Friday, 10 April 2015

Bowie Albums Rated - Part 1

David Bowie is very probably one of the greatest people who ever lived. In music terms at least. He's an absolute fucking genius of the highest order, and if you dispute this I'll see you outside. I thought, therefore, he was worthy of a critical appraisal on this 'ere blog - an honour indeed. So over the next 8 Fridays I'll be rating all 25 of the great man's studio albums in chronological order. Compilations won't be included, neither will live albums, soundtracks, reissues, bonus tracks or imports. Just the UK versions as originally released. Oh, and no Tin Machine either.

My ratings are out of 10 and have been very unscientifically calculated using my own formula which is too embarrasingly simple to share. But that's not important. I'd be really interested to hear what you guys think of each record so please do make use of that Comments section. Here we go then. Lift off...

David Bowie (1967)

Influenced by the likes of Anthony Newley, Tommy Steele and Syd Barrett, it's safe to say Bowie's self-titled debut is a far cry from what he would create on subsequent releases. It's not terrible, but it's not something you'd listen to more than a couple of times for the curiosity value. It is rather quaint, even fun in places. Uncle Arthur sounds like one of the Kinks' lighter moments while Please Mr. Gravedigger is just plain nuts. This was around the time of The Laughing Gnome, though thankfully it wasn't included on the album.

Interestingly though, some of Bowie's recurring themes cropped up for the first time here, most notably, in We Are Hungry Men, the disturbing Messianic megalomaniac that reappeared on Cygnet Committee, Saviour Machine, Oh! You Pretty Things and Ziggy Stardust. But in all-in-all, this is little more than a curious sidenote in the Bowie story.




David Bowie (1969) - a.k.a. Space Oddity and Man Of Words/Man Of Music

Bowie's first album for Phillips was rather confusingly given the same eponymous title as his Deram debut. On signing for RCA a couple years later, it was re-released as 'Space Oddity', the title by which it has become better known. For many, this record is really where it gets started for Bowie. While a couple of tracks hark back to the folksy elements of his first - see God Knows I'm Good, An Occasional Dream and Letter To Hermione, for instance - there are plenty more recognisable sounds that Bowie would develop on future records.

The nine-minute dystopian narrative Cygnet Committee has been cited as Bowie's first true masterpiece; but the standout tracks are those which bookend the album - and are by far the most unusual. Memory Of A Free Festival was written by Bowie about an event he had organised the previous year, and predominantly features a child's organ that sounds like a harmonium. The closing refrain "The sun machine is coming down/And we're gonna have a party/Uh-huh" was (rightly) compared to Hey Jude.

But the opener - and later title track - is the most outstanding track of all. It sounds like nothing else on the record, or much like anything else ever since. The tale of Major Tom was expanded on in Ashes To Ashes and Hallo Spaceboy in years to come, but Space Oddity remains the quintessential Bowie classic. It's out of place on an otherwise OK but far from remarkable album. Transitional, I think is the best verb to use here.



The Man Who Sold The World (1970)

Sometimes referred to as the record where it all really started for Bowie; some say it ushered in the birth of glam rock; some even call it heavy metal! Well, it's certainly more Zeppelin than Ziggy, that's for sure. But as highly regarded as it might be in some quarters, 'The Man Who Sold The World' has always left me somewhat cold.

It was probably the most consistent sounding Bowie album to date, the first to have a true identity. What it didn't have was much in the way of decent tunes. There's no doubt the title track is the real highlight, and opener The Width Of A Circle meanders in and out of various moods and sounds making it the most interesting track on the record. Elsewhere though it gets a bit boring, musically at least. Get past Mick Ronson's overblown guitar noodling and thick riffing and you might be able to take in Bowie's dark, sinister and occasionally disturbing lyrical subject matter: murder, war, paranoia, madness - it's not exactly the light and whimsical cabaret of his debut, and even those songs had stings in their tails.

While you can hear where Bowie was heading - The Supermen skirts Ziggy Stardust territory - it was clearly far from the finished product, and there is nothing on 'The Man Who Sold The World' that would hint at the greatness to come.




  1. Looking forward to this series and the ensuing arguments immensely!

  2. Personally, I have a lot of time for 'Man Who Sold the World'. It was my second Bowie LP, purchased soon after picking up 'Hunky Dory', and I'd say it has aged a lot better than some of his other records, 'Ziggy Stardust' for instance. I titled a late 1970's failed attempt at a fanzine, 'Ouvre Le Chien', after the refrain in 'All the Madmen'.