Thursday, October 14, 2010

Grooves: David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1973)

Just like Neil Young and The Beatles, David Bowie is one of the 12 Olympians of my love of music. Without Bowie, I'm not sure where my life would be at this point. My parents didn't have a lot of Bowie records, in fact they only owned Station to Station on vinyl and maybe a Greatest Hits on CD. As a kid, I bought the ChangesBowie best of and still listen to it (just did on the way to work today.) When I got older, I finally delved into Bowie's entire catalog and boy was I in for a surprise. The hits are great, but the albums flourish with such fervor and passion that I immediately fell in love all over again. Bowie wore many masks throughout the 70's and went everywhere from glam rock to Philly soul to krautrock. I have a hard time picking a favorite album, but one thing is for sure, Aladdin Sane is my favorite glam-rock era Bowie album. It may not be full of hits, like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, but it has some of the best early Bowie musical performances around. Mick Ronson is at his all time best, laying down some of the crunchiest riffs of his career. Bowie amps up the glam and strangeness here, straying away from the overly baroque sounds on Ziggy for more of a guitar assault with some sax, care of Bowie himself, and some of the best piano on any Bowie record. It's a gem and a must own for any vinyl fan.

This is another purchase from Album Hunter in Maple Shade. I think I've had this record for quite some time now and Aladdin Sane will always remind me of a transitional period in my life. I simultaneously got the deluxe edition of this album on CD from Polly's in Vorhees, NJ. It's an album that I needed on both mediums. The deluxe CD comes with a bunch of outtakes and alternate versions and a few other songs, but the album is so good, that the extras were just a small reason for getting it.

Defining glam rock is strange as the classificaton and naming of glam was because of the style and not the music and songwriting. Sure, Bowie was an androgynous, space-aged funky freak who wore man-dresses and make-up, but the music of glam rock is why I go to the genre. Glam rock is usually a combination of both blues and garage rock mixing in lyrics of mysticism, futurism and nostalgia all in one. Especially on Aladdin Sane. "Watch That Man" is a bar room rocker with boogie piano, hard, crunchy guitars care of Mick Ronson at peak form and backing vocals from female singers to give it a little extra kick. It's a wonderful kick off to the album. After the raucous start, we are treated to "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)" The song has the typical glam futuristic lyricism and one of the best piano performances in rock and roll history. Mark Garson's intense, staccato and frenzied piano solo is unlike any other I've heard. It's truly a fantastic song that explodes with emotion and fury. "Drive-In Saturday" is one of those lost Bowie singles that was much bigger in England than it was in the US. It's a doo-wop throwback and a post-apocalyptic summer time anthem all in one extremely catchy song. It's just as good as any other Bowie single and easily one of my top 10 Bowie songs. The saxophone care of Bowie himself ads such a sexy vibe that wouldn't be heard again in such grandeur until 1975's Young Americans. "Panic in Detroit" is as paranoid as any song on Station to Station and has one of the best percussion sections in any Bowie track. It's very limited on cymbals and let's the guitars and bass meander in and out of each other with the bass taking a funky vibe, the guitar psych rocking it and the drums giving off a tribal pound. "Cracked Actor" is one of the grungiest songs and one of Bowie's hardest rockers. With a Neil Young rattle on Mick Ronson's guitar with a groovy rhythm section, it's a sinister indictment of Bowie's future home. It's kind of strange as Bowie launched into acting , became heavily addicted to cocaine and extremely paranoid. "Cracked Actor" is a futurescape for Bowie himself giving it even more of a sinister edge. Obviously, he didn't know it at the time, but he predicted his near future. It's a hell of a way to close side one.

Side two starts with more Mark Garson magic. "Time" begins as a show tuney piano ballad, all flamboyant and pomp. Then Mick Ronson kicks in taking it up a huge notch and launching Bowie's haunted vocal performance into the stratosphere. It's an extremely intense song and points to Bowie's experimental future while still holding on to his guitar driven rock of the past. It's about as epic as it gets in terms of grandiosity. "The Prettiest Star" by comparison is a pretty basic track. It's easily the weakest link on the album, but it's by no means bad. It's hard to compare another doo-woop, hand clapping pop track after the intense avante-burlesque of "Time." A prelude to Bowie's next album Pin Ups (which will appear on this endeavor,) Bowie tears through an inter-stellar cover of "Let's Spend The Night Together." It comes out of nowhere with this insane synthesizer intro (a prelude to Low, perhaps.) It boogie's forth at an intense gallop and has all sorts of insane twists and turns. "The Jean Genie" is one of the most underrated Bowie songs. It was written the year prior during Bowie's tour of America, as much of this album is based on his first impressions of the USA (the album has a city name attached to every song where it was written.) It's what Bowie calls "a smorgasbord of imagined America." And the lyrics and musical style is wonderfully Americana but with the lens of a Brit. Closing the album is another Mark Garson show stopper "Lady Grinning Soul." It's a truly beautiful song that floats through the air with it's romanticism. It's also one of Bowie's finest vocal performances, unmatched until Station to Station via a cover of Nina Simone's "Wild is the Wind." It is a truly unmatched song in the early part of Bowie's career, save for maybe "Life on Mars?"

Aladdin Sane is definitely my favorite glam era Bowie album after this listening adventure. It has such a raw power and strange, historical importance for the pantheon of David Bowie's career, yet I feel it doesn't get the props it deserves. It definitely is a great vinyl experience with each side being chock full of ear candy. Bowie would then slide into Diamond Dogs, which is my least favorite early Bowie record. It was all excess, even more so than Aladdin Sane. But the Bowie later to come would make up for that with a intense turn in the late 70's during the Berlin phase of his career.

Up Next: One year earlier, Bowie produces Mott The Hoople

No comments: