importantly, it was a means of revitalizing Bowie's career, and it was effective; this is by far his best album since Let's Dance and his most consistent since Scary Monsters. Commercially, it only sold moderately, but money wasn't much of a concern for Bowie at this point.
Let's look at a few of the songs. It opens with a gutsy, six-minute R&B spectacle “Heaven's in Here.” The riff isn't original whatsoever, but originality was also hardly a concern for Bowie. He just wanted to make some enjoyable music. The rhythm is crunchy, and the vocal melody is catchy. Bowie does a decent job with the lead vocal, adapting a guttural and screaming tone in his voice to try to match the instrumentation. Of course, he's no Black Francis (goes without saying), but he's usually convincing. Gabrels' guitar playing isn't terribly fascinating; he sometimes comes off as stiff and reduces himself to playing cliches, but he's able to energetically carry on a guitar solo both in that song and throughout the rest of the album.
The title track is quick and menacing. It features a catchy melody and a strangely wobbly vocal performance. Like everything else here, it isn't perfect, but it works against all odds. “Crack City” is probably the album's most hard-hitting song with a simple riff that's played heavily. Bowie's vocal melody is very catchy, and he growls bitingly with these almost over-the-top, bile-drenched lyrics. (“They're just a bunch of butt holes with assholes for their brains.”) “Under the God” is more or less a straightforward garage-rock song, but it's played at such a blistering level that I can't help but loving it. Also, his cover of John Lennon's “Working Class Hero” is unexpectedly awesome! No surprise, that has the album's most interesting melody in it, but the instrumentation is bouncy and Bowie gives a remarkably convincing, snarling treatment of the lyrics. It's unlike the original, but that's of course supposed to be the reason for covers.
The biggest problem I have with this album is that I get rather tired of listening to it by the end. The easy fix for that would have been to remove a few of the album's less inspiring tunes such as “Prisoner of Love” or “Run” or “Baby Can Dance.” Or preferably, all three of them since this album is quite lengthy, clocking in at nearly 57 minutes. He was taking advantage of the burgeoning popularity of the Compact Disc format, which he must have figured was an invitation for him to make his albums less compact. Nonetheless, as a whole, this is a mightily decent album. It's good for Bowie-philes, and diehard garage-rock fans.
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Tin Machine II (1991)
Album Score: 10
You can call it a sophomore slump, if you want. Of course nobody will, because pretty much everyone in the world thinks this whole Tin Machine business was nothing more than a silly mid-life crisis. (I mean, he couldn't have a mid-life crisis in normal ways, since he could get all the jazzed-up cars and dates with mega-hot supermodels he wanted ever since he could remember. What, other than starting a hard-rock band, was left for him to do?)
You might have noticed that I ended up awarding both albums the same rating. But when you look closer, you'll see that they're not really the same rating; consider the previous album a near-11 and this one a low-10. I'm glad that incredibly important issue is cleared up, because I know how much the Internet lights up every time I post a new review... Anyway, before I start telling you about everything I think these guys did wrong, let me tell you why I disagree with everyone who loathes this album to pieces. They are clearly not giving Tin Machine albums enough credit for being fun—even if it's just crass fun at times. The drums are loud and toe-tapping, the riffs are almost always catchy, and Bowie's lead vocals are glamorous and sometimes quite freaky (in a good way, of course).
Blender magazine notably accused this of being the worst album David Bowie has ever made. However, don't take their assessment too seriously, because that's the worst review they've ever written. I'm, of course, the only one with the correct opinion, and what I say is Tin Machine II is a good album for you to crank up the volume and let tear through your speakers. They open the festivities with “Baby Universal,” a loud and rockin' song in which Bowie, forever the extra-terrestrial, sings to us “Hello humans, can you hear me thinking?” It might not be the most terribly catchy or memorable tune he's been responsible for, but it's a huge blast from beginning to end. Things get even better for “One Shot,” which is just as toe-tapping as “Baby Universal,” and it has a catchy chorus to boot.
But the real highlight of the album doesn't come until the third track, “You Belong in Rock & Roll,” which sports unquestionably one of the most bad-ass vocal performances of Bowie's career. You see... he's singing in the lower register of his voice, like he did throughout Low. But thanks to almost 15 years of continuous aging and smoking, his deep voice had some extra grit to it. (Not that smoking is good, kids... It's bad for your health, and it's not even worth having a drop-dead awesome deep singing voice that, let's face it, was probably an important factor when he got engaged to that mega-hot supermodel.) Other good songs in this collection include “Shopping For Girls,” with its catchy riff, and “A Big Hurt” a relatively straightforward rocker with some awesome fuzz-guitar. They also decided to do a fairly murderous cover version of Roxy Music's “If There is Something,” but even that's a lot of crass fun.
With that said, I'm not such a huge fan of Tin Machine II. The All-Music Guide reviewer, Mark W. B. Allender, was much kinder to this album not only compared to Blender but to me. He only had immense praise for it... despite the fact that it only got three-stars, which makes me wonder if the same guy who wrote the review was the same guy who gave it the star rating. Nevertheless, I see that Allender praised “Amiapura” as a “sonic work of art.” I can certainly understand what he's getting at since it's texturally driven and not terribly melodic. However, to me, it starts off waaaay too slowly, and it's difficult for me to make heads or tails of that weirdly detached and confused vocal melody. At least I can start to get more into it midway through once the drumming pipes up, but if Tin Machine thinks that a good second half can make me so quickly forget about the first half, they have another think coming. Allender also had high words of praise for Hunt Sales' lead vocal performance in “Sorry.” While that's an interesting opinion, he's just dead wrong about that; Sales' vocals are drunken-night-at-the-karaoke-bar-completely-forgotten-about-in-the-morning-quality at best. I guess this only goes to show why I can never really trust people who have two middle initials.
Tin Machine II definitely has its flaws, and it's not quite as solid as their first album. Nonetheless, it also has its definite high moments, and that is the most important thing to note about it. I admit that even though I've owned a copy of this album for a long time, I almost never listen to it (that's highly unusual for me considering it's a Bowie album). However, I did enjoy listening to it just now for the purpose of writing this review. Perhaps you'll enjoy it, too.
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Oy Vey, Baby (1992)
Album Score: 9
What?! Tin Machine released a live album? ...Oy vey! Well, as long as this thing exists, I had might as well review it. So here it goes.
This is one jammy record. There are jams all up and down this thing. If you look at the track listing, you'll notice that there are only eight songs on here. That's because some of them are extended to gargantuan lengths for the purpose of *JAMS*. Lead guitarist Reeves Gabrels is an odd guitarist. Sometimes he lets his guitar flail up and down anarchically, seemingly without regard to the actual song he's playing. Other times, he just kind of sinks into the background, piddling away like someone who is losing his train of thought. He's intermittently intriguing and obnoxious. Sometimes he's fun, but other times I wish the dude would get out of my face.
For example, in the album opener “If There is Something,” Gabrels is doing precisely the sort of thing that Marty McFly did at the end of “Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future. Obnoxious as hell? Yes. Fun? ...Yeah. Now, Gabrels isn't the only one who slopped it up for this album. Bowie also takes the opportunity to sing sloppily. Fortunately, at least I can report that his sloppy singing is more appropriate here than it was throughout Pin-Ups. This album is more rockin', you see.
I might have hoped that the rest of the album would have been similarly as crass and exciting as “If There is Something” was, but their song selection kind of ruined it. Instead of following it up with one of their fast songs, they choose the lumberingly paced “Amazing.” It's a well-written song, and Gabrels comes up with some strange textures that helps keep the experience from growing too dull. But still. Don't you think it would have been better off just continue rocking everyone's socks off? I didn't even like the studio version of that song so much. But all the same, it's passable.
Where they absolutely kill it is the third track, “I Can't Read.” It was a decent pop song in its original incarnation, but this very loose six-and-a-half minute interpretation is dull. The principal blame for that can be put on the drummer, Hunt Sales, who for some reason thought he had litter it with all those strange, out of place, fills. A drummer's primary responsibility is keeping a steady beat, but there, he's just showing off and sinking the song in the process. Yuck. But at least the album picks up again with the bluesy “Stateside.”
