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David Bowie - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars CD (album) cover

THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS

David Bowie

 

Prog Related

4.16 | 386 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars I'll say this up front: as far as all-time immortal classics go, Ziggy Stardust sounds pretty weak to my ears. As I'm sure many people have, I bought Ziggy Stardust before any of his other albums, and my first few listens left me absolutely dumbfounded that seemingly everybody - everybody - regarded this an all-time immortal classic. Everything about the album just seemed off to me: the hooks seemed a little too big and dumb; the "rocking out" aspects seemed forced and unnatural; the moments of "beauty" felt completely phoney, and overall, the album just seemed a lot less interesting than it seemed to think it was. I decided that a large part of the album's appeal must have been in the image of Bowie as Ziggy, and of whatever message the album had tried to convey, but because the story was so loose in terms of how it was presented, I couldn't even get into the album from that direction. I eventually got to a point where I didn't hate the album, but it definitely didn't strike me as any great shakes.

Well, maybe it's just the passage of time, or maybe it's just all of the times I've ended up listening to the album (perhaps leading to some form of Stockholm Syndrome), but my appreciation for it has gone up enough over time that I admire it at a level that's reasonably close to how most other people treat it. I still consider it pretty weak as far as all-time great albums go, but as far as very good albums go, this is fantastic. An album with 11 songs, a few of them terrific, none of them bad, all of them with at least some distinctly interesting aspects, with reasonable diversity, has to be given a very high rating, doesn't it? If not, there's no sense to this whole reviewing business.

One aspect of the album I consider a bit of misnomer is the way this album is labeled as a "glam" album. Calling Ziggy a "glam" album is kinda like calling The Beatles a "guitar-rock" album; while there's probably more glam on the album than any other particular genre, there's not so much more glam here than every other genre combined that narrowly pegging the album into that category necessarily fits in. I mean, "Soul Love" is basically a soul song (naturally) at heart; "Five Years," "Starman" and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" could have belonged in a Broadway show without much difficulty, and "Lady Stardust" is basically a conventional anthemic piano ballad. Sure, the other songs on here can basically be pegged as glam rock (either partially or entirely), but still, those tracks make up just a little more than half of the album.

Neither the glam portion of the album nor the non-glam portion is quite perfect, but they're each really good on the whole. "Five Years" introduces the concept (not really focused upon the rest of the album), of an alien rock star come down to cheer up the world before it ends in five years, and while it ends up somewhat overdramatic (not necessarily in a bad way, but not necessarily good either), I do find I feel a genuine twinge of emotion in the line, "I never thought I'd need so many people." It's rambling, yet like much of the rambling material on this album, it ends up being quite memorable at the same time. "Soul Love" isn't quite great either, but it's definitely really good, especially in the first half of the verse melody and in the closing "chorus" lines of, "Inspiration have I none/just to touch the flaming dove/All I have is my love of love/and love is not loving."

Skipping ahead (sticking to the non-glam tracks for now), "Starman" is the point in the story where Ziggy writes a song to inspire hope in the world, and it's only fitting that it should be one of the highlights of the album (and Bowie's career). The verses feature a nice low-key guitar groove that reminds me a lot of Loaded-era Velvet Underground, but it's the grandiose chorus, less rock and more showtunes (and just fine for it), that makes this song work as well as it does. And don't you forget the simple repeated piano notes that bridge the verses and the chorus; the song wouldn't be quite as great without it. Elsewhere, "Lady Stardust" may be glam in subject matter (about Ziggy in drag, playing his songs), but it's just top-rate piano balladry as far as I'm concerned. And finally, "Rock and Roll Suicide" is as over-the-top as the album gets, and while I don't love it (I still don't feel like it ends the album on quite the high note that other people seem to think), I'll definitely admit that the mix of Bowie's screams and his deep-voiced backing vocals provide some real power.

Among the glam tracks, the only one I'd consider a weak link is "Star," yet even that one works as an enjoyable boogie-rocker with addictive guitar and piano parts. "Moonage Daydream" has one of the most fascinating choruses I know, careening from anthemic majesty into angry riffage in an incredibly intense jolt, while bringing great power to a section whose lyrics start with "Keep your 'lectric eye on me babe" and end with "Freak out in a moonage daydream oh! Yeah!" The cover of "It Ain't Easy" has never been one of my absolute favorites on the album (oddly, it didn't even belong to the album originally, as it was recorded during the Hunky Dory sessions), but even I'd be hardpressed to deny the impressive contrast between the countryish licks and the stomping "IT AIN'T EASY..." chorus. It's not really a classic, but it kinda feels like one.

The remaining tracks are grouped together on side two, and they're an impressive bunch. "Hang on to Yourself" is often considered a quintessential glam-rock song, but I'm not sure I'd have known that if I hadn't been told; all I know for sure is that the riffs are just heavy enough without losing any crispness, the song is as catchy as anything on the album, and that the tempo feels just about perfect. The title track is, of course, the album's brief full-fledged return to the concept, and while I don't really care about the lyrics, I do care about the interesting combination of the slow winding riff in the verses and the more driving, powerful riffs in the chorus, and I enjoy the song plenty. And finally, as for "Suffragette City," is there any Bowie song that would be more of a blast to do in karaoke? It's not just the great riffs, and not just the "WHAM! BAM! THANK YOU MA'AM!" after the false ending; there are just so many fun vocal moments in this song that I can't even try to count them. If "Starman" is the best of the softer songs on the album, then "Suffragette City" is definitely the best of the harder ones.

Again, the album is a long, long way from perfect, but there are so many nice aspects that a grade less than this seems absurd. Don't get it first - there's an unreasonable chance of disappointment, I think, and Bowie's made better albums - but get it relatively early.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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