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Old 05-10-2022, 08:40 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Diamond Dogs (1974)

Ah, finally! An album I know well. This was the last real glam rock album from Bowie, just before he launched into his “new soul” era, ditching the world of makeup and high heels just as it was beginning to become derivative, and once again reinventing himself as the rock and roll chameleon. Having parted company with Mick Ronson and longtime bassist Trevor Bolder, Bowie undertook all the guitar parts himself (bar “Rock'n'Roll with Me”, on which the guitar was played by Earl Slick) and this tends to make the album sound rawer, almost amateurish in parts, but also imparts a freshness to it, and betrays a nod towards the looming storm of punk, waiting on the horizon.

Based loosely around George Orwell's dystopian masterpiece, it references much of Nineteen Eighty-Four in some of the song titles, and though he had been refused permission by Orwell's estate to create a rock musical based on the book, he used much of the music he had created for that project in anticipation of being given the go-ahead. Of course, Bowie had been looking into dark futures since the days of Hunky Dory, and it was probably no stretch for him to fill in the gaps and write his own story of a bleak future where kids ride around on roller-skates and have their own Mad Max style of tribal gang warfare. Again, in this vision of the future he was almost prophesying the rise of punk, which is pretty incredible given that this was 1974, with at least three to four more years before that particular phenomenon descended upon us.

With what sounds like a blood-curdling cry, the howl of a wolf or some semi-human being, which I think is made on the guitar, Bowie narrates the dark post-apocalyptic intro to the album, setting the scene as the strong prey on the weak and only the fittest survive, while discordant sax plays in the background and guitar feedback lays down an uncertain and somewhat disturbing soundtrack to this tale of final days, which Bowie declares “The year of the Diamond Dog” adding with feeling as we pile into the first proper track, the title one in fact, “This ain't rock'n'roll! This is genocide!”

Driven then on a very Stonesish chugging guitar, with sprightly piano almost out of place in this recounting of the crumbling of civilisation and the rise of the freaks who patrol the wasteland and spare no-one, “Diamond Dogs” rocks along at a great pace, and I have to say I really don't hear the absence of Ronson here. The guitar is simpler, yes, but when I heard this album originally back in the early eighties I had no idea he was not present. The chorus is instantly catchy as Bowie warns “Young girl, they call them the diamond dogs!” The song introduces Halloween Jack, Bowie's latest creation, again a version of Ziggy, who just refused to die, and the master of this bleak landscape, the survivor of survivors, king of the asphalt jungle, toughest of the tough, lord of all he surveys. The sax breaks coming in give the song a somewhat jazzy, soul aspect, and the almost-stop in the middle adds a lot to it.

Even without his longtime bandmates, it seems Bowie could do no wrong at this point. He had already taken an album of cover songs to the top, and now his adoring fans gleefully elevated him back to that position, and even across in the States he achieved his highest chart placing, getting for the first time to number five. Bowie's star was certainly on the rise now: the starman was no longer waiting in the sky; the man had fallen to Earth and found himself worshipped and adored. All hail the new king, the thin white duke, the diamond alpha dog! “Sweet Thing” opens very sort of psychedelicish, then advances on a slow piano and sax line, Bowie's voice dropping in register before coming back up for the chorus, running the whole gamut of his range. This song also, it must be said, presages his next move into the territory occupied mostly by persons not of his colour, as we will see soon when his soul period began.

Lovely piano work from Mike Garson again, and it's the album's first ballad, a three-part suite (the first, I think, he had attempted) which runs into “Candidate” on a sweet (sorry) guitar solo and pounding, almost classical piano, slow, military drumming now accompanying Bowie's sax breaks and guitar. The main melody remains but things begin to pick up in tempo as the passion increases with kind of a nod towards new wave, which had not yet even become a thing yet. Such an innovator. It builds to a fine crescendo and then descends into “Sweet Thing (reprise)” as the suite comes to its end on a twittering sax solo, everything slowing down again, the piece this time taking on gospel overtones and seeming to build to something. Which it sure as hell does.