“Under the God” is good, too, and the crass sloppiness ends up working in its favor. I can hear the bile on Bowie's tongue as he's spitting out these lyrics. Gabrels gives his guitar a funny “wah-wah” noise, which might not be terribly inspired, but it's entertaining. I also enjoy their treatment of “Heaven's in Here” even though they dragged it out for a whopping 12 minutes. That gave Gabrels more space to show off, and he's not terrible with his noodles... just excessive at times. I'm amused by that moment he's trying to sound like a European police siren, but most of the time, he doing more of that Marty McFly stuff. In the middle of that track, Bowie for whatever reason starts to sing the '60s R&B classic “I'm a King Bee.” (???) It's not bad, I guess. Take it or leave it.
Of all David Bowie albums ever released on the planet, this is the one the general public has the least interest in. I include myself in that demographic. Even though I've been a dribbling Bowie fan for quite a long time now, it wasn't until about a month ago that I even bothered listening to it. (“How is that even possible?” you ask yourselves.) I suppose there wasn't a great reason for me to delay listening to it; this is an OK release. If for nothing else, it proves that Bowie was actually quite decent during one of the least celebrated moments of his career. Naturally, this is a heavily flawed disc, and I wouldn't recommend it at all to anyone who isn't already interested in the Tin Machine albums. So that limits this album's appeal to the smallest of audiences.
They were planning on releasing another live album at some point and maybe even more studio albums. However, after Oy Vey, Baby commercially flopped and was universally panned by the press, Bowie decided to dissolve the group in 1992 to resume being a pop star. So farewell, Tin Machine, forever. ...Hello, Black Tie, White Noise.
Read the track reviews:
Black Tie White Noise (1993)
Album Score: 8
The good news is that this album isn't as bad as people seem to say it is. The bad news is that I've said the same thing about every other David Bowie album that people seem to hate. (Have I ever mentioned to you that my Bowie fanboyitis is incurable?) Nevertheless, as a Bowie fanboy, I am enormously disappointed in Black Tie White Noise.
The first thing: I thought Tin Machine was supposed to be some kind of career revitalizing exercise after releasing that string of horrible '80s albums. Of course the Tin Machine albums were just fine, but now that he went back to pop music, he resumed making those same old mistakes. ...Perhaps his mistakes were a little bit worse since those horrible album at least had a bit of quirkiness about them whereas Black Tie White Noise is ultra-slick and ultra-serious. It's also a true-blue '90s pop album—it's like Madonna's Erotica except not as soul-sucking.
Though I suppose you'll like this album as much as you like any other '90s pop album with canned drum machines strewn all over them. And truth be told, it does have its fair share of cool songs on it. My favorite is called “Jump They Say,” which is characterized by a detached synthesizer riff and a catchy melody. For a '90s dance song, it's very fun. Bowie sings using the deepest register of his voice, which is great because I love that sound. Thankfully, he sings like that for most of these songs. Another track I like is “You've Been Around.” Its wandering melody is hooky, and it's complimented well with an overly dramatic vocal performance. It uses a strange vocal embellishment that makes it sound like Bowie's being backed-up by a chorus of robots. The bass at times reminds me of Michael Jackson's “Bad,” but that's fine by me. ...Come to think of it, that song would have fared quite well on Dangerous. That's a compliment, of course.
Besides the voice, another reason this album is 1000 times better than Erotica is because of its plentiful horn and sax solos. To up the ante, I'll give a hell yes to those solos! Bowie plays an amazingly good sax in “The Wedding,” giving it a bit of a Middle-Eastern flair. It was done in tribute of his new wife, Iman, who hails from Somalia. In addition to awesome horn solos, there's some piano noodling at the end of “Looking For Lester,” which is strikingly reminiscent of the noodles throughout the title song of Aladdin Sane. ...Oh, and you know who this “Lester” is? He's the guy playing the horn solos, Lester Bowie, who is David's long-lost black cousin. The title track is an excursion into surprisingly straight-forward early '90s R&B. It's passable, but... er... David Bowie and '90s R&B!!... EGADS!!!!
There are an awful lot of covers here, and one of them is Cream's “I Feel Free.” The thought of a techno version of a Cream song ought to make any respectable person gag, but surprisingly it's pretty good. The catchy vocal melody is beautifully delivered, and the drum machines are well-programmed and toe-tapping. The icing on the cake is a guitar solo that is delivered by none other than Mick Ronson. Regrettably, he would die only a couple weeks after this album's release, so farewell, you freaky spider.
Another cover was of Morrissey's “I Know It's Gonna Happen.” I have no idea what the original is like, but here it sounds exactly like one of Whitney Houston's early '90s gospel songs. It's not bad, but it's too melodramatic and plain-jane for my taste. The cover of The Walker Brothers' great song “Nite Flights” is given disappointing treatment here; its excellent melody is preserved, but the techo instrumentation is enormously boring. However that song isn't half as tedious as the trio of songs that comes after it: “Pallas Athena,” “Miracle Goodnight” and “Don't Let Me Down and Down.” The only thing interesting about them is that the latter was originally written by a princess from Mauritania. (That's in North Africa, apparently... I never heard of it before...) But anyway, those songs are massively crap.
This album did fine on the UK charts, but it never sold very well in the US. Part of that is because the small label Savage went belly up shortly after the release. That also explains why I wasn't able to listen to it until its reissue in the mid '00s! I remember being gutted that I couldn't buy this album when I was at the height of my Bowie fan-worship period circa 2003. However, I can't say I was missing much. I could have gone another few years without hearing it. If you're a Bowie fan who is on the fence about getting this album, I wouldn't feel too bad about staying on the fence a little longer. It's probably worth having eventually, but it's a good idea to hold out until you find it somewhere cheap.
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The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)
Album Score: 12
Hey... Isn't that the guy from Lost, right there on the cover of a David Bowie album with his shirt off? …How?
Simple; this is a movie soundtrack, and apparently that actor had been in things before Lost came on the scene with the expressed purpose of raping my brain. One such thing was a BBC miniseries called The Buddha of Suburbia. Its producers managed to convince David Bowie to do the soundtrack for it, which of course is an amazing feat. Well, given that his previous soundtrack was much-maligned for the film Labyrinth, I think the producers had to exercise just a little faith in him. (Or maybe they just needed to refrain from hiring Trevor Jones.)
I've never seen this miniseries, and thus I can't attest to how well these songs actually work in the film, but I'll be darned... They're all great. It helps that most of these are real songs where we get to hear Bowie's voice, but even the ambient, scene-setting stuff is quite captivating. (And he did it without Brian Eno anywhere in sight!) Legend has it that it only took him six days to conceive and record all these songs. I find difficult to believe, but maybe there is something to that claim. Bowie's previous album, Black Tie White Noise, seemed forced and labored. This album, on the other hand, everything seems inspired. For the first time since Scary Monsters, it feels like David Bowie is back in the zone. ...And when you're in the zone, you can do magic.
The pop songs on this album are magnificent. If you've never heard them, then you've got to. The title track opens the album, and it's one of the finer power-ballads he's ever done. Its memorable melody soars off the ground, and he orchestrates it thickly with reverb heavy guitars and synthesizers. There was post-production work on Bowie's voice, which makes it seem softer and mesh in well with the atmospheric tone of the instrumentals, but … well, that improves his voice, doesn't it? The other pop song you've got to hear is “Strangers When We Meet.” Those who know 1. Outside have already heard the song, but that's actually a different version. For my money, this is the definitive version, because it has so many more layered sounds drenched on it. For example, this version has a really cool rhythm guitar texture that you don't find at all in the later version. ...But anyway, both versions have that catchy bass-line as well as a lovely vocal melody, which Bowie sings in a convincingly soulful manner.
There are more songs in this album, but they're more texture-oriented, and I have the feeling that they belong to a particular scene in the film. But even these are excellent. “Bleed Like a Craze, Dad” sounds like one of his techno songs from Black Tie White Noise except it's extremely atmospheric, and that bass-line is totally infectious. ...Really, it's awesome how many sounds he managed to layer on that one, and I eagerly lap it up. “Dead Against It” is similar, but it has a very driving drum machine rhythm, and if your toe isn't tapping when you listen to it, then I reckon your foot needs to be amputated. I also like the song called “Untitled No. 1,” which has more of a laid-back drum machine groove. It might not get my toe tapping, but the thick instrumentation continues to be fascinating. On the downside, the least compelling song of the bunch is “Sex and the Church,” which gets kind of annoying as it goes along. Bowie found a way to alter his vocals to make him sound like a robot, which is kind of cool, but all he really does is talk unintelligibly amidst a relatively dull techno rhythm. ...But with that said, it remains a decent listen.
I'll address briefly the ambient tracks. There are three of them. The first one is “South Horizons” where we get to hear Mike Garson's elaborate piano noodles. (He's of course the same guy who played piano on Aladdin Sane.) “The Mysteries” and “Ian Fish, UK Heir” are both tranquil and mesmerizing electronic ambient tracks, and I'd say they're equally as good as a typical Vangelis piece. In particular, I like that backwards piano sound Bowie created for “The Mysteries;” it's like listening to wind chimes.
This album wasn't available for many years; I remember learning of its existence in 2002 and being horrified that the only way I could get it is if I paid some jag-off on amazon.com $40, plus shipping and handling. Fortunately, this horrendous oversight was corrected in 2007, and this album is now available at a reasonable price. If you're a David Bowie fan, you're definitely going to want this. This is where he got his creative juices flowing again in the '90s.
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1. Outside (1995)
Album Score: 11
David Bowie must've been feeling giddy the mid-'90s. He called back his old friend Brian Eno, and together they tackled the challenge of creating a massively scoped concept album. Even though I'm not terribly interested in following the details of its story, I do know that it is set in a dystopian future, the year 1999. Contrary to other popular forecasts at the time, I guess people in that year weren't much in the mood for partying. Go figure. (Come to think of it, after watching that horrible film called Bicentennial Man in 1999, I wasn't very much in the mood for partying either.) You might have also noticed that there's a number attached to its album name. That's because this was originally supposed to be the first part of a trilogy. We're still waiting for the other two parts.
Let's talk about the music now, which is far more interesting than the concept anyway. For the most part, it's excellent! Without a doubt, this album shows that Bowie was peaking again as an artist after having released a decade's worth of lackluster material. “Outside” is the album's first actual song after a 90-second introduction track, and it's fantastic. The main melody is catchy, and I like that soulful way Bowie finds to sing it. The backing instrumentation is thick, and I particularly like the cool effect that comes with changing the drum rhythm intermittently throughout the song. And that's not the album's only excellent song... Even though “Heart's Filthy Lesson” uses those same sort of techno-ish drum machine loops that were rife throughout Black Tie White Noise, it's also a fantastic song. The drums combined with that pounding bass are driving, and Eno's background synthesizer effects are absorbing enough to draw me in. Bowie doesn't so much sing a melody with it, but he's artfully improvising.
He does that through most of these songs. People who don't like 1. Outside too much probably have that principal complaint about it. Nonetheless, I still find his thoughtful warbling interesting enough to drive many of these songs. (However, in “A Small Plot of Land,” it sounds like he accidentally lifted a bit of the melody of “Poor Thing” from Sweeney Todd! … Oh well, it wasn't enough to sue over.) Most of the album's best songs appear on its final third. “I'm Deranged” sounds like background music for a high-tech, special-effects-ridden '90s movie, except there's Bowie singing all over it. (Awesome.) “Through These Architect's Eyes” has a fun, crunchy drum beat and contains easily one of the most soulful vocal performances of Bowie's career. I also like “We Prick You” which tries to drench me with its thick layers of seediness and succeeds.
Unfortunately, this album's midsection is terribly bloated. It's 74 minutes long, and it didn't need to be. Things start to go south as soon as “Hallo Spaceboy” starts playing. I read that it was Bowie's attempt at ultra-current '90s Nine Inch Nails type of industrial music, which is also why it was released as a single at the time. (I remember a specific clique of kids in middle school and high school who were frequently seen wearing shirts with the letters “NIN” printed on them. I called them all “Ninnies!” Ain't I clever?) But, really, that song is pretty darn awful. Not only is the melody no good, but its repetitive and utterly pounding drum beat drives me insane. Maybe that style worked for Nine Inch Nails, but it's not exactly a great fit for Bowie. Other songs, such as “The Motel,” “I've Never Been to Oxford Town,” and “Wishful Beginnings” aren't quite as annoying, but they sure could have been livened up a bit. ...I noticed that pianist Mike Garson can be heard all throughout this album noodling around in that signature Aladdin Sane way. Of course he sounds great, but in a number of these songs, he's the only thing interesting. I get the feeling Bowie was using him as a crutch.
This album closes with “Strangers When We Meet,” a modified version of a song that already appeared on his previous album, The Buddha of Suburbia. I like the previous version better, but I nonetheless enjoy hearing it again. It's the most catchy and soaring song of the disc and in my view easily constitutes the highlight of the album. So there you go... it's a song so good that it was the highlight of two David Bowie albums in a row...
Well, this might not be the greatest David Bowie album in existence—not by a long shot—but it's an entertaining one. This, and The Buddha of Suburbia were his most artful albums in a long, long while, and it's great to hear him get back on top of it again.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 9
Awwww... What a disappointment! This is a disappointment so mammoth that it has hair all over it and two 10-foot tusks. (Man... five years out of geology school, and I still have paleontology on the brain...) While I wouldn't call The Buddha of Suburbia and 1. Outside great highlights of his career, they were at least enjoyable albums and showed that Bowie was able to successfully update his sound for the '90s. In Earthling, unfortunately, Bowie was still trying to sound hip, but he'd lost much of his songwriting spark. At best, this constitutes a step backwards.
It's a good thing this album has “I'm Afraid of Americans” on it or it might have been a serious contender as one of his career-worst albums. The song was a minor hit back in 1997 thanks partly to a remixed version of it by Nine Inch Nails (and not thanks to the fact than an early version of it was featured in the 1995 film Showgirls). It's also a genuinely good song with a catchy, blistering riff played in the chorus and Bowie's awesome paranoid speak-singing vocal performance. I've been getting tired of listening to the drum machines on Bowie's '90s albums, but in that song, they give it a driving pulse. The lyrics are pretty good, too, expressing some discontent over the homogenization of American culture through the rest of the world. (The American culture is of course the best culture, so I can see why people from other countries resent our awesomeness.)
Other than that, I sort of like a song called “Little Wonder” even though it has a high-pitched synthesizer loop that sounds exactly like the high-pitched synthesizer loop in Kate Bush's “Wow.” The only difference is that Bowie sped his up! ...Not that I'm throwing accusations of plagiarism at him, since it's just a three-note loop, but I do find it distracting. ...Nevertheless, it's surely one of the better songs Bowie has to offer here thanks to its bouncy melody and a subdued and toe-tapping rhythm. ...Also, a bit of trivia, it was the first song ever to be made available to purchase online by a major artist. ...Woohoo! Bowie helped contribute to the slow death of the music industry as we knew it!
“Little Wonder” is an altogether decent album opener even though I don't think that overly busy drum machine loop particularly fits that melody Bowie sings over it, which is reminiscent of a dippy nursery rhyme. I'm also a bit annoyed over that incessant replaying of a sample of someone screaming out “Owwwww!” ...However, that sampling isn't even half as annoying as a sample in “Dead Man Walking” that keeps on playing OVER AND OVER AND OVER amidst a blank drum machine rhythm. “Dead Man Walking” might have made an Academy Award winning movie in 1995, but it was by far the worst song of this album.
“Seven Years in Tibet,” on the other hand was both a fine '90s film and a fine David Bowie song. I like hearing that wandering bass-line as well as that drum machine that sounds like air being let out of tires. He also did a nice job throwing in a load of sound effects in there, which makes the experience extra flashy. The album closer, “Law (Earthlings on Fire),” is as good of a techno track as you could possibly hope for in the album even though it's more of a sound-effects composition than it is a song.
I'm also not a huge fan of “Battle For Britain (The Letter),” which consists of an over-active drum machine loop and a melody that's so dull it reminds me of all those stuffy melodies that ruined Bowie's 1971 album, The Man Who Sold the World. “The Last Thing You Should Do” is a little better in the melody department even though I find that bit where he sings “do-OO-oo-OO-oo-OO” as a bit awkward. But without that, it would have been an underwhelming song.
At least I can say that this album has grown on me since the first time I listened to it. I remember considering it something of an insult directed personally at me! (I have something of a tendency to take things personally, even though I'm pretty sure I had no idea who David Bowie was in 1997, and I'm pretty sure he didn't know who I was, either.) ...Nevertheless, even when I thought this album was one of the world's most atrocious albums, I've always had a liking for “I'm Afraid of Americans.” Since this album helped pioneer Internet sales of mp3s, I'd recommend ceremoniously buying that single and then forgoing the purchase of everything else.
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Album Score: 11
It finally hit David Bowie sometime between Earthling and this that he was getting quite old. To honor the belated realization, he did about the only thing that a rock star could do: He released an old person's album. This is an album that is mature, smooth, and easy on the ears. Gone were his days of trying to reinvent his image every year to mass appeal to teenagers (thank goodness). Some people have thrown the term adult-contemporary at this album, but I confess I have a problem with that. That's mostly because every time I call something adult-contemporary, it's using an accusatory tone-of-voice. But maybe the term legitimately fits?
A handful of these tracks are surely among the best songs that Bowie had released in the '90s, and one of them is the mellow album opener, “Thursday's Child.” The synthesizers and drum machines are admittedly somewhat washy, but the melody is catchy and Bowie turns in one of the more passionate and soaring vocal performances he'd ever one. That song is a good example of one fundamental thing that Bowie had certainly been improving since getting on in age: The quality of his voice. It was generating a far more refined and husky tone than it could have ever physically had in his younger days. Even though there was room for improvement in the song's instrumentation, there are enough goodies in it for me to enjoy its overall atmosphere. Reeves Gabrels, who co-wrote all these songs, provides some restrained watery guitar, and there's a whispery female back-up singer who lends a few extra melodic hooks to the proceedings.
We hear Mike Garson piddling around at the beginning of “Something in the Air,” and of course he's always good. With that said, however, I'm glad his noodling isn't too present on this album since his gimmick was in all of Bowie's albums since The Buddha of Suburubia, and it was starting to wear out its welcome... Other than the piano, the song sounds somewhat like porn music with that repetitive synth-bass note and funk guitar. But maybe that's not a bad thing? At least it's porn music with well-placed orchestral swells, which helps make Bowie's heartfelt vocal performance soar. “Survive” is another one of my favorites, and it has a melody that I've actually kept with me for a long time after I first heard it. It's a beautiful ballad; it's the sort of song I mouth along with whenever I decide to play it on my iPod.
“Seven” also has a great melody, and its instrumentation is elegantly simple. Apart from a few light, atmospheric synthesizers and electric guitar, it's just Bowie singing along with an acoustic guitar. I find it almost surprising that Bowie could sound so engaging using only his voice and an acoustic guitar. ...Maybe he should have stuck with such simplicity when he set out to write the more rock 'n' roll song, “All the Pretty Things Are Going to Hell,” which is essentially a retread of that groan-inducing stuff we were subjected to in Earthling. To be fair, it's not a horrible song, but its high-tech instrumentation doesn't do much for me. Also, its melody is boring.
“New Angels of Promise” has my vote for the album's worst song, and that's mostly due to the melody, which is flat and lifeless from the very first notes that Bowie utters. It reminds me of those tossed-off, non-hit songs that plagued the last five songs of Let's Dance. Blah. “Brilliant Adventure” is a disappointing, two-minute instrumental that doesn't live up to its song title. It sounds a lot like those incidental tracks I derided so much on the Labyrinth. Blah, blah. “The Dreamers” is a nice song altogether, fortunately, and it makes a fitful album closer. It's driving and well-orchestrated, but I wouldn't call its melody too inspired.
There's another decent song on here called “What's Really Happening?,” which has lyrics that were written by some guy who won a lyric-writing contest on Bowie's official website. I was a member of his website for awhile after I had purchased David Bowie concert tickets in 2003, but I never remember contests like that... Oh well. Truth be told, any lyrics that I would have written would have most like been far fruitier than anything on his 1967 eponymous debut. Bowie had spent the previous 30 years trying to forget about that, hadn't he...
But anyway, to conclude this review, there is no denying that 'hours...' is a heavily flawed album. However, there are enough gems on it that it's a worthwhile listen for all his fans. I've had this album for quite awhile, and I do give it a spin now and again. (I even have a copy of the video game that many of these songs were actually written for... Omnikron. I never finished it because I rarely finish video games, but I had fun with it while my interest in it lasted.)
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Album Score: 15
This album hits me every time I listen to it. Even when I think it won't, it does. ...OK, I see all of you shaking your heads at me in disbelief that I've awarded an album like this a perfect score. Albums from an aging rock stars aren't supposed to be perfect. You know, that's written somewhere in the 10 Commandments of rock 'n' roll...Well, you know what? Maybe I'm shaking my head in disbelief that I didn't see this album pop-up on any best-of-decade lists in 2009? However, I do suppose there is plenty of art that comes about with little fanfare that finds itself rediscovered to great acclaim years later. Maybe Heathen will be one of them?
This came out of nowhere, too. Bowie's previous album 'hours...' had a few nice songs on it for sure, but as a whole, it was underwhelming. Nobody could have predicted this follow-up would have been a masterpiece where every single song on it has an interesting melody, beautiful orchestration, and filled to the brim with moving vocal performances. Much of the credit for the orchestration goes to Tony Visconti, who hadn't collaborated with David Bowie for 20 years. Some people go on to credit Visconti with helping Bowie find his mojo again. The instrumentals are absolutely perfect; they're completely polished and easy on the ears, but they also know when to be gritty and grimy or have a sweeping string section. Is there a little bit of humor, too? Not really; this is a serious and sullen album. However, I find that high-pitched, '50s sci-fi theremin that plays in the background of “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship” to be wildly amusing.
When it comes to picking a favorite song on this album, the task is almost impossible. “Slip Away” is a good candidate, an atmospheric and soaring, though moody piano ballad. It's apparently a redone version of a song Bowie had written back in the '60s, but the production standards are so modern that it could have only come out of the '00s. (Bowie had been working at the time on an album called Toy that was later shelved, which contained redone versions of some of his old songs, most of which never made it on his albums.) “Slow Burn” sounds like a retread of “Heroes”, and I'd wager that it's nearly as good as it. It has a thick, druggy haze, and a catchy vocal melody. It also has Pete Townsend shredding his guitar throughout in a very Scary Monsters sort of way. It goes without saying that such a song is nothing new for Bowie, but these are ideas I don't mind hearing him revisiting. “Everyone Says Hi” is probably the poppiest song of the album, and yet another marvelously sweeping studio creation. It's the sort of song I would want to sing with my eyes closed. Good thing I don't, because this is one album that I play frequently on my car stereo.
“Afraid” is a song I actually love for the lyrics in addition to its catchy melody. Bowie's sullen and smoky vocals have certainly improved with age, and moreover, it sounds like he's genuinely feeling what he sings about. (“If I put my faith in medication / If I can smile a crooked smile / If I can talk on television / If I can walk and empty mile / Then I won't feel afraid / No, I won't feel afraid”)... you'll have to hear him in the song to get the full effect. “Better Future” is another brilliant song for the lyrics, and once again the production is completely nailed; it grows gradually more thick and hazy as it progresses.
There are also a fair amount of covers on here, and they all impressively chosen. They also don't sound anything like the originals and in every case exceeds the originals. He covers Pixies' “Cactus,” Neil Young's “I've Been Waiting For You,” and Legendary Stardust Cowboy's “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship,” the later of which is a particularly thrilling outer-space adventure.
