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David Bowie - Space Oddity [Aka: David Bowie, Man Of Words/Man Of Music] CD (album) cover


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3 stars I WANT TO LIVE

After the commercial failure of his debut album, 1968 is an empty musical year. Bowie is performing some mime shows. But they are apparently very poor in those days (but he'll get much better later on). He is still writing a few songs, of which a certain "Space Oditty" in which he doesn't really believe.

In 1969, David is the opening act for "Tyrannosaurus Rex". Only miming though. He is also going to meet Mary Angela Barnett at a press conference (the launch of .King Crimson actually). She is in the show biz and is interested by David. She helped David be signed at Philips.

But another MAJOR person will cross his paths in those remote days: Tony Visconti. He will be the producer of his next album.

"Space Oditty" which is a year old by then has turned into a perfect marketing match. It will be used during lots of TV shows related to one of the major event of the century: the first steps of mankind on the moon. The first leg of the Major Tom history. The one during which he will cut his circuits and live in an orbital world. But don't worry, we'll find the Major back a little later.

This album is of course overshadowed by this extraordinary song. Needless to say that Rick Wakeman is just superb on the keys (mellotron). But to depict this album to this one masterpiece song only wouldn't be fair.

There is another one here. One of David's longest song (almost ten minutes). The sublime "Cygnet Committee". This song is announcing in some way "Rock & Roll Suicide". Same wonderful crescendo but a lot more developed here. A song full of passion, paranoia (already.) whose conclusion is "I want to live" which is just the opposite of "R & R .". A great, great song. One of my all time fave from the man. THE highlight IMHHO.

This album remains very much folkish: "An Occasional Dream" could have been written by John B. Sebastian, and the over-orchestrated and mellowish "Wild Eyed Boy." sounds almost as a "Moody Blues" one.

The love song "Letter To Hermione" in remembrance of Hermione Farthingale (a dancer whom he met in 68) is just a light piece of music, a bit sad, showing an hesitant Bowie.

The closing number refers to a festival that David organized in London in the fall of 69. But it won't be as David wanted it to be. He will be disillusioned with this event and will report it in "Memory Of A Free Festival". While the first part is an emotional report of what happened, the second one is repetitive and dull. The same phrase being repeated endlessly (well, for about three minutes).

The album charted moderately, which was felt as another failure. By the end of 1969, Visconti presented him a certain Mick Ronson. The Ziggy adventure is slowly on its way.

Report this review (#174852)
Posted Sunday, June 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars While not Bowie's official debut, most fans choose to ignore the first album and come straight here as the start of Bowie's career. This album shows Bowie's first hints towards prog music (although the debut did not shy away from a little experimentation). Here Bowie brings up many hints of techniques and subject matter that would come up again and again in his varied career.

Now the first song is the most famous, and at first glance the title track seems to be a straight forward pop song, but the lack of a proper chorus, the distinctly separate intro/middle/instrumental outro amongst other things makes this a real progressive gem. Then there's the amount of musical styles force fed into a mere 5 1/4 minutes. Folk/rock/psychedelic/space/prog/pop are all words that could be applied to this opus. Throughout the album all these genres pop up again, but never again all at once. As everyone probably knows, this is a tale of an army major (named Tom) who goes up into space, and decides not to come down to face the harsh realities of life on Earth. In a song on a later album (Ashes to Ashes from Scary Monsters) it will be revealed that Major Tom is a drug addict, but that is for another review. All in all this a great song, and one of the best on the album, that has only lost some of its initial charm through repeated listening.

The next song, 'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed' is a pop-psych tune. It is a very fun song with some totally far out lyrics. After listening to this album countless times it is no longer a standout track. 'Letter to Hermione' is the first ballad on the album, and a very beautiful one at that, telling of one of Bowie's real-life ex-girlfriends. Listening to the tune and the lyrics you can see that he is singing this with true sincerity, a touch that Bowie seemed to lose over the years. '(Don't Sit Down)' is a tune probably intended for comic purposes, and Bowie sounds high while singing it. It is a strange tune, with Bowie singing 'Yeah Yeah Baby Yeah' and 'Don't Sit Down' before he breaks out into uncontrolable laughter. Maybe it is to provide a bit of light relief before the next song, but it sounds very weak. 'Cygnet Committee' is David's first epic. It, like many, many future songs, is a science-fiction based (ish) tale, involving soem kind of messiah c.f. We are Hungry Men (s/t) The Supermen (The Man Who Sold the World) Oh! You Pretty Things (Hunky Dory) Ziggy Stardust (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars) et al. This epic goes through several stages, starting as a vaguely folky ballad, with a chorus, before progressing into a section of very random sounding lyrics, highlighting Bowie's knack for writing seemingly meaningful lyrics, while often he is just waxing lyrical about nothing in particular. Bowie would admit this technique himself in regards to some songs. Next is a very emotion sectuion with Bowie singing 'We want to believe', and then 'We want to live, and by the end of the song he is half singing hal screaming 'I want to live' until the song finishes. Unusually for a prog epic there is no instrumental section, but Bowie was never really a prog rock artist, just a very forward thinking and artistic musician, who's music happened to coincide with the prog scene from time to time.

Now we go back to almost pure Dylanesque folk-rock with Janine, a sweet, but unstartling tune with strange lyrics (but it would not be Bowie without strange lyrics). In the same vein we have 'An Occasssional Dream', a folk rock ballad, with a very pleasant tune. 'Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud' however is pure symphonic prog. In less than five minutes Bowie tells a tale with fantasy lyrics, with several sections and no real chorus. This is the most in line Bowie gets to Prog as a genre probably, but by no means his most progressive. This little gem would appeal to many prog fans on this site. 'God Knows I'm Good' is the closest to a throwaway song here, and also the closest to being pure pop, although the folkiness is still present. David Bowie's story telling for once, seems very quaint and uninteresting. 'Memory of a Free Festival' once again merges folk and space rock, creating another mini-epic. The first half of this song is the best, with good lyrics and tunes, but the second half is very repetive making its epicness slightly redundant.

This album sees Bowie still finding a niche. Throughout the next few albums, Bowie will explore various genres, before settling on glam rock for a while. But don't expect him to stay in one place too long, he is, after all a chameleon.

I will award this 3 stars, as a semi-progressive album that should appeal to folk proggers, and, to an extent, symphonic proggers. While not being essential to the prog world, it is DEFINITELY essential to Bowie fans.

Report this review (#174919)
Posted Monday, June 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Space Oddity followed his debut album and whilst it contains the infamous ' Space Oddity' track which is alive and kicking to this very day ( even the young kids know it), the album is not a major breakthrough other than the title track. It is very much a work in progress leading on to much bigger and better days. Still quite folkish sounding there are still a few gems like ' Janine' and ' God Knows I'm Good'. In terms of whose who there are notable contributions from Tony Visconti, John Lodge and Rick Wakeman. A good overall album from David Bowie. Three stars.
Report this review (#176034)
Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars SPACE ODDITY is, of course, not a prog album, but I must admit it almost felt like one when I first discovered it in the 1970s. Not that it featured a plethora of sudden tempo changes or screaming synthesizer solos. It was the EXUBERANT CLIMAXES wot did it! As a sentimental teenager I felt that to prog's greatest triumphs lay in dramatic climaxes to extended compositions like "Ritual" and "Supper's Ready". And on SPACE ODDITY the young Bowie seemed to provide the same sort of thing in "Cygnet Committee". This track is nearly ten minutes long, so surely you could call it Bowie's very own epic? I mean, most of the excitement is provided by Bowie's voice (backed by acoustic guitar, bass and drums) which goes from slow, cabaret-like singing to rapid, anguished shouting: surely that's excitement enough already? But then, to top it all, you also get Mr Rick Wakeman accompanying our hero, going berserk on electric harpsichord. Surely all this is much proggier than "Cans and Brahms"!

The remainder of the album cannot lay claim to prog credentials, even though mellotron freaks will be familiar with the title track. It is filled with sensitive (and occasionally sentimental) acoustic and theatrical ballads, and there's at least one song ("Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed") which clearly foreshadows Bowie's glam rock phase, although it goes on too long. I'm also fond of the starry-eyed "Memory of A Free Festival", which almost sounds like a Jon Anderson solo song. Ah, Youth...

Report this review (#259752)
Posted Thursday, January 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars This marks the start of my reviews of my David Bowie collection (although i dont have all his albums i have a fair few, well all the old ones anyway) There's quite a lot i can say about this album, there's quite a lot of genre's and styles from epic prog/folk rock (SPACE ODDITY, CYGNET COMMITEE) there's some arty type songs (UNWASHED AND SOMEWHAT SLIGHTLY DAZED) as well as some beautiful regular folk rock (MEMORY OF A FREE FESTIVAL, JANINE) overall a nice collection of songs that sees Mr.Bowie one step closer to that rock god status he raigns over. Standout songs are the epics in my opinion, the song that got him famous the title track SPACE ODDITY, CYGNET COMMITTEE, and MEMORY OF A FREE FESTIVAL) Production wise theres a nice mix (pretty decent when you think about when it was released and everything is nice and clear, only problem i have with the album is there are the odd filler tracks AN OCCASIONAL DREAM, WILD EYED BOY FROM FREECLOUD and GOD KNOWS IM GOOD i feel are just a little bit filler, but apart from that a god album overall;

Space Oddity - 10/10 Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed - 7/10 (Don't Sit Down) - 6/10 Letter to Hermione - 7/10 Cygnet Committee - 10/10 Janine - 9/10 An Occasional Dream - 6/10 Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud - 6/10 God Knows I'm Good - 6/10 Memory of a Free Festival - 10/10

My Conclusion? A good start to a somewhat fantastic career.

Report this review (#282663)
Posted Wednesday, May 19, 2010 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#288087)
Posted Thursday, June 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Space Oddity had enormous airplay in Australia when re-released in 1972 and was a favourite radio song of mine which then led to the purchase of the album as a 14yo teenager.

The track Space Oddity stands apart from the rest of the album and it is no surprise that it has a different producer (Gus Dudgeon) to the remainder of the tracks (Tony Visconti, who would go on to produce many of Bowie's works). Space Oddity has interesting lyrics and music and is as relevant today as it was when first released in 1969. Rick Wakeman provides the mellotron which gives the track a prog edge. A masterful work.

The remaining tracks on the album have a more acoustic flavour and include some extended pieces which might border as folk-prog: Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed (6:11), Cygnet Committee (9:31) and Memory of a Free Festival (7:08). Overall, the tracks are well written and arranged with good lyrics and generally simple accompaniment.

I still enjoy listening to this album. The title track belongs in any history tracing the development of prog music.

Overall rating 3 stars. Good but not essential.

Report this review (#363353)
Posted Saturday, December 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Although Bowie was still finding his way, this was a clear leap in class from his earlier recordings. Space Oddity contains some moments of beauty, sadness and intensity. Many of the songs are folky, especially the Dylanesque (is that a word?) "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed."

The title track is a main highlight and very familiar, but still effective. The message of a space traveller choosing to abandon earth is actually very powerful and he gets lost in the gentle melody of the song.

"Cygnet Committee" is quite lengthly but lyrically very strong, telling a story like nothing else you're likely to hear. For me though, other main highlights include "The Wild Eyed boy from Freecloud" which is quite extraordinary and the fantastical narrative draws you in.

"Letter to Hermione" is another rare beast where Bowie bares his soul and it is all the more poignant for it. The acoustic work is very nice too.

The Elvis-like "Janine" is also very quirky and you'd have to love "An occasional dream" which is quaint and peaceful. "God knows I'm Good" is also one of the best moments, it's an ingenious little song about an old lady caught shoplifting, with some more great guitar.

It's not essential Bowie, but fans should definitely have it. Better releases were soon to come although he was already showing depth with this record. Listen without distractions to appreciate it fully! Three and a half stars.

Report this review (#429530)
Posted Friday, April 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars David Bowie's second album - originally another self-titled one, and variously retitled Man of Words/Man of Music (for a US release) and eventually becoming generally known as Space Oddity, thanks to the show-stealing title track - is often mistaken for his first, mainly because of the way he generally distanced himself from his debut album over the years whilst regularly revisiting the themes of the title track.

And you've got to admit, Space Oddity the song is pretty exceptional. Granted, it was given a big boost because it happened to be released shortly before the Moon landings, and was picked out by the BBC to be used as incidental music during their coverage of the story, but it's still Bowie's first fully-developed song and his vocal performance (and clever use of the Stylophone!) is electrifying. It's also of interest for prog fans because of Rick Wakeman's contribution - his mellotron and piano playing are important to the song's sound, and it seems more than likely that the song's success helped Rick along his way to his role in the Strawbs, so here we see him on his first steps on the long path from session musician to prog elder statesman.

