Albums of the month: August

 

 

 

 

Young Americans by David Bowie (1975).jpg
Young Americans by David Bowie (1975)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
I haven’t listened to nearly enough soul music to properly assess the album’s merits. In order to create a more authentically soulful sound, Bowie brought in musicians from the funk and soul community, including an early-career Luther Vandross and Andy Newmark, drummer of Sly and the Family Stone.
Many of the compositions feature backing singers and saxophone. The opening title track Young Americans is a Bowie classic and the “All right, she wants the young American” chorus is unforgettable. Win features a seductive vocal in the vein of his Let’s Dance phase. Fascination and the John Lennon contribution Fame are both pretty funky. The cover of Across the Universe is the weakest moment here. I like some of the saxophone sections across this album but maybe the instrument was overused. The lyrics seem to be of lesser importance.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Station to Station by David Bowie (1976).jpg
Station to Station by David Bowie (1976)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
Blending funk, krautrock, balladry. A transitional album, developing the funk and soul music of Young Americans, while presenting a new direction towards synthesizers and influenced by German electronic bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk.
The consensus seems to be that the album is experimental, technically brilliant and enigmatic.
A showcase for his new alterego The Thin White Duke, an impeccably dressed hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonised intensity, yet felt nothing.
The title track Station to Station starts with the rhyme of a train and could be about the tension between the desire to experience deep feelings while also wanting to protect yourself and attain an aloofness.
Golden Years was originally written with Elvis in mind and has been described as carrying with it “an air of regret for missed opportunities and past pleasures”.
Word on a Wing, suggests a connection to God, and a blurring of reality and “grand delusion”, Bowie described the lyrics in a 1980 interview: “It did come as a complete revolt against elements that I found in the film…Something I needed to produce from within myself to safeguard myself against some of the situations I felt were happening on the film set” (as an actor in 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth in which he plays an alien visiting earth)
TVC15 has a catchy second half, and lyrics apparently about hallucinating a girlfriend is swallowed by a TV set, and the narrator going to look for her.
Stay features inspired guitar work, and lyrics about drug addiction and asking a woman to stay.
Wild Is the Wind is a romantic and tender Nina Simone cover, and has been praised as one of the finest vocal performances of Bowie’s career.
9/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low by David Bowie (1977)
Low by David Bowie (1977)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
An experimental, atmospheric album with the b-side including instrumentals, and several of the A-sides very cinematic. The writing is quite sparse and open to interpretation. Musician Brian Eno was moving towards his ambient phase at this point in the mid 70s, he was a collaborator on various tracks. The photographic image, under the album’s title, formed a deliberate pun on the phrase “low profile”. Low has also been regarded by music analysts as being a crucial influence on the post-rock genre, which would come to prominence among underground musicians nearly two decades after the album’s release.
Be My Wife has been talked of as an influential track on the 90s britpop sound.
Warszawa is on the verge of a horror soundtrack, an unsettling mood piece, which takes you to a different head space and taps into feelings of isolation and melancholy, whether this is a reflection of Bowie’s own inner turmoil following his drug-taking years in America or a result of his new surroundings in Europe is uncertain. Perhaps both? He has said in interviews he was no longer playing a character. Joy Division took inspiration from the instrumental, as they were originally called Warsaw.
The life-affirming instrumental Speed of Life is the polar opposite to the darkness of Warszawa. These mood swings also feature on his next album “Heroes”.
The track Sound and Vision is probably about artistic inspiration and how you sometimes have to wait for it.
Always Crashing In The Same Car might suggest drug addiction, making the same mistake over and over.
Bowie said in 1977 that the song Weeping Wall is “about the Berlin Wall, the misery of it.” Others, however, have suggested that it was originally developed for use in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie’s (never completed) work on the soundtrack became the inspiration behind his experiments on Low and “Heroes”.
9-10/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes by David Bowie  (1977)
“Heroes” by David Bowie  (1977)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
The second chapter of the Berlin trilogy continues what 1976’s Low started, with mostly instrumentals on the B-side. Bowie said that the quotation marks in the title “indicate a dimension of irony about the word ‘heroes’ or about the whole concept of heroism”.
The uplifting title track likely was influenced by Neu 75, an album Bowie mentioned in interviews he was a fan of. The famous title track was inspired by producer Tony Visconti’s brief love affair with one of the backing singers. Visconti was married, so the affair was doomed from the start.
Sons of the Silent Age could be about frustration with passivity.
Blackout suggests the narrator is unwell and having blackouts. Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray stated that the song is about the collapses that Bowie suffered in Berlin.
Side B:
Sense of Doubt evokes an ominous mood.
Moss Garden has a tranquil atmosphere and is meant to invoke the feeling of being in the Saiho-ji moss gardens of Kyoto, Japan.
Neuköln reflects Bowie absorbing his surroundings. Perhaps a sense of the lonely voices on each side of the Berlin wall. Neukölln was home to many Turkish immigrants.
While the LP is still top-tier Bowie at times, the album overall is less memorable and not as groundbreaking as Low and Station to Station.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lodger by David Bowie (1979).jpg
Lodger by David Bowie (1979)

Lodger is my least liked of the Berlin trilogy. Granted, Bowie wanted to keep changing and experimented with world music, but…it just isn’t as strong as the two Bowie albums from 1977.
Lodger has been interpreted as divided roughly into two major themes, that of travel (primarily side one) and critiques of Western civilization (primarily side two). It is also noteworthy for foreshadowing David Byrne’s and Brian Eno’s album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981).
Tracks 6-8 are the most accessible but I’m not a big admirer of the singles D.J. and Boys Keep Swinging.
On Repetition, he was quoted: “I decided to write something on the deeply disturbing subject of wife abuse in the manner of a short-form drama”
The extended 1988 version of Look Back in Anger (provided as a bonus track on the reissue) might be my favorite track.
Despite not loving Lodger, it’s still innovative and superior to most albums produced in the 2010s.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let's Dance by David Bowie (1983).jpg
Let’s Dance by David Bowie (1983)

Bowie was already starting to go Pop/New Wave on his 1980 album Scary Monsters and Let’s Dance is a continuation of that direction into Dance-Pop. The lyrics are safer and less interesting than his 70s work.
As with the 1980 album, there’s a run on the A-side of three great tracks in a row: Modern Love, China Girl, and Let’s Dance. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) is also essential Bowie and has been used for various soundtracks. Criminal World has a nice guitar intro while closer Shake It is basically an inferior version of the title track. Without You is the best of the lesser known tunes here.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tidal by Fiona Apple (1996)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
A 90s classic which won several awards. I don’t know if I’m right, but to me it feels like the most personal and sincere record she ever wrote. I hadn’t listened to Tidal in a decade, holds up really well. Similar to Kate Bush, Apple was very mature as a writer at a young age. Besides the introspective songwriting these tunes also have a nice instrumental variation, while also being quite piano heavy. She plays the piano herself. Rare that I like every track on an album.
The opening lyric might be the most striking:
“I tell you how I feel, but you don’t care
I say tell me the truth, but you don’t dare”
10/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When the Pawn… by Fiona Apple (1999)
Apple is angrier and louder here. Perhaps she got inspired by Alanis Morissette? There are very few weak tracks and lots of memorable moments. The music doesn’t hit me as hard on an emotional level as the 1996 debut did, although the songwriting is still excellent. Notable for breaking the world record for the album with the longest title, often abbreviated.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome