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David Bowie - The Man Who Sold The World CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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4.00 | 339 ratings

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5 stars As with many of the other reviewers here, this is probably my favourite David Bowie album. I'm generally quite a big Bowie fan, so that also makes it amongst my favourite rock albums, full stop.

It's an album that is quite hard to pin down, but it does manage to fall into a host of different pigeon-holes without sitting entirely comfortably in any of them. In terms of its form it is pretty progressive in the way that term is used to describe complex rhythms, key shifts and dynamic song-structure. It is also quite a hard-rocking album from a time that the genre was still pretty fresh. Having said all that, the influences are obvious [principally Hendrix I'd say] and in terms of cutting edge originality, although he's often credited as such, I don't think Bowie is a genuine innovator. That doesn't diminish this one jot - Bowie's take on things is always refreshingly idiosyncratic and exudes quality. He also always seems to surround himself with very talented individuals and exploits those talents very thoroughly - to the degree that his collaborators are sometimes seen as being literally exploited. Personally I think you only need to listen to the solo works of his team to determine where the balance of the creative direction lies.

One regret I do have is that Bowie's albums only featured the bass of producer Tony Visconti this once. The work is revelatory. Fabulous and under-rated as the guitar work of Ronson is, the melodic counter-play of the bass throughout this album adds a depth and complexity rarely heard from a four-string strummer. Its prevalence does of course add to the weight and the darkness of tone that dominates this release. The lyrical content is inky in its concerns; madness is an ever recurrent leitmotif along with murder, death and disturbing sexual encounter. But it's blackly comic too and there's a sardonic wit here that's regrettably absent from much of Bowie's later works.

It is possible to look at this album as carrying a concept - that isn't exactly rare amongst DB's output, but it does seem more consistently pursued here than on any other with the possible exception of the much later 1.Outside - which shares the gloom, but not the wit, nor the wealth of melodic invention. The lyrical content does seem far more cohesive and consciously constructed than most of his later work [he's famous for using the Dadaist technique of cut-ups for generating song-lines, which whilst it promotes freshness does also make for more random direction]. There is also the prog-lyric hallmark of the internal rhyme/para-rhyme scheme and there's some lovely stuff here:

President Joe once had a dream The world held his hand, gave their pledge So he told them his scheme for a Saviour Machine

They called it the Prayer, its answer was law Its logic stopped war, gave them food How they adored till it cried in its boredom

The style of delivery here is that which was to become so characteristic of Bowie's oevre for much of his long career; weird and arch - developed fully for the first time here and absolutely appropriate to the overall tone. Importantly everything seems to match up and gel here. All the contributors appear musically at the top of their game and the arrangements are rich without being over-done. The songs themselves are all strong, too. In spite of the tonal unity there's a fairly diverse range of both style and meter - the work ebbs and flows from song to song [and within song in regard to The Width of a Circle].

So is this album prog, hard-rock, metal, dark or funny? It's all of those things and although it is largely passed over in terms of critical attention amongst Bowie's catalogue, I'd say along with Low, it is a staggeringly impressive work. It may not break completely new ground - but it is entirely unique and probably far more influential than is generally supposed. As solid a five star rating as anything I'd consider...

Chris2210 | 5/5 |


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