The rest of the album is inevitably a disappointment after that starter - Bowie's talents hadn't quite hit the point where he could sustain such quality over an entire album - but it's still of interest. Pursuing a spaced-out prog-folk style with a few songs - God Knows I'm Good, Letter to Hermione, and The Cygnet Committee - that seem to build on or revisit ideas from his debut, Bowie embraces a hippy-influenced folky image that was just on its way towards going out of style, once again following fashion rather than creating it as he would at his peak. Space Oddity is a three star album with one five-star track on it.

Report this review (#455795)
Posted Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars By the way, this is the reissue of this album, so it's called "Space Oddity", not "David Bowie". I'm usually alright with both titles, but I do prefer "Space Oddity" as the title of the album.

After having an unsuccessful album under his birth name, Bowie decided to change his name, writer better songs and develop some sort of star persona. So donning longer hair and taking influence from the modern hippy era, he almost transferred himself as like a hippie ubermensch. Sadly the hippy generation was dying, so what was seen as hippy fashion gone to the extremes, was pretty much Bowie doing something a little different.

I can't not say anything about the album until I talk about the albums title track. So when ever we went to the moon and stuff, a lot of interest during the 60's revolved around space and stuff. Seeing a cash cow emerging, Bowie decided to write this song. And wouldn't you know it, it was a hit. And I can kind of see why. Not only did it come out in the right place at the right time, but it is a brilliant song, and did create a brilliant profile for David Jones, under his new moniker David Bowie! I was also surprised to hear Rick Wakeman was the one who played the mellotron on this track. Again, Mr. Wakeman doesn't fail to surprise me.

Another odd classic emerging from the album is the very upbeat "Unwashed & Somewhat Slightly Dazed." Having a very hard rock meets blues rock vibe to it, it does sound a bit like Led Zeppelin meets Bob Dylan. I do think that the song goes on too long for a bit, but other than that it's pretty kick ass.

"Cygnet Committee" is a very interesting track. Being one of Bowie's longest composition, it is a folk laced song filled with brilliant build ups and some rather potent lyrics. A very different side of Bowie can be seen on this track.

"Janine" has to be one of my personal favourites. One of the more upbeat songs, it has to be one of the more tolerable and poppy moments of Bowie. Some good lyrics bode the song well too.

The last track "Memory Of A Free Festival" is another crowning achievement on this album. With a nice composition, based on melodicas and harmoniums, the chords played are presented in a very beautiful way. It also has to be Bowie's best vocal performance on the album. The ending is pretty anthemic as well.

In conclusion, this album does get a lot better every time I hear it. I can see why at the time people weren't 100% impressed with this album, mainly because the lead single promised something different to what was expected, but I do think this album is one of Bowie's underrated classics.


Report this review (#1008680)
Posted Tuesday, July 30, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars Review Nş 112

'Space Oddity' is the second studio album of David Bowie and was released in 1969. It was regarded as a mix of folk, rock, psychedelic, space, pop and progressive rock and a transition album between the music of the 60's and what would be the future music of the 70's. So, basically 'Space Oddity' can be viewed, in retrospect, as all that Bowie had been and a little of what he would become, in the next years. It represents a big step in relation with his debut album. It was regarded as a mix of folk, rock, psychedelic, spacey music, pop and progressive rock. We can say that basically it's a transition album between the music of the 60's and what would be the future music of the 70's.

'Space Oddity' has ten tracks. All songs were written and composed by Bowie. The first track is the title track 'Space Oddity'. It was released as a single in 1969. The song is about the launch of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut, which name alludes to the science fiction film '2001: A Space Odyssey', directed by Stanley Kubrick. This is a fantastic song with interesting lyrics and good music, very relevant even today, and is a mark of the end of the 60's. It became an icon and a masterful song of him. Rick Wakeman was superb on the mellotron and gives to the track a progressive final touch. The second track 'Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed' is another great song that starts with Bowie's 12 string acoustic guitar and that soon moves into a more rock style with great rhythm and a fantastic harmonica working. This is a typical folk/rock song in the usual Bob Dylan's musical style. The third track '(Don't Sit Down)' is a very short track with only 40 seconds. It can't be considered properly a song. It has no musical structure but only a spontaneous studio joke made during the recording sessions. In some later releases, it was even removed, showing that it can't be considered properly a truly song. The fourth track 'Letter To Hermione' is a nice acoustic ballad, the first of the album. It's a love letter to Hermione Farthingale that became Bowie's girlfriend and they lived together for a short while, in London. It's a beautiful and interesting song where Bowie shows his soul in a very real and poignant way. The fifth track 'Cygnet Committee' is a very ambitious progressive folk rock song and represents one of the lengthiest Bowie's studio recording songs. Lyrically is very strong and one of the highlights of the album. It's an epic track with nearly 10 minutes long and where Bowie provides a beautiful vocal work. It's a lengthy song that gradually moves from slow to rapid and vice versa. The sixth track 'Janine' is the second folk rock song on the album with a pure Bob Dylan's musical style. It's a beautiful acoustic ballad with nice and interesting lyrics and where the melody has an interesting flowing. It's a song with a nice mixture of acoustic and electric guitar works, a good bass line and where Bowie's vocals serve the song perfectly well. The seventh track 'An Occasional Dream' is a short and gentle love song with a beautiful flute musical arrangement about a very brief and intense affair. We are in presence of another folk rock ballad with a very interesting, pleasant and peaceful tune. The eighth track 'Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud' was the song chosen to be released as the B side of the single 'Space Oddity'. It's one of the most progressive songs on the album in the pure symphonic style. It's a song with good lyrics and is divided into several musical sections, which features full orchestral arrangements. It's also the debut song recorded by Bowie with Mick Ronson. The ninth track 'God Knows I'm Good' is another folk song where Bowie plays his 12 string acoustic guitar, which he often do on the album. It has a nice melody and an interesting catchy story, a woman stealing food and saying to God that she remains a good person. It's a very good folk song with great acoustic guitar working. The tenth and last track 'Memory Of A Free Festival' is the second epic song of the album. It's a psychedelic folk space rock song with good lyrics and nice tunes. The track is about a festival that Bowie organized in London, in 1969. I agree with some reviewers when they say that the first part is very interesting, but the second part is a little bit repetitive. Anyway, this is an interesting way to close this nice album.

Conclusion: This is my first review of a Bowie's studio album on Progarchives. However, I had already reviewed his live album 'Stage', before. This is also one my oldest albums in my vinyl collection and I must confess that I always had a soft spot for this album. It always was and it still remains to me, as one of my favourite albums from Bowie. I can clearly see some parallelism between 'Space Oddity', Genesis' 'Trespass' and Tim Buckley's 'Goodbye And Hello', but due to different reasons. 'Space Oddity' is for Bowie's fans the same thing that 'Trespass' is for Genesis' fans. Despite both albums being the second studio albums from them, both represent, in a certain way, their real debut album. By the other hand, 'Space Oddity' and 'Goodbye And Hello' are two excellent albums and both represent, in my humble opinion, two of the best and most representative albums from progressive folk and psychedelic music. They represent, in my humble opinion, two of the best examples of the changing of the rock music in the end of the 60's. So, despite it can't be considered a masterpiece or an excellent album it has its merits and deserves to be fully appreciated.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Report this review (#1703814)
Posted Monday, March 20, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars It took David Bowie quite a long time to rise to the top of the pop world. His naiive debut album from 1967 is rather outdated. This second album also was originally without a specific title, but due to the success of the song 'Space Oddity', it is nowadays known by that name. Even though the wonderful and at the time very topical song about astronaut Major Tom is among Bowie's best known and most beloved evergreens, the album as a whole doesn't enjoy the similar high status. Listener who expects to get more songs with such charm and commercial potential will probably be disappointed. But as the ratings prove, this album certainly has its strengths that place it firmly in the good middle league in Bowie's vast discography.

Some songs are frankly pretty forgettable (while I'm writing this without the album playing, and months since the last time I listened to it, I have very thin memories of e.g. 'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Daze' or 'An Occasional Dream'). 'God Knows I'm Good' I do remember well, but only because it's so simple and repetitive, and therefor a weak effort. Brief 'Letter to Hermione' is a nice acoustic ballad, and 'Janine' is compared here to Bob Dylan's folk period. The 9˝-minute 'Cygnet Committee' is undoubtedly a highlight from the prog listener's point of view, and also 'Memory of a Free Festival' has an interesting feel of an epic, even though the repetition of the line "Sun machine is coming out / and we're gonna have a party" lasts a bit too long in the end. But my favourite besides 'Space Oddity' (which I love!) is 'Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud', a masterful blend of fine vocals, moving lyrics and beautiful elegance of the orchestral arrangement.

This album shows Bowie in the early phases of his slow and gradual progress of becoming one of the leading singer-songwriters in pop/rock, but with at least one foot in the folk territory and some late-sixties' psychedelic scent still lingering in the air. It was followed by the relatively hard rocking The Man Who Sold the World (1970), which introduced Bowie's central collaborator Mick Ronson and is generally seen as the beginning of his classic era. However, I personally enjoy Space Oddity more. In some ways the folky charm and the arrangement excellence on certain highlights of this album point towars (and perhaps occasionally even beat) seminal Hunky Dory (1971) -- which of course is a clear winner when it comes to multi-style song-writing.

Report this review (#2087120)
Posted Saturday, December 15, 2018 | Review Permalink
3 stars An improvement over the debut album and first memorable tracks appear here with a moments of brilliance. On the other hand, the album is inconsistent and contains dull moments such as the last extended jam. "Cygnet Commitee" might be ambitious at its stretch but isn't nearly that strong as some say and is far away from progressive rock, it is an extended folk-rock number with potentially interesting lyrics.

The first track, "Space Oddity" is an excellent and memorable tune and I like the psychedelic instrumentation with mellotron, hi-hat drums and harmony vocals quite high. "Unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed" marvels between hard-rock and Dylan-esque folk rock.

In comparison to the first album, Bowie improved as an arranger and composer and shifted from psychedelia closer to folk rock.

Report this review (#2311816)
Posted Sunday, February 2, 2020 | Review Permalink
3 stars That's one small step for Major Tom - one giant leap for David Bowie.

Or is it the other way around? David Bowie had tried and tried and tried with different band constellations, artist names and style changes, releasing a handful of singles between 1964 and 1967 as well as his debut album in 1967. He had moved from rhythm and blues to cabaret and easy listening, but with little success. The releases have showed some signs that Bowie had some unusual ideas, but the quality was mixed, and overall the songs were not outstanding enough to make an impact on a scene where other artists had done similar things, just way better.

But then in 1969 came a single that didn't sound like anything else. "Space Oddity" was used for the BBC transmissions of the moon landing; it didn't make an impact at first, but later in the same year it suddenly climbed into the UK top 10, becoming David Bowie's first hit. And I think most fans will agree this is where the story really begins. Indeed, almost all Greatest Hits compilations with David Bowie begin with "Space Oddity", or just have it as the oldest track. It is also worth noticing, that the many CD re-releases of his albums begin with this, the 1969 album on which it appears (thus omitting his 1967 debut album which has only been re-releaed separately, along with his early singles). This album was originally released simply as David Bowie in the UK by the Philips label, and as Man of Words, Man of Music in the US (by Mercury if I am not mistaken). Most re-releases of the album have been entitled Space Oddity, probably to avoid confusion with the 1967 Deram album which was also titled David Bowie.

Let us begin with the title track and leave the other songs for later. For the first time, Bowie has written a truely original song. The melody is much more focused than anything he had written before, but a lot of praise should also be put on the creative arrangement. Clearly, there is an echo of psychedelic rock here (as can be heard for instance in the cacophonic fade out), but in some ways I also find it kind of proggy (laugh at me if you like); there is a mellotron after all, but more importantly, the song abandons classic song structure. The initial "verse" ("Ground control to Major Tom") never comes back for instance.

Then there are the lyrics where we meet the astronaut Major Tom for the first time as he is leaving earth with his spaceship, but then something goes wrong, and the ground control (a.k.a the earth) loses contact with him, leaving him to an uncertain destiny. Major Tom reappears in several later Bowie songs, and I suppose you could say he gradually became a sort of an alter ego for David Bowie - who likes to portray other characters (Ziggy Stardust, Halloween Jack, The Thin White Duke, Nathan Adler...). The tale of Major Tom who is lost in space could be interpreted in many ways, and consequently I have always found it kind of sad that the 1980 song "Ashes to Ashes" simply states that "We know Major Tom's a junkie". Surely there are other possibilities in understanding his space adventure than drugs, and I admire many Bowie songs for their ambiguity. Why kill that ambiguity? (apart from that, I really like "Ashes to Ashes", it's a very catchy song from a musical perspective).

