Looks like I’ve found somewhere to rent though I still have a lot to do in terms of moving, so blog posts will remain at a minimum, 1-2 posts a month for the foreseeable future. I’ve been dealing with sciatic nerve pain running down my leg, not fun, forced to change my workstation habits, less sitting, more exercise and standing up. Unfortunately I’ve read the injury takes quite a while to heal but I still managed a few albums and finally got around to Bowie, or the first stage of his discography at least, from 1969-1974. (I skipped his 1967 LP which I don’t consider a proper Bowie album)
David Bowie / Space Oddity by David Bowie (1969)
The opener Space Oddity is a Bowie classic, inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the space race at the time. A song that also could be interpreted as a drug trip or about facing your fear. The album highlight for its lyrics, vocal performance and production values. The rest of the A-side is quite underrated. Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed is a good blues rock track especially for the backing band. The lyrically ambitious 9 minute Cygnet Committee is empowering by insisting “I want to live”, apparently the song is about the faults of the hippy movement, although maybe the same could have been said with less words. Letter to Hermione is a farewell ballad to his former girlfriend, Hermione Farthingale, who was also the subject of An Occasional Dream.
The b-side of the album is a look at where Bowie was at during this time, the strongest of them are Janine and An Occasional Dream. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud feels a bit pompous. The only song I skip over is God Knows I’m Good with its annoying chorus. Memory of a Free Festival has a dull intro and builds to an ending which is kind of Bowie’s answer to the outro of Hey Jude. I’ve listened to the LP 2-3 times and it grows on you.
The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie (1970)
Rockier than the previous 1969 album. The guitar work on The Width of a Circle stands out, with lyrics about identity and meeting a monster by a tree who is himself. Perhaps a song about confronting your vices. Others have interpreted it as a sexual encounter with God, the Devil or some other supernatural being.
All the Madmen is about the perception of sanity and insanity. If everyone was insane, the one sane person would be perceived as crazy. Autobiographical as his brother was in a mental institution. Bowie voices his belief that we’re all insane in our own ways.
After All is probably the strangest song here.
Running Gun Blues returns to the heavier rock sound, about the Vietnam War and seems to be an anti-violence message.
Saviour Machine envisions a society where a machine solves all problems but then becomes obsolete itself.
She Shook Me Cold is memorable for the giant guitar riff. There are some truly inspired riffs on this album, the intro to The Man Who Sold the World is another, a song famously covered by Kurt Cobain in the 90s. Bowie is quoted as saying “I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for”.
Supermen was partly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and H. P. Lovecraft, lyrics about supermen who live “tragic endless lives”.
It has been claimed that glam rock began with the release of this album, though is also attributed to Marc Bolan wearing glitter on a Top of the Pops appearance, December 1970.
Hunky Dory by David Bowie (1971)
Although only a moderate commercial success, the album was very well-received by critics, with unforgettable pop singles such as Changes and Life on Mars? The playful artwork hints at the confusion over the artist’s sexuality and the singer would use this (at the time) controversial aspect to promote himself. In fact his wife Angie encouraged him to experiment with his appearance.
Bowie pays tribute to his influences with the tracks “Song for Bob Dylan” (Dylan’s reinventions paved the way for Bowie), “Andy Warhol” and the Velvet Underground inspired “Queen Bitch”. There’s also a fascination of parenthood, fame and consumerism, themes which run through the record. Musically moving away from hard rock to mostly piano-heavy arrangements. A greater attention to accessible and pop friendly melodies.
Changes is about being young and searching for an identity, while also tapping into the reinvention of Bowie’s career.
Oh! You Pretty Things, one of the stronger non-singles for its melody, is allegedly a reaction to his wife’s pregnancy, while giving the words multiple meanings and referencing bands and predicting the arrival of Nietzschean supermen on earth.
Eight Line Poem is about the division between countryside and urban landscape, and goes in a country music direction in the vocal and instrumentation. It’s not a bad song but feels somewhat like a missed opportunity.
Life on Mars, among Bowie’s most recognizable 70s hits, described by the singer as “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” as she goes to the cinema. The title is a call for something beyond that which the mousy girl knows, beyond her dull life, maybe even beyond entertainment. A universal longing most can identify with. The second half of the song suggests the artist’s point of view, and a struggle with repetition in their work, yet also a look at commercialism.
Bowie wrote the song Kooks to his newborn son Duncan “Zowie” Jones, continuing the parent theme of Oh! You Pretty Things.
Quicksand could be the most philosophical album track, Bowie pondering the unknown and unanswerable questions.
Fill Your Heart is a response to Quicksand with a message of love and forgetting your mind, I’m not a fan of the vocal performance.
Queen Bitch is a rockier tune, borrowing its memorable riff from Eddie Cochran’s 1960 single “Three Steps to Heaven”. A strange story, yet relatable lyrics of missing out and what could have been.
