Friday, 24 April 2015

Bowie Albums Rated - Part 3

Just as he ushered glam rock in, Bowie was the one who called time on it. He bid the genre he practically invented a final farewell before seeking a new sound, a new audience, and inevitably, a new persona.

Pin Ups (1973)

I'm left rather confused by 'Pin Ups', I've never really seen the point. It's an anomaly in that, given Bowie had established himself as one of the world's brightest new, forward-thinking songwriters, 'Pin Ups' merely showcases a dozen cover versions of songs from mid-60s England. There are one or two gems - his version of Sorrow, for instance, sounds like a genuine attempt to make a decent single, and Bowie's voice is at its best; while Where Have All The Good Times Gone could easily have fit on 'Aladdin Sane'. The rest of it though is largely throwaway, pub band stuff.

5 / 10


Diamond Dogs (1974)

The band formerly known as the Spiders From Mars had been jettisoned by Bowie by the beginning of 1974. With it, the glam rock sound that made him a superstar was being gently urged to leave the party too. 'Diamond Dogs' was glam's last hurrah, although the raw, garagey noises evident on the album's eleven tracks made it clear times were a-changing.

Bowie himself played guitar on 'Diamond Dogs', which certainly explains a lot of the edginess it emitted. The sound was appropriate for its subject matter - a post-apocalyptic Manhattan populated by street kids trying to survive in this harsh environment; the Diamond Dogs of the album title. Bowie was moving on but not drastically so. Rebel Rebel, another of his undisputed classics, was the last triumphant shout out to Ziggy and Aladdin, while the title track swaggers with an arrogance and self-assuredness of a rock star at the top of his game.

But there were signs of what was to come next. The soulful ballad Rock 'n' Roll With Me, and 1984 which sounds like a thinly-veiled Theme From Shaft, were certainly pointers towards Bowie's "plastic soul" of 'Young Americans'. Despite the variety of styles however, 'Diamond Dogs' works well as a cohesive album, even if the darkness of some of the songs means there aren't quite so many memorable tunes as on some of his previous works.

7.8 / 10


Young Americans (1975)

Right from the off it's clear 'Young Americans' was different to anything Bowie had done before. Taking the sound of Philadelphia as his cue, he ditched glam rock once and for all and embraced, what he called, 'plastic soul'. This new sound called for a new batch of musicians and guitarist Carlos Alomar was drafted in. A relationship lasting 30+ years was born.

The title track, with its sweeping strings, excitable sax and soulful backing vocals set the tone. It's a great track too, so uplifting. Lead single Fame, written with John Lennon, took on a more funky feel, but the best track on the record for me was the result of another collaboration. Fascination was co-written by a young Luther Vandross who would go on to be one of the biggest soul stars of the 80s. It also showcased the vocals of another up-and-coming singer, Robin Clark, who a decade later would feature prominently on Simple Minds' 'Once Upon A Time' album.

Not all the collaborations were successful however. Another track recorded with Lennon - Across The Universe - simply doesn't work for me. Lennon does his best to inject some energy into it; his backing vocals duelling with Bowie's lead during the last couple of minutes almost win me over. I still much prefer the Beatles' original - Lennon's mellow, psychedelic vocals suit the essence of the song more, in my view. Here, it's all a little over the top.

While 'Young Americans' isn't a record I usually go for when I'm in the mood for some Bowie, it is enjoyable when I do give it a spin.

7.5 / 10


Station To Station (1976)

On his tenth album, Bowie and his cohorts adopted an experimental approach to the recording process. There are a lot of sounds on 'Station To Station' and there is a clear pointer towards the motorik style of the Berlin trilogy. Elsewhere, the funk feel of 'Young Americans' is still evident - Golden Years and Stay, in particular.

As a whole though, 'Station To Station' is sensational. There may only be six tracks, but each one is of as high a quality as Bowie had produced to date and would produce in the future. The title track, which opens the record, is a 10-minute epic that criss-crosses Bowie's recent history and his near-future. There's a bit of funk in there, some glam rock and a bit of the Krautrock experimentation that would serve him well to the end of the decade. It's a real headphones track, especially during the first half.

