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David Bowie - Space Oddity CD (album) cover

SPACE ODDITY

David Bowie

 

Prog Related

3.34 | 165 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars This album (originally released in the UK as Man of Words, Man of Music in 1969, then re-released under this title in 1972, after Bowie was suddenly the most androgynous thing since sliced bread and the title track was re-released as a hit single) actually feels like the debut album of a future successful artist, whereas David Bowie sounded like an embarrassing high school yearbook photo. Some material is fantastic, some fails miserably, but on the balance this is a slightly more enjoyable album than not.

For this album, David decided to play a Dylan-influenced hippie. There's a lot of acoustic guitar, and a lot of rambling, borderline nonsensical lyrics and melodies, and whatever else Bowie's checklist indicated to him he'd need to act the part. The most Dylan-ish tracks on the album, alas, are the worst, and they're pretty long. "Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed" might have been borderline acceptable at 3 minutes (the opening 30 seconds or so, with the moody acoustic lines and melancholy pings of electric guitar, show a lot of promise), but it gets extended to a nearly unbearable 6:12, featuring ridiculous lyrics, endless harmonica solos and other features that would have best suited a mocking satire of Dylan rather than an homage. "Cygnet Committee" is even worse, taking almost 10 minutes to go absolutely nowhere and providing nothing in the way of interesting melodies or intriguing atmosphere.

There are some other mediocre throwaways (the brief interlude "(Don't Sit Down)," "Letter to Hermione," "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud"), but fortunately the rest ranges from good to great. The opening title track, of course, is the main reason that people have any significant interest in this album; it's just about the best moon landing-inspired song not found on To Our Children's Children's Children. This, of course, is Bowie's famous "Ground control to Major Tom" song, tracking Major Tom's trip into space from launch until he makes it out there and ground control loses him (immediately after the great simple exchange of, "Tell my wife I love her very much,"/"She knows"). The music is full of fantastic elements, from the nearly perfect use of mellotrons in the right spots, to the great set of melodies, to the simple epic guitar lines before the upward synth line that proceeds the "floating" breaks, to goodness knows what else. If nothing else, this is the first time to indicate that maybe, just maybe, David Bowie was actually a potentially major talent.

The other good tracks, somewhat oddly, are all on the second half of the album. "Janine" has a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitars and a melody with an interesting flow, and Bowie's rough vocals somehow serve the song well. "An Occasional Dream" could have made a decent (not great, but decent) Moody Blues song; "God Knows I'm Good" is a surprisingly charming story (with a nice melody to boot) of a woman stealing food and pleading that God knows she's still a good person; and of course, "Memory of a Free Festival" ends up working as a Bowie version of "Hey Jude." The main song isn't especially great, moody accordion notwithstanding, but the extended coda, featuring the repeated phrase, "The sun machine is coming down and we're gonna have a party," is reeeeally addictive. Besides, the moody accordion never disappears! It's a nice touch, what can I say.

Overall, Space Oddity is a decent enough effort, but it's pretty clear that Bowie was going to have to head in yet another different direction if he wanted sustained success. Of course, just how true that statement would turn out to be over the years wouldn't have been apparent at this point, but that's aside the point. As with most Bowie albums, you're best off grabbing the better material and ditching the rest.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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