1972 – RCA
Glam-Rock/ Art-Rock/ Hard-Rock
It’s hard to take a step back and take a good objective look at Bowie’s seminal 1972 concept album these days. It’s just become such a huge part of popular culture that it’s very difficult to think about the piece in a way that doesn’t just describe how it goes and why the story is so important to the narrative of rock music. I will try, however, to move away from a mere description of the record and actually listen to the music itself.
In this effort I have found that it’s entrenchment into the great story of rock and roll is well deserved. Bowie finally hit his peak with Ziggy Stardust blending the space-age art pop of Hunky Dory with the bluesy hard rock of The Man Who Sold The World and putting it all together into an intricately clever yet still digestible album that everyone can enjoy.
Prefacing the story (which is set a mere five years before the end of the world) the album opens up with the aptly named Five Years, and in this cut the listener is given a great feeling for what this record is all about: grand scale Shakespearianisms, cryptic sci-fi storytelling, and solid rock music. The production style too, full of hollow echo and immediacy, works very well in making Bowie and his band come across with a definite sense of otherworldliness. Mr. Bowie’s voice floats around with a dejected form of pathos that seems at once intensely bored with the sufferings of his created character and frenzied by the madness that surrounds him, and the guitars come in with razor sharp precision cutting through the mix to provide and dangerously sexual energy that forms the basis of all of the music found here.
My issues with the album, however, lie in the sheer intensisty of Bowie’s persona acting. I mean, I understand the whole idea of playing character to emphasis the shallowness of the rock industry and the fact that stars are no longer people, but commodities, but rarely does Ziggy Stardust actually break down to the depths enough to show why this is a particularly bad idea. There are some hints during Rock & Roll Suicide where the heart shines through and emptiness becomes an art, but for the most part we are never given a glimpse of what lurks beneath the surface of the beautiful and sexually ambiguous Lady Stardust.
I suppose this comes as no surprise, as it tended to be one of the large failings of the glam rock scene in general, but Bowie’s acting and writing abilites just seem like they are capable of so much more, especially when one considers the deconstruction he later perfected on albums like “Heroes”. I must add that this is certainly a small problem to pick with this exceptional record, but it is something that has irked me for quite a while now. I will also add that this gripe moves much further into esoterics and the conceptual than I’m usually comfortable with and it’s not something that I can hold against the actual music on the record.
So, to conclude I will say that Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is a brilliant record even if it does have one of the most rediculously overblown titles to have ever lined the shelves of record stores. It is a king amongst concept albums, something that is very hard to do, and is full of some incredibly sharp and honed music. It’s impossible not to enjoy, and it is a much needed addition to any collection for both history’s sake and also just for the sake of great music.
- The Seventies (altrockchick.com)
- COVERED: Z is for ‘Ziggy Stardust’ (hangout.altsounds.com)
- fantastic man (farfetch.com)
- Serendipity SOUL | Monday Open Thread | David Bowie Week! (3chicspolitico.com)
- David Bowie: Album by Album: The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory (cokewest.wordpress.com)
- The Man Who Sold The World – David Bowie (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)