Thursday, April 24, 2014

David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

There are some records that are so iconic that there hardly seems a reason to mention them, no matter how
much I dig them, but I am surprised that I never wrote about this 30th anniversary, 2-CD edition of this album. Besides the classic record, there is a full CD of outtakes, demos and assorted non-LP cuts.

The actual record opened with the fairly mellow attempt at prophecy that sets the stage for the concept, "Five Years", which supposedly led the Germs' Darby Crash to commit suicide - a terrible reason if there ever was one. This is followed by the syncopated rhythm of "Soul Love", a half acoustic/half electric number that shows off some of Bowie's soulful sax playing. But then we come to a truly powerful cut, "Moonage Daydream", with its huge, stop-time opening chords - Mick Ronson shines here with a great tone and a terrific echoed lead ending the song. The horns and strings here actually add to the song rather than detract, as is often the case. It is kinda funny how much the acoustic guitar dominates this album, as in "Star Man" - another string-laden, sci-fi ballad in the style of "Space Oddity" that tells the tale of aliens contacting the freaks on earth. The one cover of the album is another ballad, "It Ain't Easy" - I'm not familiar with the original by Ron Davies - with quiet verses and big choruses - a bit of a theme on this record.

Bowie's lyrics are always a bit oblique and while it is apparent that "Lady Stardust" is intended to tell the story of the androgynous lead character, it's hard to tell exactly what that story is! "Star" has some cool drum rolls, pounding piano and power chords and apparently is part of the "rise" of Ziggy to a "rock'n'roll star". This leads into one of his most potently rockin' tunes, "Hang On To Yourself", with a terrific chord riff, flying bass line and catchy chorus - along with a groovy, melodic lead break. Of course, the title track is a true classic, with more fine Ronson guitar work - highly melodic at times and monstrous at others. The third track of the heavy triumvirate is "Suffragette City", a pure rocker than nearly every cover band in the 70's had to do - if only so they could scream "wham, bam, thank you m'am!". The album closer is the dramatic "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" (certain to have influenced Darby, as well, unfortunately), that builds into a plea to "give me your hand!"

The bonus CD includes very different versions of "Moonage Daydream" and "Hang On To Yourself" - different arrangement and lyrics - and while the "official" versions are superior, these are quite cool to hear. Same with the "Lady Stardust" and "Ziggy Stardust" demos. The non-LP cuts here include "John, I'm Only Dancing", which must be one of the first openly bi-sexual r'n'r songs, that also happens to be a movin' rocker, with more cool guitar work from Ronson. Another tune that could easily have fit into the Ziggy album is "Velvet Goldmine", the tune the unfortunately inferior glam-rock movie was named after. Sounding almost like an outtake from the electric-guitar dominated The Man Who Sold the World, "Holy Holy" is practically legendary since it was hard to find, which is too bad, as it is a fine rocker. Jacques Brel's "Amsterdam" is a solo acoustic number that I've heard a number of times, but must be on odd compilations, though it would not have been out of place on Bowie's early albums. There is another version of The Man Who Sold the World's "The Supermen" and a cool take on Chuck Berry's "Round and Round" (think this is different from the one on the BBC sessions) before the literal cock-rock of "Sweet Head" and the finale of a new mix of "Moonage Daydream".

Of course, this is an essential album and the high quality of the extras here - besides the music, the packaging is great with a huge, full-color booklet - means that this 2-CD set is the one to get!