Before I sat down to write this review, I thought I was going to award it a mere 14. I very nearly did so, but an important thought struck me: I actively love every single moment of this disc. This is one of the few albums that I can ever say that about. Even more than that, this was one of those albums I was listening to a lot in the mid '00s, and it's become a part of my history now. It is easily Bowie's most consistent album of his career, and his best one all the way back to Ziggy Stardust. In fact, it may even be better than Ziggy Stardust in many respects. Some people have reported that they find Heathen boring, but I have a feeling they'd say the same thing about every thickly atmospheric and sullen record. If you're into artsy music where many of its songs are ballads, then I think you really ought to give this a try.
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Album Score: 12
This album isn't even that old, but when I listen to it, it unearths thick layers of nostalgia in me. I bought this album at the record store the day it appeared on the shelves, and couldn't stop listening to it over and over again. Later that week, I wrote a vastly glowing review of it for the school newspaper at my university, where I worked for four years. It wasn't long after that, Bowie had announced dates for his latest tour to support this album. Unfortunately, the show nearest to me was all the way in Chicago, about 14 hours away from where I lived, but it was scheduled during Winter Break, so I went! ...Yes, those are some memories. And I've changed quite a lot since then. Or maybe I haven't?
Anyway, don't expect anything quite as wholly entrancing or as wonderful as Heathen, but … well, that statement applies to pretty much every album in the world, doesn't it? With that said, I wouldn't consider Reality a step down from Heathen as much a step sideways. That was more of an album where every song seemed to work together to create a cohesive unit. Reality is more of a collection of songs. ...And as far as songs go, this album has more than its fair share of good ones!
It opens with “New Killer Star.” If you're looking for something agreeable to bob your head to, then that one's a mighty fine pick, because it has a catchy riff, catchy melody, and bouncy instrumentation. Tony Visconti returned for production duties, and I can tell his influence with all those wobbly guitars I keep hearing in the background. The instrumentation throughout this album is usually so good that I'd imagine you can just sit through it and just listen to the backgrounds, if you want to.
Even better than that is the album's second song, a Modern Lovers cover called “Pablo Picasso.” Similarly to his covers in Heathen it sounds nothing like the original and I would say even greatly improves it. The rhythm is ABSOLUTELY driving and INSANELY fun to listen to. I also really love that broken-up Spanish guitar that introduces it and pops his head a few times afterward. Bowie might have had more cool moments in his career to count, but he's rarely sounded cooler than that. “She'll Drive the Big Car” is a bright and happy sounding song with a melody so catchy that I don't think it would take too many listens before you're singing along with it. “Days” is quite bittersweet but also very catchy featuring some bouncy guitar and an unusually pretty vocal performance from Bowie. “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon” has surreal though snarling lyrics and some awesomely gritty guitar that helps drive its rather laid-back and toe-tapping rhythm.
“The Loneliest Guy” could be the only major mistake in the album; it's a moody and highly artsy-fartsy where Bowie doesn't so much sing a melody, but a sort of avant-garde thing with long-drawn-out notes. I surely prefer this song to similar ones he did in 1. Outside, but I still find it a bit uneventful for my tastes. ...But “Never Get Old” I've always had a liking for because of its toe-tapping rhythm. My only complaint about it is that the vocal melody comes across as stale. The title track is a good song, but I'm not a big fan of that huge, pounding rhythm section... It just seems noisy for noise's sake, and it doesn't carry along enough grit with it.
The album ends with a bit of a surprise: An eight-minute piano jazz song. As far as songs go, I don't think too much of it. It just seems to go on forever, and I get this habit of spacing out in front of it. And as far as jazz goes, I suppose I'm not extremely impressed either. Shouldn't there be something a little more to the instrumentation than a mere shuffley drum rhythm and a minimal piano that pretty much just repeats the whole way? Though I've gotta give Bowie credit for turning in some mighty fine jazz vocals! I've never heard him do that before, and it just goes to show what I've been saying about Bowie all along: The dude's cool no matter what he does.
Again, I'm probably overrating it by giving it a 12, but I'd might as well be consistent with all my Bowie reviews, right? Just to further show how serial I am about that 12, I've strongly considered giving it a 13. So, you can count it as a strong 12. While this is hardly Bowie's best album, it's a mightily solid one. Certainly, it doesn't compare to any of his classic albums such as Ziggy Stardust, Low, or as recently as Heathen, but I don't think Bowie intended it to be quite like those. Reality is nothing but a collection of songs. And these songs are GOOD.
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Live Santa Monica '72 (2008)
Album Score: 12
There are a lot of rumors going around that Live Santa Monica '72 is an even better live document covering the Ziggy years than even Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture was. Let me quell those rumors right now: It's not even close. Now, of course this live document is still excellent, and considering the set-list is quite different, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this album to fans of the other. More than anything, I'd treat it as a fitting companion piece. ...It's also great that they finally gave this a full-scale, official release in 2008. Previous to that, it had only been available in bootlegs and semi-legal releases. ...Difficult-to-find material is how these sorts of rumors get started!
One huge difference between the two albums is that they were touring to support different material by the time Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture was recorded. It had morphed into the Aladdin Sane tour, but here that album was currently being developed. The lack of Aladdin Sane material here might very well be the reason so many people report that this live album is superior. He does, however, end up treating his lucky audience to a smattering of the not-yet-released “Jean Genie,” which sounds like he had already completely developed it.
But the core reason I like Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture far better is because of the BAND. They were positively electrifying on that album. (Also, the recording quality was better there, but that's not exactly a make-it-or-break-it attribute for me.) It captured them in the final show that they ever did together and they sounded like they were in the middle of the apocalypse. This, on the other hand, was more of a routine show for them. People who actually attended these shows call this album more characteristic of his live shows.
But he still doesn't perform “Starman,” which was one of the glaring omissions from Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, and it's perhaps even a more glaring omission here. Other than that, he pretty much covers all the basics: “Hang Onto Yourself,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Changes,” “Space Oddity,” “Rock 'N' Roll Suicide,” “Life on Mars?,” “Andy Warhol,” “Five Years,” and “Suffragette City.” The latter four weren't heard at all in that other live release that I keep on mentioning, and it's excellent to be able to hear how these guys performed those songs live.
We also get treated to some excellent, toe-tapping renditions of “Queen Bitch” and “John, I'm Only Dancing.” The latter song was never released on one of his studio LPs, and it surely would have made a nice contribution to Ziggy Stardust if only that album weren't already filled with such delightful songs! I've also got to give them props for their cover of The Velvet Underground's “I'm Waiting For the Man.” Surely it's not as earth-splitting as a live version done by The Velvets themselves in their prime, but it does get quite electrifying as Mick Ronson lets 'er rip with his guitar at the minute and a half mark, and Bowie gives a passionate and distinctly Lou-Reed-like vocal performance. I'm calling it my favorite moment of this disc, just because I wasn't expecting it.
There are a few moments I don't care for here, but those are few and far between. Again, he performs Jacques Brel's “My Death.” It was probably a great song when Brel performed it, or Scott Walker, and—don't get me wrong—it's good, but it constitutes a bit of a dull spot in this live album. Another song I never cared for is “The Supermen” from The Man Who Sold the World. I like that they spiced it up with some glam treatment, but I'm still not terribly impressed with it as a song. “The Width of a Circle” is pretty good, but it just couldn't possibly compare to the version that we've heard on Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.
When it comes down to it, the only problem I have with this album is that the other one spoiled me to death! Truth be told, I like listening to this live album completely. I hope it's not too much of a shocker when I say that this is handily the second best Bowie live album ever released (barring the two semi-legal ones I hadn't heard yet and probably never will until they get official releases). While I might just consider this a companion piece, it's a necessary companion piece to every David Bowie fan worldwide.