It's clear that Golden Years was the first track written for the album. It wouldn't have been out of place on 'Young Americans'; TVC 15 was a somewhat strange inclusion musically - the album's most obviously pop moment - but lyrically it was in keeping with the dark undertones of the other tracks, based on a hallucination that Iggy Pop had in which he saw his girlfriend being eaten by the TV set. The darkness and almost surreal nature of the songs can undoubtedly be aligned to Bowie's chronic cocaine use at the time, but like so many such situations in rock music history, the dark times often result in some of an artist's finest work.

Word On A Wing was written during the making of the movie 'The Man Who Fell To Earth', a time of "psychological terror", according to Bowie. It was his protection against some of the things happening to him at the time. It's a beautiful song, one of the best ballads of his career. But the very best is saved til last. Bowie's take on Wild Is The Wind still rates as one of hs greatest moments of all. His vocal is phenomenal and the track as a whole is a thing of awe and wonder.

Bowie may have been going through a rather turbulent and disturbing period in his life, but by playing it out on record, he produced a masterpiece. 'Station To Station' is my fave Bowie album because of its depth and candidness. The Thin White Duke - Bowie's newest persona - may have been, in his own words, "a nasty character indeed", but as the muse through which this record was created, he was an extraordinary, and welcome, addition to the Bowie cast.

9.3 / 10



  1. Just caught up with this series. Loving it, Robster. No argument on any of the ratings... yet. If you plan to do every album, I imagine there will be some debate fairly soon.

  2. Great stuff Robster. I'd go for Station to Station too, if pressed.
    Swiss adam

  3. Great summaries - agree with all the ratings so far. Station to Station is Bowie lp .Are you going to keep going through the dark period (Tonight and Glass Spider)? before the new light

  4. Don't have Station to Station - note to self - rectify forthwith

  5. Note to CC - you really should get that album. But I'd leave Pin-Ups out of it, and I'd rate it much much lower than 5/10..some of the tracks are pretty poor

  6. It's important to note that Bowie + Co went out on the road in America to promote Diamond Dogs and by the end of the tour, the stages were struck and he was in full live Young Americans mode. Lots of people give Young Americans short shrift, but you can tell Bowie meant this music, this change in direction. Bringing Carlos Alomar, Luther Vandross and the IMMENSELY WONDERFUL Robin Clark was sheer genius - if you want a Philly Soul sound, you get yourself some Philly kids to show you how it's done!
    I fully agree with your assessment of Station To Station. It's an album that reflects the artist's emotional/mental breakdown while still attempting to grasp ideas no one else of his popularity was remotely willing to tackle. Soul, Krautrock, nihilism...Station To Station is potent and out of control like its author. It seems recorded as in an atmosphere that if it hadn't been put to tape, it may have been lost forever. Bowie is really for the first time sharing the production of an album and not just leaning on the expertise (mind you with Tony Visconti it's a shared vision) or vision of a producer. Station To Station remains my favorite Bowie album to this day.

  7. When 'Pin Ups' was released, the track-listing might as well have been sourced from
    the 1860's as the 1960's, so 'old fashioned' did we initially deem it in the classroom. I
    remember a palpable sense of betrayal simmering amongst my peers that our very own intergalactic space travelling pop star was playing, gulp, 'old-time' music from way back in ancient history. In actual fact, none of the tunes were more than 10 years old at that point (some
    considerably less) and once we got over the shock, the LP became something
    of a treasure trove to me and my little gang.
    'Pin-Ups' finds Bowie pausing for breath and taking a look over his shoulder to see just how far he's traveled and the LP served to introduce me and my pals to a host of names with which we were unfamiliar - The Yardbirds, Them, The Pretty Things and, crucially, Syd Barrett. While I accept that 'Pin-Ups' is a relatively minor work compared to the albums that proceeded and succeeded it, I wouldn't be the music nerd I am without it.
    As for what came next - astounding.