The closer revisits the mental illness theme of the track All the Madmen (on 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World). The Bewlay Brothers is about Bowie’s older half-brother, who was hospitalized with schizophrenia and would eventually commit suicide in 1985.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie (1972)
Considered Bowie’s breakthrough album and sometimes referred to as his magnum opus. A loose concept album about Bowie’s titular alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a fictional androgynous bisexual rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. Among other things, the lyrics discuss the artificiality of rock music, political issues, drug use, sexual orientation, social taboos and stardom. Received widespread critical acclaim and recognized as one of the most important glam rock albums. His backing band realized that most of the songs on Hunky Dory were not suitable live material, so they needed a follow-up that could be toured with.
Five Years, probably the most straight-forward on the album in terms of story, details the panic over the announcement of the end of the world due to a lack of natural resources. I especially like the melody in the first half of the song. The second half is a little too on-the-nose. A sad song which can bring a tear to your eye.
Moontage Daydream contains heavy metal elements and introduces the alien messiah that will rescue the earth from disaster. Often cited as an album favorite by members of the band. Featuring use of the cut-up technique in which Bowie would re-arrange random words such as the famous opening lyric: ”I’m an alligator. I’m a mama-papa”.
Starman, a catchy, decade defining pop single. A great song which I’m a bit weary of.
Star concerns itself with Ziggy and his realization that being a rock n roll star is the way to save the world.
Hang On To Yourself is one of the earliest examples of Punk Rock/Proto Punk
Ziggy Stardust, another iconic 70s classic, with an instantly recognizable opening guitar riff. About the animosity that arises between Ziggy and the group, as Ziggy grows more and more popular, pushing The Spiders from Mars to the shadows as he gets the spotlight. Ziggy was killed by his fans when they turned on him for neglecting them, and the band broke up, having lost their frontman.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide is about Ziggy’s death and Bowie’s heightened vocal performance adds emotion to the situation.
Musically the 1972 album is top-tier Bowie, a big sound with lots of pop hooks. Although there isn’t much depth. He is hiding behind a character and not willing to share personal anecdotes. Taking space-themed and fame aspects from previous albums and expanding or reusing ideas. Fun pop to listen to but the Ziggy character is very sketchy and to me the music becomes style over substance. The argument could be made there are enough blank spaces so the audience can reach their own conclusions about Ziggy. Bowie admitted in a 1977 interview that people “contributed more information into Ziggy than I put into him”. The shifting points of view is inventive yet confusing. In the Hang On To Yourself documentary the singer is quoted as saying: “If you’d asked me at the time what it was I was trying to do I had simply no idea. This otherness, this alternative realty I wanted to embrace, I wanted anything than the place I came from”
Bowie’s vocal performances are definitely praiseworthy as he brings plenty of variation vocally from track to track. I respect the album but prefer his 1970 and 1971 LPs.
Aladdin Sane by David Bowie (1973)
There’s an attempt to reach the American audience, lyrics written in (and about) the US. The album sleeve (along with 1977’s Heroes) is arguably the most striking of his career, depicting a lightning bolt on his face.
Watch That Man: About hanging out with The New York Dolls. Didn’t like the harsh production.
Aladdin Sane: There’s a chaotic use of piano on the title track, fun and over the top. An anti-war song in how young men are enticed into enlisting in the armed forces. Introduces the “American cousin” of Ziggy Stardust.
Drive-In Saturday: A strong single with a brilliant chorus. Bowie: “it’s about a future where people have forgotten how to make love, so they go back to video-films that they have kept from this century”
Panic in Detroit: Excellent guitar riff that had me tapping my foot. The lyrics were inspired by late-night stories about the Detroit 1967 riots told to Bowie by Iggy Pop. The 5-day riot was one of the worst in American history.
Cracked Actor: Daring lyrics for the time it was written. About an aging movie star’s sexual encounter with a prostitute. Cracked Actor is also the title of a 1975 television documentary about Bowie.
Time: The lyrics seem to be semi-autobiographical and personal, about his faltering marriage to Angie Bowie:
“Breaking up is hard, but keeping dark is hateful
I had so many dreams
I had so many breakthroughs
But you, my love, were kind
But love has left you dreamless
The door to dreams was closed
Your park was real and dreamless
Perhaps you’re smiling now
Smiling through this darkness
But all I had to give was guilt for dreaming”
The Prettiest Star: Another tune about David’s and Angela’s marriage. Written in 1970, a romantic song, in contrast to the conflict and bitterness which ‘Time’ suggested. A second interpretation is the song is about falling in love with a movie star.
The Jean Genie: The most instantly recognizable track from the album though I never really enjoyed it. Bowie might be using his cut-up technique here as the lyrics are strange and surrealistic. Perhaps written in a drug haze? It’s been said the song was influenced by the outrageous behavior of Iggy Pop.
