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Hunky Dory

David Bowie

1971

Some people prefer this album to Ziggy…I am not one of them.  That said, I like the 1st two tracks better than anything on Ziggy.  Hunky Dory is a more modest, less ambitious record, perhaps a bit stranger too.  Some songs are a bit too cabaret/queer for my tastes, but most of the other songs are pretty interesting and engaging.  HD is a classic in most people's book, but to me it's just a pretty good Bowie record, nothing more.

8.4

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

David Bowie

1972

For an album that has such an epic reputation, I was initially quite underwhelmed when I picked up Ziggy Stardust.  It had taken me a while to appreciate Hunky Dory, but for some reason it took me longer to fully appreciate, much less fully enjoy this album, but eventually I came around and now considering this to be one of Mr. Bowie's best albums.  Perhaps I initially found it underwhelming due to the slow start of the album, as the first several songs start out on a rather subdued note, and there's really only a handful of satisfying rockers to be found here (but boy are they satisfying). But that's the beauty of Ziggy Stardust, it's meant to be absorbed as a unified piece of music, a unified vibe.  The greatness (or should I say goodness) of the songs reveal themselves after repeated listens, and as a result the album overall gets better after repeated spins.  It's kind of like most other Bowie albums in that it's uniquely weird vibe can be difficult to fully absorb at first.  You kind of have to be in a Bowie state of mind to really enjoy it.  At any rate, while this isn't my favorite Bowie album, it's certainly in the conversation.  If you don't get it the first time around, keep trying...it ultimately becomes a rewarding listening experience.

8.8

Aladdin Sane

David Bowie

1973

This was literally probably the only Bowie album I've ever listened to that I immediately liked the first time around…and why you ask?  Probably because this is Bowie's hardest rocking album, and probably his least strange/challenging.  But even when Bowie is being Bowie (indulging in his uniquely queer brand of weirdness) it sounds pretty brilliant, as on the delightfully mad title track (piano is insane!)  And aside from literally a couple of songs, everything else here kind of kicks ass and rocks pretty hard (for glam-rock).  The songs here aren't as grand/graceful as they are on Ziggy, but they are more immediate and infectious to these ears, and overall more satisfying as a result.  If you're looking for Bowie's best album from his glam days, I always recommend Aladdin Sane.

8.9

Station to Station

Station to Station cover.jpg

David Bowie

1976


This was Bowie's transitional album from his awkward soul/funk phase to his avant-garde Berlin-era recordings, so it's an interesting listen.  There's technically only 6 songs here, but the opening brilliant title track lasts over 10 minutes.  It's cold as ice, much like the album as a whole...it's cool and detached.  The 2nd half of the album is not particularly memorable, but the strength of the title track, along with the classic "Golden Years", as well as the general mood of the album make for a pretty solid record.  While not one of my favorites from Bowie, it is a fairly unique and interesting transitional album. 

8.0

Low

David Bowie

1977

Like virtually all of David Bowie's other albums, "Low" can be a challenging, strange listening experience.  But what sets "Low" apart from his other body of work is the compelling and dramatically bleak nature of the music found here.  Bowie hinted at going in a more avant-garde direction on his prior album "Station to Station", but here he dives in head-first and creates an brooding and unsettling piece of art-rock.  This is a moody record, and it's not a good one at that.  The music here is very mechanical (but still funky at times), and the sonic textures found on "Low" are really a prelude to new wave (shutter) and industrial music which came to prominence in the following decade.  Most of the songs here are actually instrumentals, and they are quite brooding, bleak, and frankly depressing to listen to at times.  There's a dreadful, numbing quality to the tunes here, but it's all very compelling to absorb.  "Low" is the 1st (and best) album of his so-called "Berlin-trilogy" of records, recorded in Germany and produced by Brian Eno.  Eno's influence here is profound, as a lot of the material on "Low" is essentially mental wallpaper.  It all has a very menacing and drab feel to it, otherworldly in quality.  For me, it's the type of music you listen to on a Tuesday in the middle of January, on a sub-zero wind-chill day while perhaps slightly hung-over, or, maybe strung out.  In other words, it's not a particularly pleasant album to listen to, but it evokes a unique and genuine feeling that surfaces in me from time to time.  It's a compelling listening experience for when you're in a particularly dreadful state of mind.  Compelling.

8.9

"Heroes"

David Bowie

1977

People tend to hold this album in high regard, and while it certainly has it merits, I find it difficult to listen to from start to finish.  The first couple of songs are pretty good and engaging, and of course the title track is fantastic, but after that, not many of the songs are particularly satisfying.  Granted this is a Berlin-era recording, so it's supposed to be abstract, but I find this much less engaging and encompassing overall than Low.  When he gets to the ambient stuff on the latter half of the album, it doesn't sound as startling or dreadful as it did on Low...it's compelling, no doubt, but it kind of seems like a rehash to a degree.  It's compelling stuff, but it was just more compelling when he did it the 1st time on Low.  So overall it's a nice piece of artwork from Mr. Bowie, an album that certainly has its moments, but it overall doesn't measure up to its groundbreaking predecessor for this guy.

8.2

The Next Day

David Bowie

2013

Comparisons to "Heroes" abound, not just because of the album cover, but of the general sound of the album, except "The Next Day" is arguably a better album in my eyes.  It's less artsy, less avant-garde, so sure, it has less artistic merit…but it's hard to argue that TND is not a more listenable album.  There's very little if anything challenging about TND, whereas the majority of Heroes was a dense listening experience.  TND sounds incredibly smooth and polished, almost lush at times.  Every song has a high-production industrial sheen to it, a full, rich sound, although certainly nothing really that could be considered poppy (it is a Bowie record after all).  But it's probably Bowie's most well-rounded, accessible album in my eyes, and could be held up against most any of his classics from decades past, which is an incredibly impressive accomplishment for a man pushing 70 years old.

8.0

Blackstar

David Bowie

2016

David Bowie's final album was released, literally, 2 days before he passed away.  Not only that, but he crafted this album while he was slowly succumbing to the cancer that was deteriorating his body and mind, so to say that this is a compelling album would be a bit of an understatement. 

Those facts, in and of themselves, certainly make Blackstar a gripping album, but it doesn't hurt that it's also a pretty good album on top of all the weight it carries.  It's easy to think that this album garnered a lot of praise due to the circumstances of his illness and impending death, but Blackstar is probably the most artsy and experimental album he released in decades.  

Blackstar has similar production to The Next Day, as everything sounds fairly polished and smooth here, but the songs are obviously a bit more yearning and occasionally desperate sounding in nature. You can tell Bowie was going for something profound here for the most part, and the opening title-track helps set the tone for the album.  At almost 10 minutes in length, it recalls the elaborate and icy tone of "Station to Station" but with a slightly more abstract and graceful flavor to it.  It's an impressive and compelling composition.  "Tis A Pity She Was a Whore" picks up the tempo a bit and kind of sounds like "If You Can See Me" from The Next Day, but the acid-jazz flourishes make it a bit more interesting to these ears.

The standout track for yours truly is the melancholy and moving "Lazarus".  This is a brave, beautiful, but also incredibly sad song, where Bowie is essentially facing his illness and impending death head-on.  It's equal parts despondent but also hopeful as he chooses to see his death as a release: 

"This way or no way
You know, I'll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain't that just like me?
Oh, I'll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I'll be free
Ain't that just like me?"

This is the most direct example of Bowie's bravery in the face of death on Blackstar. It is indeed sad, yes, death always is, but his bravery and ambition are truly inspiring and commendable.

The rest of the album is also full of subtlety coded messages about his situation that make the album all the more compelling to listen to.  "Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)" has a busy, somewhat claustrophobic, nuanced desperation to it (mainly conveyed instrumentally), and features mildly brooding, psych-industrial undertones to boot.  "Girl Loves Me" is a primarily beat-driven, head-bobbing affair and is another highlight for yours truly, as the main chorus "where the fuck did Monday go?" conveys a sense of time slipping away for Bowie.  Most people dread Mondays to varying degrees, but Bowie seems bemused at it's passing, and eager for more Mondays knowing that his time is running out.  When death is around the corner, the days of the week take on a different meaning and are all the more valuable. Helps give you some prospective.

Bowie closes out the album with "I Can't Give Everything Away", a line he sings repeatedly to closeout the song and his final album.  Although nothing particularly amazing, it's a graceful and fitting way to end a compelling album and a legendary career.  And I'm sure I'm not the first to notice the sampling of the harmonica from "A New Career In a New Town" from his classic Low album.  The metaphors and analogies taken from that inclusion speak for themselves.

Considering the circumstances, Blackstar is a brave and inspiring album.  Prior to this, I'm not sure any artist had made such a compelling record that faces impending death so artfully and gracefully (with apologies to Leonard Cohen, who would pull off a similar feat later in 2016).  Although Blackstar is certainly a moody and weighty listen, and as a result is not an album that I'm going to personally listen to over and over again, it is a bold piece of artwork and an incredibly compelling final album from one of the greatest musicians of all-time. It's also an inspiring lesson in how to face one's death with ambition, dignity, grace, and honesty. 

R.I.P. David Bowie.

8.3

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