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A Reality Tour (2010)
Album Score: 13
I remember when David Bowie embarked on the Reality Tour, and thinking it so hilarious one day when I thought to call it the Realty Tour. Like David Bowie was about to trot the countryside buying and selling land. Oh, my former self was so amused by empty puns like that. ...Anyway, this album houses plenty of memories for me even though it was only released in 2010. This live set captures performances from his 2003-2004 tour, and I attended two of those concerts. In fact, they constituted the first two concerts I've ever been to (with the exception of some CCM bands I don't care about). Were they awesome? Heck yes, they were. I was so into David Bowie at the time that I could even mouth along with his *new* songs. Seven years have passed since then, and my memories of them are still pretty vivid (mostly thanks to the concert reviews I've written at the time), but now through the good graces of whatever record label released this double live album, I now have an actual record to remember the experience by.
This package is quite a doozie, too. There are 33 tracks and it clocks in at 154 minutes. Obviously, it's going to be cumbersome for anyone who isn't already a dues-paying fan of his. But I don't suppose that would be news to anyone. The great thing about this, for the hardened fan, is that he borrows about evenly from his latest albums (Reality and Heathen) as his classic back-catalog, in which he gives us a small handful of memorable songs from each one of his eras.
And here's the rundown. The earliest song he performs is the title track off of The Man Who Sold the World, which is so much fun to hear that it's obviously making the crowd go nuts. Of course he touches upon his Ziggy Stardust era with a handful of tracks. Each album from his Berlin Trilogy is covered with at least one song each... “Breaking Glass,” “Be My Wife,” “Heroes” and (oddly though thrillingly enough) “Fantastic Voyage.” He does “Ashes to Ashes” from Scary Monsters (one of the sheer highlights of the concert), and there are a couple others from his '80s pop era, which interestingly contains a nearly acoustic interpretation of “Loving the Alien.” His '90s work is well represented with a much-improved version of “Hallo Spaceboy,” a sort of ho-hum “Battle For Britain (The Letter),” and the pretty-excellent “I'm Afraid of Americans.”
Since I would rank Heathen and Reality as two of the best albums of his career, it's no surprise that I would claim that those selections almost equally as enjoyable as his classic stuff. I mean, just listen to how this live album begins and try to claim that this isn't solid the whole way through. “Rebel Rebel” is the album's first song, and it's rabble-rousing, as you'd probably expect... However, its momentum hardly ceases with the immediate follow-ups of “New Killer Star” and “Reality.”
He also takes a chance to perform songs that he had written with other artists. The best of that lot is a very rousing and surprisingly atmospheric rendition of “All the Young Dudes,” which of course is the song that turned Mott the Hoople into glam superstars. But then there's also “Nightclubbing,” which he had written with Iggy Pop. And we can't forget what's perhaps the most famous Bowie song of them all to never appear on one of his albums: “Under Pressure.”
Indeed, there are 33 songs on this album and I pretty much liked all of them to begin with. Should it be a shocker that I would like hearing them all again in this live album? ...Especially since I've seen this line-up perform these songs in this manner in person. Some people say that music reviewers should be objective. Objectivity is not something I want to strive for... However, if I were to strive for objectivity in this case, I should never have bothered to write this.
Speaking of the line-up, these guys are terrific. Here's the roll call: Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard on guitar, Gail Ann Dorsey on bass (and singing Freddie Mercury's part in “Under Pressure”), Sterling Campbell on drums, Mike Garson and Catherine Russell on keyboards. They sound professional and were probably having the time of their lives touring around, playing all the classics and the new songs with David Bowie. Heck, I was thrilled enough by being in the audience... twice. ...Yeah, I know I'm making someone out there jealous by saying I've been to two of these concerts. ...Well, do you know what I had to go through to get to them? People were giving me these weird looks, man... I mean, who drives 14 hours to go to a concert?
Read the track reviews:
David Bowie Live: Rosemont, Illinois (Jan. 14, 2004)
In what's probably going to be known to me in the future as what's the strangest journey of my life, I traveled from Wichita, Kansas yon to Chicago, Illinois to see a David Bowie concert in all of (his) splendor. Unlike what you could be thinking about me at the moment, time and money do not grow on trees, and embarking on this journey (which took, overall, 26 hours of traveling, while only spending about that much time in my place-of-destination) was certainly something that I don't do everyday. (And that's not only considering that it would be impossible based on our generally accepted understanding of space and time).
But I am bombarding you with my confusing sentence structures and ill-placed parentheses, and if you didn't give up reading this report, then I applaud you with my most vigilant respects.
Excuse me. I'm going to have to remember that in this review, I'm just going to have to talk about the actual concert and not just dilly-dally in the introduction about irrelevant stuff like how tired I was right before the concert started, and how there was this one guy sitting directly behind me who looked like Jerry Stiller who wouldn't let me stand up and there was this guy in front of me who wouldn't sit down unless David was singing something from his new album. I'm just not going to do that!
Okay, I'm going to start the review ... NOW!
As a rock fan, I had only been to three rock concerts in my life ... and each one of them were Christian rock groups that I don't really give a rats snot's flip about. In fact, the only one of these groups that I have heard of before seeing them was Jars of Clay! And, I wasn't really too enthusiastic to see them. For one, I didn't know any of their songs! No ... the only performer that I would most gladly want to see performing live (and is still capable of performing live, i.e. not The Beatles) was David Bowie. Also, I just about well have many of David Bowie's songs memorized. So, if I want to go to a real rock concert, then it had better be David Bowie.
In a flit of probably what was extremely irresponsible, I bought one ticket to see David Bowie in September for this January concert about 800 miles away from where I live. "Why bloody not?" I asked myself. "It's during my winter break and it is in the general vicinity of the Mid West!" Anyway, in purchasing this ticket, I had no idea that the online ticket agency (Ticket Master) was going to charge me 11 bucks for the "privilege" of using their nasty service and an extra 3 bucks for the "privilege" of having the ticket e-mailed to me (even though they knew perfectly well that it is cheaper for them to e-mail it to me than them physically mailing the ticket to me)! And so, being completely in the spirit of seeing David Bowie performing live, I gladly O-D'ed at the bank and had to pay them a $50 fee.
Oh crap, I'm rambling in irrelevancies! Never mind about them! I'm just going to skip all the details (like how it was like staying in most expensive Motel 6 on the planet and how it took me two hours to get to the Natural History museum and being too tired to want to look at anything). I'm going to stop doing that. In fact, I'm just going to forget about everything and start talking about the actual concert. Now!
It was MACY GRAY! Um ... Yeah. The concert started at 7:30, but I had to watch Macy Gray for the first 45 minutes of it. I was a bit put-out by it, actually! I mean ... David performed with the DANDY WARHOLS on the European leg of this tour! And we Americans, I guess, aren't good enough for the Dandy Warhols ... we're a MACY GRAY audience!
Fortunately, unlike my pre-notions of what Macy Gray would be like, she actually wasn't all that bad. She has a strange voice, actually ... No wonder David Bowie wanted her to be his opening act! They both have the strangest voices! Macy Gray, however, has something that David Bowie never had: boobs. She also had a very, very bushy afro-puff, and she was always doing something weird with her lips as if she were thinking about kissing her microphone, but couldn't rally up the guts to do it. I also thought it particularly amusing that she completely failed to excite the audience. In fact 33 percent of the audience wasn't even there! They either showed up during Macy Gray's performance or when they were taking down her set. At one point of her performance, she was trying to get the audience to clap ... and they just wouldn't do it! Later on, her band's drummer, who is a very large black man, tried to get us to clap along with the grooves. Considering that the audience was comprised mostly of middle-class white people, about 15 percent of those present complied, mostly out of fear.
All in all, though, her performance wasn't really bad. I didn't at all like her band's really LAME rendition of "Those Were the Days" from All in the Family ... That was something so stupid that it might even have been out of Weird Al Yankovic's tastes! But everything else was pretty cool ... it was loud. That's all that really mattered.
