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Old 11-23-2021, 08:49 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Trollheart's Album Discography Reviews: David Bowie


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
Stay
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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Old 11-24-2021, 07:50 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Didn't you do something like this on your MB Classics threads?
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Old 11-24-2021, 11:07 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Possibly. Who knows? Mostly it's taken from my Discography Project in my journal The Playlist of Life, which is, to all intents and purposes, dead now. It's just a chance to annoy those who have not followed the breadcrumbs into the forest and been trapped in Journal Land and make them read what I've written.
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Old 12-04-2021, 03:49 PM   #4 (permalink)
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The Man Who Sold the World (1970)


I'm told this was the album that began the “classic” Bowie period, and also served as his first steps into what would become glam rock and even heavy metal. It also kicks off the long association with the man who would become synonymous with his music, guitarist Mick Ronson. It certainly starts heavily enough, with a big feedback guitar which then powers into a whole hard rock groove recalling the likes of Purple and Free as well as T-Rex. Bowie's vocal when it comes in is harder too, somewhat bitter to a degree. There's some great riffing from Ronson and the piano has taken something of a backseat, as have the other acoustic instruments, such as the flute, recorder and acoustic guitar and indeed cello. Great smoking solo from Ronson as the song really takes off and Bowie is already reinventing himself. From the soft-spoken, somewhat shy raconteour of the last two albums, he's suddenly moving into the role he would describe on his fifth album as a “leper messiah”, and entreating - actually, ordering - us all to follow him on his magical, mysterious, magnificent journey as he explores the limits of his musical talent and creativity: limits which, we were to discover over forty-some years, hardly even existed.

Slowing down now in the middle with what I can only describe as a sawing motion on the guitar (Plankton or Chula or someone can explain it better I'm sure) and the whole song takes on an almost, again, messianic aura before it jumps into a blues groove recalling the twelve-bar blues of the likes of Quo and The Doors. Not quite sure how he managed to fit so much into eight minutes, but I'm exhausted already and it's only the first track! Slowing down again for the big finish, and into “All the Madmen”, on which we hear the return of the acoustic guitar, Bowie going back a little to the folk songs off the first two albums, Tony Visconti's flute piping up before Ronson shoulders all aside with a big nasty electric guitar barrage, leaning into Thin Lizzy territory at times (though this would have been before they developed that sound, so, once again, Bowie and his crew lead the way). The flute, somewhat incongruous but perhaps appropriate in a song about mad people jumps in again before Ronson hammers at the frets again to re-establish order.

Sounds like a violin there but may very well be the Moog, who knows? Answers on a postcard, or in a comment please. Fine group vocal in the closing chorus as it fades down and into “Black Country Rock”, with a deceptively gentle guitar taken out rather quickly by the snarling electric. Very thick bass line running through this, then in total contrast “After all” is a soft, gentle acoustic ballad (well, mostly acoustic) with some gospel-style singing in the backing vocalist department and an almost funereal aspect to it. There's a really nice ... I don't know what is is, sounds like a kazoo, probably Moog, riff running alongside the guitar at times, and a really angelic ending. Something of a manic vocal opening “Running Gun Blues” against an acoustic guitar then some heavy percussion fires the song into life (how the hell did he rhyme “rifle” with “disciple”?) and it becomes another hard rock bluesy thumper.

Another dystopian future explored in “Saviour Machine” with a sort of swaying rhythm and one of Bowie's best vocal performances in my opinion so far. This probably would have benefitted from orchestral backing, but the effects on the synth work nearly as well. Sweet solo from Ronson, augmented by a beautiful arpeggio on the keys, then it's back to hard rock and sexual innuendo (or not really even innuendo; it's pretty overt) with “She Shook Me Cold” before we hit the title track, and the only one I knew before I began this album. I've always loved the mysterious, enigmatic and somehow cold idea of a man selling the world, ever since I heard this on the back of my sister's single of “Life on Mars?” I have no idea what it's about, but the idea totally intrigues me, and the way it's played, that repeating guitar riff, the bossa-nova (?) rhythm, both incongrous and perfectly fitting the song, the lonely, haunted organ sound, to say nothing of the conversation between Bowie and the Man, all strike a real chord with me. Bowie says to him “I thought you'd died alone, a long long time ago?” and with a chuckle of pure malevolence the Man sneers, “Oh no, not me: I never lost control. You're face to face with the man who sold the world.” Freaky. Love the ending, the guitar riff fading out over the kind of mournful, desolate keening chant. Love that song.