Lady Grinning Soul: The most beautiful and romantic song on the album. Pianist Mike Garson’s contributions add a lot to the album as a whole.
Diamond Dogs by David Bowie (1974)
This 1974 concept album was Bowie’s glam swan song. He decided to play all the instruments himself, except drums (Aynsley Dunbar), bass (Herbie Flowers) and keyboards (Mike Garson). Since he was a teenager, the singer had been fascinated about malformations and he decided to put some references in, while also giving the album a post-apocalyptic atmosphere in the vein of Orwell’s 1984. The eye-catching cover artwork features Bowie as a half-man, half-dog, painted by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert. The album is credited with anticipating the punk revolution that would take place in the late 70s.
The A-side is full of energy while the B-side (tracks 7-11) I found pretty boring. Rebel Rebel is the single everyone is familiar with its classic lyrics and memorable guitar riff. Overall, the album has its moments but feels rather shallow and top-heavy.
High as Hope by Florence + The Machine (2018)
One of my favorite albums of 2018 so far. I was moved by the lyrics of South London Forever while the orchestral production on Patricia (apparently a Patti Smith tribute) stands out. The epic Big God and 100 Years are both quite powerful. Her vocal delivery is a bit samey during the course of the album but you could argue it’s cohesive. June, Hunger, Sky Full of Song, Grace and The End of Love are decent but maybe at times a bit repetitive. I haven’t followed the career of Florence + The Machine so don’t know how High as Hope compares to the other releases.
Seasons, Pt. 1 by Jan Hammer (2018)
A pleasant, 46 minute summer-tinged album with enough instrumental variation to keep it interesting. Not as iconic as his Miami Vice work and I wasn’t expecting it to be. The opener is a little lazy with the Phil Collins-esque drumming but some of the tracks, “April”, “Winter Solstice”, “New World II” and “Causeway Bridge”, certainly are good enough to be represented in a potential reboot of the TV show. I can imagine would be nice to chill out to on a long car journey. The weaker parts of the record go in a slightly bland new-age direction, such as 68 Reasons, Suite European and Seasons. The guitar and keyboard playing sometimes saves the lesser songs. Sounds like he’s still using the same production techniques as in the 1980s and you could be tricked into thinking was recorded many years ago. Pitchfork didn’t even mention Seasons, Pt. 1 for the week’s new album releases which is a travesty since it’s Jan Hammer’s first new album in close to a decade. I enjoyed the album even though several cuts feel like jingles rather than songs. But I suppose you’d expect that from a musician who is known for TV themes, commercials etc.
Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe (2018)
Don’t like the vocal distortion on the title track. Crazy Classic Life is a highlight with its catchy chorus and empowering lyrics.
The instrumental intro of Take A Byte is fantastic and the track is among the better deep cuts on the LP, even if I’m not convinced by the vocal. Screwed (surprisingly not a single) starts with a wonderful guitar riff and is a fun pop song with daring lyrics ala Prince (who collaborated on the album before his untimely death).
A top heavy album. There’s some filler on the second half. The single Make Me Feel (which I find overhyped) is getting attention and is reminiscent of Kiss by Prince. The spoken word parts of the political closer Americans are passionate, though it feels like a homage to The Purple One and especially Let’s Go Crazy. To sum up, four songs I liked, the rest of the material I’m iffy about.
Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts (2018)
I expected more based on the 3.64 score on RYM. I was pretty bored and could hardly finish most of the tracks! Not a fan of shouty vocals so maybe it just wasn’t my taste in the first place. The title track is a fun single with an infectious guitar riff. I like the piano on the closer Tenderness. The melody for Total Football is memorable too.
Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides by Sophie (2018)
Currently ranked as the 17th best album of 2018 on RYM’s chart. Healthy to try new things and this is my first bubblegum bass album. It’s Okay to Cry is a moving opener, a ballad with a nice synth intro. The next two tracks go for a Skrillex-esque production which is a complete change of pace and isn’t for me. There’s a beautiful 50 second section in the middle of the song Faceshopping which reminded me of Kate Bush, and so does the impressive vocal performance on Is It Cold In The Water? which contains a memorable chorus. I’m sure the transgender community have got a lot to relate to in the lyrics but since I’m not of that persuasion, I was simply interested in the tunes. Not Okay and Ponyboy are the worst tracks. The instrumental Pretending wouldn’t have been out of place on Anna von Hausswolff’s 2018 LP Dead Magic. RYM users are raving about Immaterial (I disliked it) which sounds like a modern pop song from the Billboard Hot 100. The final track Whole New World is again for Skrillex fans. While the album has its strong pop moments, the tonal shifts are just too jarring and abrasive. Skrillex combined with Kate Bush is a bold yet extremely odd combination. I liked and loathed different parts of the album, making it difficult to reach an opinion.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome