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David Bowie - Aladdin Sane CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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3.84 | 374 ratings

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4 stars This album is an interesting case in that my reaction to it is largely the opposite of how I end up reacting to a lot of Bowie albums. That is, instead of remembering the album fondly in my gut, only to feel inevitable disappointment when I go back and listen to the album, I end up enjoying this album while it's on but later find myself going, "Aladdin Sane, why the hell would I want to listen to that?" or thereabouts. Yet while this album is a little short on classics, and awfully long on Stones, um, "homages" (and that's not just with the cover of "Let's Spend the Night Together," which kinda mutilates the original but has a lot of charm, even with the orgasm guitar noises in the end), the songs work together well enough to ensure this a high rating.

Aside from the Stones cover, the three songs on here that tend to get the most attention are the title track, "Time" and "The Jean Genie." The title track (full title = "Aladdin Sane (1913- 1938-197?), where the first two years were right before the beginning of the World Wars, suggesting WW3 was imminent, I guess) is Bowie at his genre-smooshing best, as he manages to create a sort of psychedelic torch-jazz ballad that ends up featuring one of the most insane avant-garde jazz piano parts ever to make it into the realm of rock music. I'm the first to admit that I might not fully admire that piano solo on its own or in other contexts, but here, over the insistent beat (kinda reminding me of how, in the Roxy Music song "If There is Something," the music changes so dramatically over the course of the song while the beat never changes), it sounds amazing. "Time" is also an interesting inclusion, based more in early Broadway/Vaudeville (at least, towards my understanding of the early parts of those genres) than in rock music (even though Ronson's guitar work largely corrects the imbalance, and provides some of the most memorable parts of the song), and featuring great imagery in phrases like "Time - he flexes like a whore / falls wanking to the floor" and "... in quaaludes and red wine." I know that a lot of people like to trash the song for being overly melodramatic, and they probably have a point, but this is a case where I mostly lean in a more positive direction. And finally, "The Jean Genie," of course, was the album's big hit single, but truth be told I'd have never guessed that was the case without being told. Whatever, it's a good enough straight-ahead rock song with more naughty lyrics, and I can see why it's universally liked.

The rest of the songs aren't especially fantastic on their own, but they work pretty well in aggregate, even though I'm still not sure to what end. The opening "Watch That Man" is Bowie and Ronson practically jumping out of their shoes to make their own version of a typical Stones rocker, and while they don't really beat the masters at their own game (I feel like the song is a little too long for the material), it's a fun way to start the album. "Drive in Saturday" is basically a slightly tweaked doo-wop song, and while it definitely doesn't leave much of an impression once it's done, Bowie's delivery is goofy enough (and with interesting enough lyrics, I suppose) that I can enjoy it while it's on. "Panic in Detroit" is the kind of "social commentary" about American cities that could only be done by somebody who's only seen American cities on TV or in movies, but while it's sort of ridiculous, it's fun to hear an urgent quasi-post-apocalyptic rocker set to a Bo Diddley beat. "Cracked Actor" almost seems a little too pleased with itself in its critique of commercial popularity etc, but there is a strangely attractive sense of urgency in the combination of the chorus and the pounding beat. It's nowhere near a classic, but it's nice enough. Among the ballads, "The Prettiest Star" is a decent enough pop-ballad, but nowhere near the standard of beauty set by something like "Lady Stardust," but the closing "Lady Grinning Soul" has a lot of moody atmosphere that hooks me in, especially when David sings, "she will be your living end."

Ultimately, rating this one is kind of a major pain, though ultimately I feel somewhat comfortable about the **** rating. Is it clearly a good album? Yeah. Should any Bowie fan have this? Yeah. Should any general fan of rock music have this? ... ... Probably, yeah. Do I feel any impact from this album once I'm done with it, apart from a couple of songs? Not really. Do I have anything resembling an "Aladdin Sane mood?" I really doubt it.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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