At this point, I wasn't sure about this audience, thinking that they were all reserved tight-wads, but once Macy Gray was done and they completely changed the set (including rolling down a new floor on the stage ... oh the extravagances...) these people were screaming so passionately for David Bowie that it badly injured their windpipes! Also by that time, practically every seat in the auditorium was full! (It was also a very small auditorium ... it was half the size of that "big" auditorium in Wichita, Kansas.) I was sitting in the balcony ... apart from the guy in front of me standing up, swaying back-and-forth half the time and the Jerry Stiller-looking-guy in back of me screaming his head off when I tried standing up ... I could see Bowie quite well! But, I was just *that* far away that I couldn't properly distinguish his facial features. They had some giant screens above the stage with his face on it. Judging that the face on the screen matched what that guy was doing on the stage, I knew that it had to be him.
I thought that he was a good performer at the concert. Frankly, I wasn't too optimistic about that bit! I knew that he isn't really a good singer, and he probably goes through enough takes and a lot of production to make his voice sound well on his albums ... I wasn't too sure if he could really "cut it" on live performances. I've seen two of his live taped performances, the Ziggy Stardust movie and the famed Serious Moonlight performance, and I wasn't terribly impressed with either of those. Also, I have a clip of him performing "Young Americans" that sounds like he had larengitis or something! Nevertheless, probably being a combination of physically being at the concert, the volume's booming in my ears, and the fact that I spent somewhere around $300 to be there (and, essentially, even if the concert was awful, I would enjoy it anyway, just so that I wouldn't think that I've wasted $300), I truly enjoyed the concert!
One other reason that I simply *had* to go see David Bowie this year is that his new album is so danged good ... it has his best concentration of songs ever since Scary Monsters! He performed four songs from this album. "New Killer Star" (the best song from the new album), "Days," "Never Get Old" (the second best from the new album), and "She'll Drive the Big Car." All of these tracks are simply fantastic, and he performed them all beautifully! I wouldn't have protested at all if he would have also performed "Pablo Picasso," "Fall Dogs Bomb the Moon," "Try Some, Buy Some," and "Reality" from his new album, as they all are as good as the best songs from his old glory days.
His album previous to this, Heathen was also a good album, (but I don't think it has such a great combo of songs compared to Reality). He didn't perform my favorite from that album "Slow Burn," but he did perform his Pixies' cover "Cactus" as well as "Afraid," which are songs that I enjoy.
There were also two other recent songs that he sung. There was the always-wonderful, and about the only thing good that came out of his collaboration with the Nine Inch Nails, "I'm Afraid of Americans." He also performed "Hallo Spaceboy" from his 1995 Outside album, which unfortunately is a song that I can never get into. Of the 26 songs he performed that night, "Hallo Spaceboy" was one of the two songs that I never liked. And, consequently, I didn't particularly enjoy watching him sing it!
He also performed a sizable chunk of songs from his 80s pop-glory days (Fortunately!) He performed "Fashion" and "Ashes to Ashes" from Scary Monsters, "China Girl" and "Let's Dance" from Let's Dance, and "Under Pressure" which he collaborated with Freddie Mercury. I was thrilled that he sung "China Girl" (one of my favorite Bowie songs). "Let's Dance," he performed in the encore, and the beginning of it was completely different! It was played like a light, Spanish song or something! Strange ... I didn't even recognize it except for the lyrics! But then it soon picked up into that dance song we've all come to know and love, but it had a more modern sound. I wished he'd have done it more like it was in the old days, but I was happy to have heard it! "Under Pressure," I wasn't head-over-heels glad I heard him performing this one (...what about "Loving the Alien," "Blue Jean," or "Modern Love?"...), but I oughtn't complain!
Of course, Bowie's glory days was in the 70s, and nearly everybody in the audience was utterly thrilled to have heard him play all of these old favorites. He sung a whopping four songs from Ziggy Stardust to my merriment! "Hang Onto Yourself," "Starman" (yay!), "Suffragette City" (and, of course, the "Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am" bit everyone screamed out), and I couldn't have thought of a better way to close the entire show than with a rousing rendition of "Ziggy Stardust." Also, from his Ziggy period, he performed "Rebel, Rebel" (which opened the show), and my least favorite song from Aladdin Sane, "Panic in Detroit."
He was rather scant with selecting songs from his much-hailed Berlin Trilogy. "Heroes" was *most* essential, and this was one of the greatest performances he gave that night! ... Although, I couldn't really see it, because my view was obstructed... I saw it on the television screen, and most of the lights were turned off on the stage except for a spotlight shining from behind him, just like that music video! He also performed "Fantastic Voyage" from Lodger and "Always Crashing in the Same Car" from Low.
He performed absolutely nothing from his Great White Duke period from 1975-76. "Fame" might have been nice to hear, but it was no great tragedy.
His pre-Ziggy material was also very scant, only performing "Life on Mars?" and "The Man Who Sold the World." This means that he didn't perform my absolutely favorite song of his, "The Space Oddity." Nevertheless, he did a good job checking off MANY of the songs that I would put in my top 20! "China Girl," "Heroes," "Starman," and "Ziggy Stardust" comprise the rest of my top 5 ... so that completely makes up for the absence of "The Space Oddity" with flying colors!
The only other song that he performed, which never had a home in an album, is a cover of the Velvet Underground's "White Light, White Heat." He's been covering this song for years.
Now that I talked about the songs he performed (and what I thought about them), I'll lastly address Bowie's stature. He wore this really strange belt that had a dangly bit in a very suspicious area ... and his clothes were really tight (which is a bit strange for a 57-year-old man) ... but he looked comfortable and, when he was not singing, he conducted himself very cooly and casually. His sense of humor was not really riotous, but he received a few chuckles. Maybe the funniest piece of humor from the show was when he removed a harmonica from a box and said something like: "Here are my new dentures."
I'm hoping that maybe on his *next* tour that he would come someplace closer ... I mean Wichita, Kansas ain't exactly in the middle of nowhere, you know. (Well, maybe it is, but there are many other cities that are a shorter drive to than Chicago.) There's Dallas, Texas for starters. St. Louis, Missouri ... heck! Kansas City, Missouri is only three hours away! He could go *there*! Oklahoma City, the home of the Flaming Lips, is close as well. I could have gone to the Denver, Colorado performance, but I would have had to miss my first day of classes ... I wouldn't particularly mind missing classes to see David Bowie, but I definitely cannot miss the first day of 'em. I guess that he's staying away from the American Bible Belt because this is where all of the rednecks live who like listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Willie Nelson when Bowie caters more to an art audience. Er, whatever. I got to see David Bowie and that's all I care about! If I get another chance in the future, I reckon that I'll go again! I'll sit closer next time ... and stay away from men who look like Jerry Stiller ...
David Bowie Live: Kansas City, Missouri (May 10, 2004)
It was in early February of 2004. I was sitting in my car, listening to the raydeeoh and reminiscing about that really bizarre road trip I took not a month ago to Chicago when I really wanted to see my favorite rock star in person. Unfortunately, Paul McCartney wasn't there, so I had to settle for David Bowie. And that was a great concert! I loved every second of it! (I had better have ... I drove 800 miles to be there.)
Anyway, as I was driving on that fateful February morn, "Changes" by David Bowie came-up on the radio. And I was like: "Hey! I know that song!" I listened to it mighty pleasantly. And then it ended. (Which is good ... because I would have lived quite a bit of life up until now in that car if the song never ended ... albiet, I'd imagine you could extend those "Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch's" for quite awhile if you really wanted to.) The annoying disc jockey then tuned in and said something like: "Hay Hay Hay!!! Zingo Zango Zoo!!! That was David Bewee with "Changes." He is going to be in Kansas City on May 10!!!" And my heart skipped a beat. Apparently, that beat was a needed one, because I blacked out for a few minutes. And, when I came to, I was parked rather closely to a street sign (the sign was closer to me than the front of my car was) and I was like: "Kansas City? No waaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy!!!!." (Right after coming from the Chicago concert, I wrote and posted a review of that concert on this site with a paragraph or two wondering why he can't come someplace closer to me ... and he did just that! What a great guy!)
Anyway, since David Bowie was polite enough to come to Kansas City, I simply had to go. This time, my best bud from high school was going to come with me. A few weeks later, the day the tickets went on sale, I got seats as close-up as I could get (which was still a bit unsatisfactory ... but it was quite a bit closer than the balcony seat I had in Chicago. Plus, Bowie and I were basically on the same elevation). Right after purchasing the tickets, I was ready to go! ... Except I had to wait until May 10. ... I had to wait a long time for that, too. It almost seemed like three months.
As I predicted, May 10th came right after May 9th. I picked up my friend (by tossing him over my shoulder), stuffed him in the car, and drove away to Kansas City. (It was a good opportunity to sing the Rogers and Spammerstein song "I went to Kansas City on a Friday," except it was Monday.) As my friend can also attest to, I didn't take very many wrong turns! (There was one point, however, when I sort of forgot that I drive a manual car, but I don't think he noticed.)
And so, when I arrived at the concert place, it was verrrrrry moist. It was also an outdoor theatre, and I was rather concerned that it might start raining! Thankfully, it didn't. It was just quite moist.
The opening act was a typical post-grunge band called Stereophonics. (Yay!! BOWIE DUMPED MACY GRAY!!!) Although, he was touring with The Polyphonic Spree a month before this ... who I really would have liked to see. You see, The Polyphonic Spree is a band with dozens of band members who are dressed like they are in a religious cult of some sort. Stereophonics consists of four guys who are all dressed like people I used to try veering towards the lockers whenever I passed them down the hallway in middle school and high school. Just the same, Stereophonics was a good band. They were loud and they didn't strike me as being exceptional, but they were enjoyable. Most of the audience didn't care about them, though their reception was a tiny bit warmer compared to the Macy Gray performance in Chicago all those months ago! (It must be that way with all opening acts ... remember, I'm a novice with concerts.)
After the lead singer kicked the microphone stand (he didn't destroy his guitar, though ... amateur!), they left and the stagehands rolled in a new floor. And then it got dark (spooky). And then a video came on! (It was the exact same video that I saw in Chicago! ... Come on! In every new town, you've got to make a new video!) And then Bewee himself came on stage! Ooooooooohhhhhhh jooooooooooyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeee! (Really ... I was happy when he showed his fayce.)
And he sung "REBEL REBEL!" (Oohhhh baby!) And then he sung "New Killer Star." And then I called out to him: "HEY I HEARD THESE ONES ALREADY IN CHICAGO!!!!" And then he was like: "Oh, alright." and sung "Battle for Britain (The Letter)" from his Earthling album. Alright ... let me tell you a story about "Battle for Britain (The Letter)" ... it's not a great song. But that's okay. Now I can tell my grand-children that I saw David Bowie live performing "Battle for Britain (The Letter)." After that, he graced us with his 2002 cover of the Pixies' "The Cactus." That's a good song!
After everyone in the audience was thinking to themselves "I've never heard this song before ... What's a 'Britain?'" The next three songs he performed were all certified Bewee classics! The disco-robotic thing from Scary Monsters ("Fashion"), the gay anthem thing he wrote for Mott the Scoople ("All the Young Dudes") and then that new romantic thing he sung about a female of the Asiatic persuasion ("China Girl"). They were all great! Although, (and he did this in Chicago as well) the notes he sang for "China Girl" seemed kind of random, and it's not at all like I've heard it sound on the raydeeeeo (and that made it verrry difficult to sing along with). But it was David Bowie! And he sung "China Girl" ... what more could you ask for (besides backstage passes)?
Then, Bowie decided to sing "Pablo Picasso," the Modern Lovers cover he did for Reality ... and that was GREAT! I sort of regretted missing that one in the Chicago concert, and that regret turned into a non-regret! (Yay!) That's a wooooooonderful song! And then he performed one of his most popular ditties ("Fame"), and, let me tell ya, that completely rocked the house down (even though there was already no ceiling). The guy standing in front of me was absolutely INSANE ... He never took a dance lesson in his life, but it was the early 80s since he sort of figured out how the dancing thing works ... sort of. Eh! It was "Fame!" That's a good time to do a quasi-Mr. Roboto dance if there ever was one!
After that, he performed "The Lonliest Guy" from Reality. The people standing next to me went to the bathroom. And then it was "THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD!" (Yaaaaaaaaay!) That's the coolest song that ever lived, almost. After that, he said he would perform a song from Low. I guess he was expecting everyone to boo or something ... but he got such an enthusiastic response from that announcement that he said he would perform another Low song afterwards. And he did! The songs were "Breaking Glass" (cool song) and "Be My Wife" (another COOL song). And, after that, it was "Hallo Spaceboy." I never liked "Hallo Spaceboy," but I will admit that it's a much better concert song than it sounded on that 1995 album Outside. (I wish he would perform "Strangers When We Meet" instead of "Hallo Spaceboy" all the time, but ... I don't care! It's a freaking live concert!) It was loud. That's why it was cool. After that, it was "Sunday" from Heathen. I will be the first to say that Heathen is a much better studio creation, and it is really not filled with too many songs that scream out for concert performances. But I liked hearing "Sunday." ("Slow Burn" would have made a great concert song, but ... eh ... I'm not going to complain about anything! ... Or, if I do, I will always follow it by saying "I'm not going to complain.") Then, he sang "Heathen (The Rays)," which pretty much nobody in the audience liked, because it seems everyone sat down ... except for me, of course. (My posterior area was kept clean of Jerry Stiller lookalikes this time, and I was happy never to sit down! And I had a great view anyway, 'cos the seats in directly in front of me were empty! Yay!) At this point, Bowie said something like (and I'm not making it up this time): "I know what you're thinking ... when is he going to sing something that we know?" And anyone who was thinking that got their wish granted, because he sang "Under Pressure," which everybody in the world thinks is so great ... but I never cared a whole heck of a lot for it. But it's better than "Battle for Britain (The Letter)" and so it was all good. And then there was "Days" from Reality! I like that one! (Yay!)
(Time to start a new paragraph.) And next came the song that started it all! "Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch... etc." We all liked this song. It was a partyful song! Next, it was time for everyone to fall asleep again, because he performed one of his more obscure songs from That One Album Where He's Wearing the Dress called "The Supermen." Me, I never cared a whole heck of a lot for that one, but ... until David Bowie wants to embark on a road trip to Wichita, Kansas to hear me read my music reviews live and he wants to make requests, I probably don't have much of an influence of what songs he performs. But, heck! It's David Bowie! He could sing "Highlights from the Phantom of the Opera" on stage, and I'd be perfectly happy. Then, to my uttermost merriment, he sang one of my all-time favorites (from any artist) "Ashes to Ashes" (that was worth the ticket-price alone). And next was one of his good obscure songs: "Quicksand" from Hunky Dory. When the goodness of the last notes of "Quicksand" died down, Bowie performed what I'm almost positive is his favorite song to sing in concert The Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat" ... because I saw a video of him singing this back in the 70s when he used to dressed up like a freak in rock-and-roll pajamas. He also sang that one in Chicago. ... He laaahkes that one ...
And then when he performed "Heroes," I knew the concert was almost over. ("Heroes" is the last song he performs in ALL of his concerts, pretty much!) And that's a great one! It's my third favorite Bowie song! And then he left, and he made everyone in the audience scream and rattle the seats for nearly five minutes until he came out again. To my happy surprise, the first song he performed in the encore was "Station to Station!" It was the first time he performed it in a decade, he said, which made me feel like the special person that I am! (And I loooooooove that song, too!) After that point, 88 percent of the audience wondered why he wasn't signing anything from Ziggy Stardust, so he closed the concert with a GREAT rendition of "Suffragette City." Since I've been to Chicago, I realized that "Wham Bam Thank You, Ma'am" means something really naughty, so I resisted calling that out, but ... everyone else did, and that was cool. After that, it was a wonderful chorus of "Ziggy Stardust" to close the concert with. (I noticed, at this point, that he pushed his hair back, making it vaguely resemble the old Ziggy Stardust hair-do.)
And then the concert was over ... and so was that particular stage of my life ...
(Pseudo-poetics! You've got to love me!)
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