Title: “David Bowie”
Notes: Fucking bonkers. Fucking hilarious. Fucking genius. A drawer filled with Schneekugeln. Miniature universes with their own weather systems. Pick them up and shake them. But watch out, some of these ornaments contain heavy water, and plutonium snowflakes.
Standout tracks: All of them, really. Sell Me A Coat in particular.
Title: “Space Oddity”
Notes: Remarkable development from the previous record. Much more first-person p.o.v. Oddly folky but not in a Pentagle kind of way. Production is wonderful – it’s like a hymn to magnetic tape and expressively deficient microphonics.
Standout tracks: Letter to Hermione, God Knows I’m Good.
Title: “The Man Who Sold The World”
Notes: Another big leap – but is it a leap forward? The vocal personae are largely adenoidal. The band sounds trendy. Led Zeppelin III wasn’t Led Zeppelin’s best moment (not even their second- or third-best moment). But to my ears, this is something that aims for the same approximate space as III, and doesn’t really get there, or anywhere, much.
Standout tracks: none. The first 15 to 18 seconds of Saviour Machine are quite good.
Title: “Hunky Dory”
Notes: The cover art is total shit. Music: a bit plinky-plonky. Entire LP sounds like a demo from an alternate universe where you can just dream the music in your sleep into the A&R brain rather than hand a recording of it in to the A&R department (or get a motorcycle courier to do so on your behalf). Hunky Dory sounds to me like it was recorded, produced, released and consumed in an era well before Space Oddity. Maybe creative time isn’t linear. I don’t like this record.
Standout tracks: None, again. The stammered, repeated voiceless palato-alveolar affricate consonant in ch-ch-ch-changes is great though. Fuh-fuh-fuh-fucking genius! Do I hate this record? Of course not. That would involve having to listen to it more than like twice.
Title: Ziggy Stardust etc.
Notes: Some of the better elements of the artist’s earlier work come back into play, like right back to the first LP, (albeit without the smell of Edwardian-era carpets and wallpaper). Whole thing still too honky-tonky and plinky-plonky for me.
Standout tracks: Still none. But the intro to Starman (ie the first 18.5 seconds of the track) is definitely an off-cut from Space Oddity (or time travel). It’s like a green screen blanket made out of pure cosmos. Total genius. Another chroma key world.
Title: Aladdin Sane
Notes: That weird squeal that Robert Plant does at the start of Immigrant Song? Sonic puke. You can hear it on Block Buster! by The Sweet, you can hear it on Rubber Bullets by 10CC. And you can hear it here. To be fair to Bowie, though, there is some forward motion here. One of Bowie’s most genius attributes is that there are stylistic echoes going forward and back between works that are otherwise discrete. It’s not like X sounding a bit like Y. It’s like X and Y come from the same place, the same iration, but different simultaneous iterations of the iration.
Standout tracks: Black Dog, Rock and Roll, Misty Mountain Hop, Going to California. Oops, wrong fucking LP.
Title: Pin Ups
Year: Fuck knows
Notes: I’ve never listened to this one.
Standout tracks: silence
Title: Diamond Dogs
Notes: The opening seconds sound like the Immigrant Song screech being pitch-shifted down and echoing, briefly, around the base of a garbage can. It’s a great 3 seconds. The rest of the record – when compared to the previous half-decade’s output by the artist – is like fresh air. At last. The title track even references an oxygen tent – as well as the Immigrant Song screech. It’s like meta-commentary stand-up comedy.
Standout tracks: Bowie’s cover version of the Generation X song “Rebel Rebel” is prescient. How did he know they’d sound like that a half-decade later? It’s a mystery. “1984” tries the same prescient trick, doing an Isaac Hayes except that hook was well in the past by then. The “Twilight Zone” sample at the end ain’t fooling anyone.
Title: Young Americans
Notes: More prescience. Young Dave foresaw Donald Trump’s hairstyle and nicked it for the cover art. Largely, the music is nicotinised soul. You imagine a lot of coughing and phlegm in the smoking zone. Although there may not have been a smoking ban in 1975? The smokers are all dead, so no-one can check. (Marlboro Red please. And a double espresso. Danke.)
Standout tracks: Young Americans, Fame, Right.
Title: Station to Station
Notes: Lyrical genius. “It’s not the side effects of the cocaine. I’m thinking that it must be love. It’s too late to be grateful … I won’t let the day pass without her.”
Standout tracks: Station to Station, Wild is the Wind.
Notes: If Station to Station was like plate tectonics – plate to plate, stationary-stationary – then Low is the place it hinted at trying to get to but never quite found the coordinates for. It may feel like there has been an eternity since the last truly great David Bowie record in this post, but a quick look at the above text, the calendar and some magical arithmetic on a Casio calculator puts the distance at ten years. 1967 is the debut LP year, 1977 is Low. I’ve checked twice with the Casio and it does compute. Only 10 years passed between 1967 and 1977. The weave of time and space must have a central fuck up, or crack up, or a whole book of crack ups. How did we get here? Via Sell Me A Coat and the Immigrant Song high-register honk? Maybe. By the way, I saw a Blood Transfusion Service van driving up the street on Friday. Ordinarily this would be unremarkable, of course, but then I saw a horde of vampires running after it. The blood van stopped at the red light, and the vampires sprinted close, within kicking distance of its number plate. Saliva dripping from their fangs. A blood frenzy. Then the lights changed to amber and the transfusion service van was off at 30 miles per hour into that generalised granular dark concrete greyness that is typical of your usual UK street. A literal disappearance, an unplayful camouflage. The vampires ran on in vain, in the drizzle.
Standout tracks: Art Decade, Warszawa, Sound and Vision
Notes: Lighter than low, less listlessness. Production almost dubby by comparison. Funny cover art.
Standout tracks: V-2 Schneider, Sense of Doubt
Notes: Unbelievably influential – most of UK pop for the whole of the 80s intertextualised (copied) this record. Stylistically a masterpiece but emotionally it’s kind of empty. It’s like Hollywoodisation as a statement. Really, really fucking weird.
Standout track: Red Sails
Title: Scary Monsters etc.
Notes: This has the absolute worst cover art. (Actually Pin Ups is equally bad.) Fucking Pierrot? Fuck off! Musically I like this one a lot. It’s Dave back in full-on pop music mode after a ling time in avant-garde mode. Some real classics here. Ashes to Ashes is a piece of art so successful that it actually enters the limbic system the first time you hear it, and never lets go.
Standout tracks, the above-mentioned, plus Up the Hill Backwards, Fashion, Teenage Wildlife
Title: Let’s Dance
Notes: More shit cover art. C’mon Dave, wtf? But God, I love this record. So, so much. Modern Love is so great that I almost puke with joy when I hear it. China Girl reprises the ersatz orientalisms of Red Money. But I forgive it because it’s a great song, and brilliantly song. Great song follows great song. Then about halfway it begins to run out of steam. I love populist stuff and Let’s Dance does populism well . There’s no millionaire’s guilt here – no “I can see those fighter planes”. It works for me.
Standout tracks: the first 4 or 5
Notes: The cover art is quite good. The music is all very pleasant. Should come with a health warning though for the awful cover version of God Only Knows. Jesus, the original is depressing enough. Listen tothis one and you may find yourself on the phone to fucking Dignitas.
Standout tracks: Don’t Look Down, Neighborhood Threat
Title: Never Let Me Down
Notes: Some good songs (Time Will Crawl, Glass Spider, Shining Star). 80s production is at its high watermark here. But this record is remarkable for its sense of absence. It’s like Dave’s true self has moved on but a kind of Dave shell has stayed behind on microphone duties. Terrible, awful, crap cover art. None of the music is awful.
Standout tracks: the above-mentioned
Title: Tin Machine
Notes: Tit machine, morelike.
Standout tracks: nil
Title: Tin Machine 2
Year: Fuck knows
Notes: never heard this LP. Any good?
Title: Black Tie etc.
Notes: Crap title imho. Musically no real surprises. Plenty of good tunes. A very good recorded – but was it marketed well? Some of the songwriting here is worthy of a Légion d’honneur.
Standout tracks: Jump They Say, Looking for Lester
Notes: Mystifying. Occasionally truly great.
Standout track: Algeria Touchshriek, Strangers When We Meet
Title: Earthling, Hours, Heathen, Reality
Year: 1997 – 2003
Notes: Reality is the most comfortable of these – but all have their moments
Standout tracks: Days, Thursday’s Child, The Dreamers, Everyone Says ‘Hi’
Title: The Next Day
Notes: Where Are We Now? Is a classic, no question.
Standout tracks: the above-mentioned, plus If You Can See Me and The Stars Are Out Tonight