Saturday, February 6, 2016

29 Days of Bowie: Aladdin Sane

Released on April 13, 1973 by RCA Records, Aladdin Sane is an album that has David Bowie not only continue the wave of glam rock that was becoming big in Britain but it’s an album where he infuses elements of American music into the album. Produced with Ken Scott and aided by guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, and drummer Woody Woodmansey, the album is a mixture of blues-based rock, cabaret, and elements of jazz. The album would also mark Bowie’s first collaboration with pianist Mike Garson who would be one of Bowie’s recurring figures throughout his career as the album would expand everything Bowie had done previously while lamenting on the idea of stardom and identity on his sixth studio release.

To describe the album in one word, it’s sex. It’s an album that is just undeniably sexy in its overall presentation from the opening track Watch That Man with its dirty yet rocking guitars and a bouncy rhythm that features embellished piano flourishes and some salacious lyrics from Bowie as it’s a song that definitely owes a lot to Americana. American rock n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and blues-based rock are the featured in not just Watch That Man but also Cracked Actor, the single The Jean Genie, and Panic in Detroit. Cracked Actor and The Jean Genie both feature prominent usages of the harmonica as it owes a lot to American blues as much of the lyrics feature a lot of references to America with elements of abstract imagery. Panic in Detroit is a probably one of Bowie’s best deep cuts not just for its dark yet chaotic lyrics but the fact that it is presented in this odd yet seductive rhythm which is a mixture of Bo Diddley beats with Latin rhythms that is driven by the drumming of Woody Woodmansey and percussionist Aynsley Dunbar as well as Mick Ronson’s tough yet blazing guitars.

Rock n’ roll is also prominent in a blistering cover of the Rolling Stones’ Let’s Spend the Night Together that features some off-kilter piano work from Mike Garson as well as an added tone of sexuality towards the song’s coda. A re-made version of The Prettiest Star that was originally a non-LP single in 1970 is in the album as it’s given more elements of saxophones courtesy of Ken Fordham. Drive-In Saturday is this mid-tempo ballad of sorts that definitely evokes nostalgia not just in its presentation but also in some of its lyrics while it is set in a futuristic world with name-checking on Mick Jagger, Twiggy, and Carl Jung.

While the album is largely a rock album, the album would also feature three cuts that would have Bowie expand that palette into different genres such as the album’s title track. It’s this mixture of cabaret and jazz as it is this slow yet steady track that has these very dark and cryptic lyrics while it would feature an instrumental portion largely driven by Garson’s flourishing pianos. Garson would also play a key part in the ballad Time as it owes more to cabaret with Bowie singing some very dark yet abstract lyrics as it would feature a soaring guitar solo by Ronson. The album closer Lady Grinning Soul is this ballad that features one of Bowie’s best vocal performances with these evocative piano flourishes from Garson as it is this mix of balladry and flamenco music as the latter features a flamenco-guitar style solo by Mick Ronson as he would also bring this blazing electric guitar solo towards the end of the song.

The 2003 30th Anniversary Deluxe edition of the album features a bonus disc of material that really doesn’t offer much in rarities but rather alternate and live versions of songs. The first three tracks feature single versions of Time and The Jean Genie as the former is slightly edited cutting down on a few lyrics while the latter is emphasized more on the vocals. An alternate version of John, I’m Only Dancing appears with more additions on the sax as well as the acoustic guitar that sounds more like an Elvis Presley song early on. A version of the song All the Young Dudes that Bowie wrote for the band Mott the Hoople appears in the second disc in a mono mix as it’s sort of faithful to the Mott the Hoople version but it is slowed down a bit.

The other six tracks on the second disc are live versions as four of these songs are from a show at the Boston Music Hall in October of 1972. Changes, The Supermen, and John, I’m Only Dancing make its appearance as they had previously appeared in a CD-video extra from the 1989 Sound + Vision box set as they’re faithful yet more lively in their live versions. Also from that same show is a previously unreleased version of Life on Mars? which is just as powerful live as it was on record. From the legendary Santa Monica ‘72 bootleg is a version of The Jean Genie that is presented in a rough yet romping version as it was a new song then that hadn’t been recorded. Closing the second disc is a fantastic all-acoustic version of Drive-In Saturday from a show at the Public Hall in Cleveland on November of 1972. While it sounds rough, hearing the song in that context is probably one of the best versions of that song ever presented.

Aladdin Sane is an incredible album from David Bowie as it is a tougher yet rapturous that doesn’t just bring in rock in high doses but also showcases what else Bowie was able to do. Especially as it’s the album that features Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, and Woody Woodmansey in their peak as musicians while allowing Mike Garson to play a unique role in the music. In the end, Aladdin Sane is a bolstering and ravishing album from David Bowie.

Studio Releases: David Bowie (1967 album) - David Bowie (1969 album) - The Man Who Sold the World - Hunky Dory - The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Pin Ups - Diamond Dogs - Young Americans - Station to Station - Low - “Heroes” - Lodger - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) - Let’s Dance - Tonight - Never Let Me Down - Tin Machine - Tin Machine II - Black Tie White Noise - Outside - Earthling - ‘Hours…’ - Heathen - Reality - The Next Day - *

Live Releases: David Live - Stage - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby - Bowie at the Beeb - (Live at Fashion Rocks (w/ Arcade Fire)) - (Live Santa Monica ‘72) - (Glass Spider Live) - (VH1 Storytellers) - (A Reality Tour)

Soundtracks: Christiane F. - Labyrinth - The Buddha of Suburbia

Miscellaneous: Peter and the Wolf - Baal - Sound + Vision - (Early On (1964-1966)) - (All Saints) - Toy - (Nothing Has Changed)

© thevoid99 2016

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