"Space Oddity" also shows a clear connection between music and lyrics. You can sense the nervousness about the spaceship taking off during the initial "verse": just listen to the uneasy harmonic structure. In the "bridge" after the second "chorus" where ground control says "There's something wrong, can you hear me Major Tom?", the panic is underlined by some more dramatic chords where we change towards the minor parallel key and then try to get back again, but without succeeding. And I could go on, but it requires more time and space to deliver a full song analysis.

The rest of the album differs a lot from the opening track, being mostly in the area of hippy'ish folk rock, and if you listen to these songs first, and then "Space Oddity" afterwards, the latter doesn't sound like it's from the same album. The main reason probably being that the song "Space Oddity" was produced by Gus Dudgeon, whereas the rest of the album was produced by Tony Visconti - the first of many Bowie albums to be produced by him (he dismissed "Space Oddity" as a "novelty song").

For most part, the other songs are not nearly as strong. "Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed" is more than a little Dylan-influenced, and it has a loooong fade-out; I'm just waiting for it to end. Indeed, long hypnotic fade-outs can be very effective, but it requires a stronger musical base. "Memory of a Free Festival" also contains a long fade-out, repeating the line "The song machine is coming down, and we're gonna have a party" over and over again, a bit like that of "Hey Jude". It is quite catchy, but nowhere near the Beatles masterpiece in terms of musical intensity. Lyrically, the song is interesting though; it seems to question the earnestness of hippie culture: "We claimed the very source of joy ran throug / It didn't but it seemed that way" - or later: "To paint that love upon a white balloon" - that line really says it all: as we know, a balloon is filled with air, and it can easily burst.

"Don't Sit Down" is a an amusing filler that doesn't do any harm nor anything good. It was unlisted on the original album release, but appeared as a hidden track between "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed" and "Letter to Hermione". It was removed completely on the 1972 re-release, but re-inserted on later CD versions of the album. "God Knows I'm Good" is an attempt at social comment. It has an OK melody, but overall the music of the song is a bit anonymous. The story itself is touching enough, and we really feel sympathy for the old woman who steels the canned food, probably because she couldn't afford it.

In any case, Bowie clearly sounds more comfortable here than in the easy listening universe of his first album. The best of the songs include "Letter to Hermione" which is a moody farewell to a woman. It has a haunting melody and some beautiful melancholic chord changes. "Janine" has quite a catchy chorus, and it is foreshadowing Bowie's play with different personalities in the 70's ("If you take an axe to me, you kill another man, not me at all"). "The Wild-eyed Boy from Freecloud" is another fine song with a melancholic feel. It contains a rather pompous orchestral arrangement which I am unsure of what to think of. One part of me thinks it is too much, another part praises the symphonic elements in it.

The most famous song apart from "Space Oddity" is probably "Cygnet Committee" which seems to be dealing with the flipside of the late 60's counterculture. Centered around a spiritual leader (or "thinker" as he is called in the song) who is rejected by his followers, it touches a theme that was later touched in Ziggy Stardust, but one might also think of The Who's Tommy in this context (the album came out in the same year after all). The song also criticizes the more radical elements of the counterculture with lines such as "And we can force you to be free / And we can force you to belive" or "I will fight for the right to be right / I will kill for the God of the fight for the right to be right". Quite stunning lyrics. However, I don't think the music in this song can really live up to its its words.

Production-wise, there is a clear difference in quality between "Space Oddity" and the rest of the songs. The title song is great sounding with a creative use of the stereo spectre (epecially the vocals, but also the handclaps), but the rest of the album sounds a bit muddy. Clearly, Tony Visconti would improve as a producer later on, but of couse one also has to take the more limited studio technology of the time into consideration.

In general, I think the real milestone of the album is "Space Oddity", deservingly a big classic, and one of Bowie's most famous songs. This is where the "chameleom" truely came into his own. It is easy to hear why it became a single hit whereas the actual album didn't make much impact at the time.

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Posted Saturday, January 23, 2021 | Review Permalink

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