That leaves us with “The Supermen” to take the album to its conclusion, and it's brought in on pounding, tumbling percussion with something akin to a continuation of the chant from the end of the title track, a sharp, almost spoken vocal from Bowie with a sense of African tribal chants mixed with gospel in the backing vocals while Bowie rants on and Ronson keeps a tight hold over the guitar for once. Well, for about half the song, then he lets rip with total abandon. Perfect closer.

TRACK LISTING

Width of a Circle
All the Madmen
Black Country Rock
After All
Running Gun Blues
Saviour Machine
She Shook Me Cold
The Man Who Sold the World
The Supermen

Definitely a heavier Bowie album than anything I've experienced up to now. I can see how it's seen as the one that began his career proper, as it were. The arrival of Mick Ronson puts a whole new slant on things, and while Bowie has been accused of not paying too much attention to the music due to being newlywed at the time, I don't see it reflected in what I heard here. But then, he was the consummate professional, and has refuted such allegations, and in the wake of his death I'm not about to bring them up again. Another fine album, looking forward to the next one.

Rating: 8.5/10
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Old 12-31-2021, 02:23 PM   #5 (permalink)
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My good pal, Mark was the drummer on Blackstar and I have to admit, I love that album. I don't typically enjoy a lot of work by artists later in their careers as much as their early stuff, but Bowie is definitely one of those rare exceptions.
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Old 01-10-2022, 01:34 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I don't mean to nitpick, because I'm sure I'll be reading this journal as it develops, but didn't you go a bit over the top with the
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has done more to change music than possibly anyone else in rock
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Old 01-11-2022, 06:16 AM   #7 (permalink)
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No.
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Old 01-11-2022, 07:18 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I don't mean to nitpick, because I'm sure I'll be reading this journal as it develops, but didn't you go a bit over the top with the

part?
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No.
Er, I know some certain fans of four obscure guys from Liverpool that may beg to differ.
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Old 01-11-2022, 09:22 PM   #9 (permalink)
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No. Oasis are shite.
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Old 01-13-2022, 07:34 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)


The album that would, after some definite chart success, return Bowie to the very top of his game, so much so that many people (including me at the time) had all but forgotten him before he burst into the number one spot with his updated “Space Oddity”, telling the tale of what had happened to Major Tom over a decade ago, in “Ashes to Ashes”. This would not be the only hit single from the album, which would itself power to the top in the UK and just edge below the top ten in the US, significant improvements on his last two albums.

Strangely enough, “It's No Game (Part 1)” has some Japanese bird singing in her native language as the album kicks off, but Bowie soon comes in with his inimitable vocal and the song is a mid-paced hard rocker whose melody owes rather a lot to Robert Palmer's “Addicted to Love”, with Robert Fripp racking out the riffs on the guitar. I have of course no idea what the Japanese lady - whose name is, according to Wiki, Michi Horata, but it means about as much to me as it probably does to you - is singing, but it kind of doesn't matter. I think Bowie is singing the translation anyway. The song ends with Bowie shouting angrily “Shut up!” and we're into a song I do know.

I'm not that well-versed in this album at all, but “Up the Hill Backwards” is one track I have heard, and again oddly it reminds me of Bucks Fizz (yeah) in the sort of slow marching melody of the verses. Bowie's vocal is either multitracked or there are backing vox supporting him all through the song, giving the singing a weird kind of full, echo effect. Strange. It's quite anthemic in a restrained kind of way, then breaks into guitar histrionics from Fripp, which are kind of worth the price of purchase on their own, even if for some mad reason you didn't like Bowie. Good, tight percussion from Dennis Davis, and the song is over too soon, taking us into the title track, which rocks along with a krautrock flavour, a touch of Eastern European in the main guitar riff in the chorus, and Bowie putting on a cockney accent which really adds to the song. Great fun; sort of puts me in mind stylistically of “Suffragette City”, not sure why...

Again, this song features some great rolling percussion from Davis that really drives it, another mad solo from Fripp and some solid acoustic guitar from producer Tony Visconti, who also adds his voice to the backing vocals. The big hit single sees us return to the days of Bowie's beginnings, with Major Tom returning to take him to number one for the first time in years as “Ashes to Ashes” lays down the marker and states in no uncertain terms that the Thin White Duke is back. A great idea with some wonderful touches in the song, including a sort of murmured choir that repeat the lines Bowie sings like a bunch of acolytes praying. A very freaky video, if I remember correctly. Great strong vocal from the man, and some nice guitar synthesiser popping all over the track, creating a very otherworldly feel and really making you believe you're standing on the surface of an alien planet. Well, it makes me feel that way.

Another hit then is up with “Fashion”, another stab at krautrock and perhaps a sly dig at himself , trendsetters and sheep maybe, the way people follow whatever's “in” at the time. A drum loop at the beginning perhaps a comment on how things go out of fashion and then come back in again, and the whole stupid cycle repeats itself, like a stuck record (oh, look it up!), as Fripp batters all in sight with his guitar riffs and soundscapes. Speaking of taking digs, the next track up sneers at the new wave kids, the likes of maybe Gary Numan, Fiction Factory and A Flock of Seagulls, as Bowie watches them ape the moves he pioneered in “Teenage Wildlife”. For me, the standout on the album, it's based quite heavily on the main melody to “Heroes”, but never sounds like a copy of that classic. Bowie is at his expressive best here singing, with the criminally-ignored-by-me Carlos Alomar making his presence felt in the absence of Fripp, and firing off an emotional and powerful solo, Roy Bittan doing a fine job on the piano, and the whole thing just flows so well that it really should have been a single. Mind you, it would have had to have been cut down considerably from its almost seven-minute running time. Could have been a huge hit though. Sorry, another huge hit. Love this track. Something like tubular bells or the like there near the end, with a kind of funky run on the piano and guitar too. Another superb solo from Alomar, and a fine punching drumbeat from Davis.

Hard to follow that maybe, and “Scream Like a Baby”, though a good track, doesn't quite cut it for me. There's nothing wrong with it necessarily, it's just that a song would have to be immense to be able to trump “Teenage Wildlife”, and this one ain't got the bus fare mate. It's a hard, grinding rocker with a snarly guitar line from Alomar and some pretty frenetic synth from Andy Clark, a dark, dystopian tale of a political prisoner, set in the future. Some very new-wave keys from Clark add a surreal feel to what is already a pretty out-there song, and some sort of baritone singing from Bowie pushes it even further. The only cover on the album then is Tom Verlaine's “Kingdom Come”, which sounds to me like it has the melody of Blondie's “Picture This” at the start, a very sixties/psychedelic vocal chorus , also including the line ” won't go breakin' no rocks” which makes me wonder if it was filched by Elton and Bernie for their song? Meh, it's ok but I'm not bowled over.

Pete Townsend puts in a star turn as he guests on “Because You're Young”, which has a very rock feel that brings to mind the work of The Edge - yeah well it does to me - a punchy, mid-paced track with some really nice synth work from Clark and a nice rockalong beat from Davis. Sort of a new wave keyboard behind the rocky guitar and Bowie, needless to say, delivers as ever a flawless performance. There's also a faint echo of Bruce Springsteen here in the vocal, I feel. The album then closes as it began, with “It's No Game (Part 2)”, a less frenetic rhythm this time, a restrained but firm guitar, and no Japanese singing. More great backing vocals, almost like a choir, and a last bow for Fripp before he departs for his home planet. Calm and reserved but still angry and powerful, and a good end to a really good album.

Track Listing

1. It's No Game (Part 1)
2. Up the Hill Backwards
3. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
4. Ashes to Ashes
5. Fashion
6. Teenage Wildlife
7. Scream Like a Baby
8. Kingdom Come
9. Because You're Young
10. It's No Game (Part 2)

It seems Bowie seldom if ever misses the mark, though I do remember being very disappointed with Never Let Me Down, which is rather ironic I guess. This album kicked off a series of successes for Bowie which I suppose in one way you could see as his comeback, though in truth he had never been away. But with hit singles from this and the next three albums, he would be in the public consciousness and on the radio for the next seven years, after which he would get into some more experimental stuff and kind of vanish off the radar commercially for about, well, another twenty-seven years, when he would burst back onto the scene, giving us one last treat before he left us, and showing us all once again how it was done, at the ripe old age of sixty-six.

As a first shot across the bows from the resurgent Bowie at the time, this album shows a man as ever brimming with creative ideas, energy and purpose, and certainly not content to rest on his laurels and fade into the background, counting his money and polishing his gold discs. After this period of activity, he would have a few more to add to his collection. And quite right too.

Rating: 9.6/10
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