Another of Bowie's bigger singles and one he's well known for, “Rebel Rebel” takes the album by the scruff and just fires it into an alley, laughing and diving on top of it with wild abandon. The grinding guitar riff that runs all through it is its signature, and worthy of Ronson at his best. The somewhat androgynous lines “Got your momma in a whirl/ She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl” definitely point towards his own feelings of sexuality at the time, well documented at that period. “Rebel Rebel” is a simple song, but so much the better for it, and I defy anyone not to tap their foot or even shake their head to its infectious rhythm. It does owe quite a lot of its iconic riff to “Satisfaction”, yes, but I love it and I especially love the way the chorus is almost the same as the verse. A precursor to punk? You 'd have to ask those better acquainted with that musical style, but I'd be inclined to think that a lot of young snotnoses coming up would have listened to this and thought “Fuck yeah! Let's do that!”

Garson's again almost gospel piano takes in “Rock'n'Roll with Me” as Bowie takes it down a notch, slowing everything down with sleazy sax and we have the second ballad, with incredible power and passion driven into the vocal, and a wonderful display on the guitar from Earl Slick in his guest role, almost sounds Claptonesque to me. One of my favourite tracks then is “We Are the Dead”, with a sort of dark carnival piano and organ driving the unsettling melody, a soft vocal from Bowie that builds and builds to a powerful climax, while “1984” floats in on sprinkly piano and almost disco rhythms, Visconti's strings playing a star turn here, really upping the tension and passion. Bowie's guitar is funky as all hell, and there's a lamenting moaned vocal that attends the chorus. It's possible that Bowie is cocking a satirical eyebrow at Orwell's estate's refusal to grant him permission for his musical when he warns “Beware the savage roar of 1984!”

“Big Brother” then comes in on trumpeting keyboards and brass with a dark choral vocal, a thick bass which sounds like it came from discarded edits for “Starman” and there's more soul allied to even Mariachi trumpets here. Great chorus with a fantastic hook, wonderful sax work and a real sense of desperate yearning takes us into the closer, the oddly titled “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family”, a kind of a mix of a tribal ritual and danse macabre, with odd vocalise within which the word “brother” can be discerned. Driven on a powerful, insistent guitar and sort of calypso style percussion it goes, basically around in a circle, until the last minute or so is just one half-word (I've seen it said that it sounds like “riot” but I think it's “brother”, or more correctly, “broth-”) which repeats sharply until it fades out.


Future Legend
Diamond Dogs
Sweet Thing
Sweet Thing (reprise)
Rebel Rebel
Rock'n'Roll with Me
We are the Dead
Big Brother
Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family

I remember how impressed I was the first time I heard this album. I remember now, because up to now I haven't really listened to it since, and now I regret that. As a swansong to his Ziggy personality in total, the end of his glam rock phase, and a thank you to his fans for sticking with him, you couldn't get better. Having attained all his goals, broken the UK and the USA, with his name now a household one and his meteoric rise to fame almost overnight (from unknown to star in what, two years?) most artistes would have been happy to have sat back and let the money roll in.

But as we know, Bowie never was most people. And having seen the heights he had scaled, it was like he looked across to a bigger, harder mountain, clapped his hands together and said “Right, that's that done. What's next?”

What was next was a complete change of direction, and a move that could have spelled doom for a lesser artist. But Bowie was never ... you get the idea.

Rating: 9.5/10
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Old 05-11-2022, 08:28 AM   #22 (permalink)
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The title track was really amazing. I loved the way it took such a long time getting there. The melody then becomes almost like a theatrical show with Have you sought fortune, evasive and shy?
Drink to the men who protect you and I
Drink, drink, drain your glass, raise your glass high

Also this album had quite a unique drums sound - not sharp but thudding. Superb vocals on Wild is the wind. That said, other tracks were less inspiring, perhaps even a bit dull. Not all of David is fab.

Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post

Time to kick off another thread, this time dedicated to a man who has done more to change music than possibly anyone else in rock, and whose passing almost five years ago now shocked the world, and not just the world of music. There never was, and there never likely ever will be a man like Mrs. Jones's little boy.

We'll kick off with one which is universally loved and highly rated.
For the most part, I found that I disagree.

Station to Station (1976)

After the soul experimentation of Young Americans Bowie began looking back in a European direction, and though at this time he was in a very bad place, addicted to cocaine and other drugs, seeing hallucinations and living, apparently, in morbid fear of Jimmy Page (!) he still managed to put together one of his most significant albums, and one which would kickstart and presage the trio of albums to follow, which would become known as “The Berlin Trilogy”. This album would also cement the lineup that would carry him through the seventies and into the eighties, and would also give him more hit singles.

The title track kicks it off, and with typical Bowie usage of cliches in new ways there's the sound of a steam locomotive pulling into a station before Carlos Alomar's guitar wails in, creepy piano and then George Murray's thick bass pulls the track in, the vocal not coming in till a third of the way through the ten-minute opus. Bowie's first words are ”The return of the Thin White Duke”, the new persona, something of a carryover from his role in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, which would basically become the new Ziggy Stardust and would populate his albums for some time, also creating a stage persona for him. Some very nice restrained organ here till it suddenly kicks up the tempo about halfway and carries it through to the end. “Golden years” was a big hit, with its funky laid back rhythm and soft, almost crooned vocal, and after the energy of – at least the second half of – the title track it's a nice change of pace, and sort of harks back to the white soul of the previous album.

There's a lot of the soul from Young Americans, though a lot more restrained in “Word on a wing”, lovely song with a great piano line and some fine backing vocals; Bowie really does himself proud on the vocal here, pushing himself emotionally to the limit and indulging in some real spirituality, evidenced if nowhere else then in the almost angelic choral fade ending of the song. I've never been the biggest fan of “TVC15”. I know it's a popular song but it's always come across as a little weird to me, with its sort of honky-tonk piano line and sixties rock feel, to say nothing of the totally incomprehensible lyric: it's claimed that the song is about a TV set eating Iggy Pop's girlfriend, but I don't anything about that. The chorus is certainly catchy, even if it is just basically the title sung over and over. I feel the song overstays its welcome somewhat, becoming more or less a jam in the end. Nice to hear Bowie handling the sax himself instead of farming it out to the likes of David Sanborn, and he's pretty damn accomplished on it too. Good song, but not one of my favourites.

“Stay” I know nothing about. It certainly has a very funky, Bensonesque guitar opening with a throbbing bass and sounds like it may be one of the rockiest tracks on the album. Some great work on the frets by Carlos and the song itself, though rocky, has very much soul overtones to it, almost disco at times. Bowie has been quoted as saying that there is no emotion in this album, that even the love songs are disconnected, but I really don't see it, especially in a sublime ballad such as “Wild is the wind”, which closes the album. I'm amazed to find it's a cover of a Nina Simone track, as I had always assumed he wrote it (lyric sounds so much like something he would write) but you can't avoid facts. One of my favourite songs of his overall, and definitely in my top ten of favourite ballads from him. Love the big drum roll around the fourth minute. Beautiful song.

Track Listing

Station to Station
Golden Years
Word on a wing
TVC 15
Wild is the Wind

Almost unanimously, people rave about this as being Bowie's finest album, and while I do like it I don't agree. Firstly, it's only six tracks, and of them I know three already, so there was no massive surprise for me in this, my first listen to the album. Second, I feel there is no huge difference between this and other Bowie albums I have so far heard; I hear the change in styles beginning, yes, but it's hardly a seismic shift, not here. While the songs are all memorable and I most likely would listen to it again, I'm not compelled to any more than I would be to listen to, for example, Hunky Dory or The Man Who Sold the World. I don't get the love and adulation for this album.

That said, it was certainly the crossover point for Bowie to move into new and as yet uncharted territory, and as ever, he would be the one piloting the ship through his next famous three albums, pioneering new routes that others would follow in the years to come, and showing that, once again, nobody would ever be able to predict which way he would jump.

Rating: 7.5/10
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